By Sister Mary Louise, O.C.D.

Back to school. Usually that phrase brings to mind a set of familiar routines and predictable procedures. For much of America and even the world, that is not the case this year. Whether you are heading back to in-person or distance learning, things look quite different. The school where I teach is able to start with in-person learning, but we already know that in the first two weeks we will not even begin to touch on academic content. Lesson plans for those weeks are how to walk six feet apart in the hall ways, how to wear your mask, how to wash your hands and use hand sanitizer, how to adjust to no group work, and how to use online platforms so we are ready in the event we need to move to distance learning. The process for beginning school via the internet is even more challenging and intimidating!

Why are we doing this? I speak here not only as a Carmelite Sister but as an educator. We head back to school, whatever that may look like, because we have been called by God to do so. Teaching is not primarily a job; it is a vocation. We are not our own – we are instruments in the hand of God, and He wants to use us.

Over the summer, I had given my students a list of suggested reading. Recently, I received a message from one of the children. She was thanking me for the books she read over the last two months, “I enjoyed them so much! Without you, I would never have read them. Thank you!” It was not me. The list could have come from any teacher. But the fact is the child was given what she needed to flourish this summer. God provided for her through her teacher. And He wants to continue doing that throughout this upcoming school year.

If educators focus on all the challenges, we will either be so paralyzed by fear we will not be able to move, or we will be swamped by anxiety and drown. However, we also have the choice to listen attentively to the voice that called us into this field of mission. The difficulties are real. The workload is heavy. The obstacles are enormous. We are not alone nor are we even the primary operators in this education endeavor. God is acting through us to meet the needs of His children.

How do we hear this voice? I would suggest two ways. The first way is by listening in prayer. I understand that for many teachers receiving the sacraments is limited these days. Personal prayer is not. And the fact of the matter is that for a teacher who is a disciple of Jesus Christ, prayer is not optional. Make prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture part of your daily routine. Shakespeare put these words on the lips of Henry IV, “All things are ready if our minds be so.” He was close. All things are ready if our hearts be so, and that happens only by prayer. No one should listen to you in the classroom if you have not first listened to God in prayer!

The second suggestion for hearing God’s call to serve in education is to listen to the children. Listen both to their needs, spoken and silent, and to their appreciation, again, spoken and silent. Do not focus on the masks, train your eyes to see the smiles beneath them. Let the eyes of your little ones (or not so little ones) remind you why you are doing what you are doing in school. Remember there are easier ways to make a living, but in teaching you are making a difference. The children and their families need us!

If you have read this and you are not a teacher, may I ask for a great favor? Would you please keep us in your prayers? You see, God wants to use you too! None of us are in this alone. We rely on each other to be faithful. Keep schools, teachers, students, and families in your prayers. And know that we will do everything to remain faithful to the calling He has given us.

St. John Bosco, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gregory the Great, St. Joseph of Cupertino, St. Joseph Calasanz, Bl. Pier Giorgio, and all the patron saints of Catholic schools, teachers, and students, pray for us!  Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us!