Teaching by example: diocesan educators convene

Teachers browse some of the educational material available at the conference.

WEST ISLIP — Children need to learn about the latest technology, but more importantly, they need to have teachers who are strong role models. That was the emphasis of this year’s annual diocesan teachers’ conference.

Teachers and principals from the Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Rockville Centre attended one of two conferences — Oct. 28 at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School here or Oct. 29 at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville. In addition to talks by Sister of St. Dominic prioress Mary Hughes and former diocesan director of information technology Paul Lynch, several teachers were honored for their years of service to Catholic education. The conference ended with the celebration of Mass by Msgr. Robert Brennan on Thursday and Bishop John Dunne on Friday.

“Those of you who have been in the system know that you have an experience of joy when students come back to see you,” Sister Mary noted in her speech, “and it’s not because they remember every lesson that you taught. It’s because they remember who you were and are to them. And no matter what you teach, no matter what your lesson plans look like, no matter how well-equipped your classroom is or is not, you are the lesson. Children are very keen observers of our behavior. If you love your job and you love going to school every day, you know what? They know it. Regardless of your words, your actions speak louder. What is it you want to be remembered for? What is it you want them to say about you at the dinner table? Be the kind of person you want to be remembered for.”

In his presentation on technology as an education tool, Dr. Lynch noted that while technology is important, “a computer screen is not the light of the world. It’s not about technology. It’s about Jesus Christ, the light of the world.”

You cannot ignore technology, he said, because “it’s everywhere. Our fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders have never known a world other than (one with a) ubiquity of technology and that’s a game-changer.”

“You’re using SmartBoards, you’re using the videoconferencing, and that’s great, but it’s not the technology that’s great, it’s the interaction that’s great,” Dr. Lynch noted. “It’s the kids interacting with the material that’s great. It’s the lessons underneath those SmartBoards that are great.”

Technology is an important tool, but “it can’t just be about technology,” he said. “You see teachers’ wiki (information websites) with grammar errors. That’s unacceptable. You see teachers’ blogs with incorrect factual information. So it may be cool to have a wiki, and it may be cool to have a blog, but if your technology is outshining your pedagogy, think again. You’re doing something wrong. So make it about the teaching, make it about the learning.”

“The technology is also about moving that mission, the evangelical nature of the Church,” he noted. Teachers and parents have to teach children how to use the technology and “trust them (to use it) to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the next generation.”

“It was very interesting that both (presenters) touched upon the Catholic identity and how we reconnect to Jesus,” noted Roseann Petruccio, principal of St. Patrick’s School in Bay Shore.

Sister of St. Joseph Eva Marchese of Trinity Regional School in East Northport noted that she ran into an old student of hers at the conference who is now a Catholic school teacher. “I like the whole idea of (the real lesson being about) who you are,” she said. “What will they remember about you? The message rings true. Who are you to the children? You try your best, you try to show your best self.”

MaryAnne Cowan, who teaches at SS. Cyril and Methodius in Deer Park was struck by Sister Mary’s talk. “It’s nice to know that someone values the contributions that we’re making to the system. We are the system, and if we do well at what we do, these children, who we’re privileged to educate, will be the leaders we need for the 21st century.”

Dominican Sister Kathleen Gallina, principal of St. Rose of Lima School in Massapequa, said she hoped the conference would be for her teachers “a day of mindfulness, bringing them into what they’re called to be and to do. I hope that they really feel that their work is really valued. And sometimes I don’t know that they feel that way because sometimes I think it’s a thankless job. Sometimes it’s not very well expressed, but they make a difference in the life of kids every day.”

Cristina Bianco from St. Martin of Tours in Amityville