Teacher Spirituality: What Makes Teachers Tick?

In the past two days, there has been a multi-sectoral consultation of Jesuits and Jesuit-partners on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (SpEx). Fr. Jojo Magadia, Jesuit Provincial Superior, was asking how the gift of the SpEx entrusted to the Jesuits might be better shared with others. There were many angles considered, including the fact that it is not enough just to give the SpEx. When given, care must be given that it is followed up by a set of practices – or “spirituality” – leading up to what might be called an “Ignatian person.”

In an increasingly materialistic or secularized world, “spirituality” may already seem distant. When the key realities that move one’s imagination and bring one joy are wine, litson, Levis, iPhones, laptops, Toyotas, BMWs, condos, houses, and the like, one can be on track to materialism. When one no longer considers the reality of God nor the relation to Him/Her relevant for understanding the world and for key decisions in life, one may already be living a secularized life. For me, where human being is the human spirit that manifests itself in flesh and bones, I understand a “spirituality” to be that which ultimately “makes one tick,” determines ones choices and life style, whether one consciously attends to this or not. One’s spirituality could very well be materialism. Or it could be a conscious imperative to live in a profane, not sacred world, or secularism. Or it could be a dominant force to attain maximum pleasures in life, or hedonism.

In interacting with teachers, one may very well ask: what is the spirituality of these teachers? What makes them tick?

The answers may be as varied as the number of teachers, especially when one considers the personal life situation of each. Each has a story to share of his or her life, of how he or she grew up, was educated, then came to the teaching profession. In this situation it is good to invite teachers to reflect on what it is that makes them tick, what his or her main values in life are, in short, what his or her spirituality is.
In this context, the question may be asked in general: is there a spirituality of the teacher? Can one explicitate the values and relationships that make a teacher tick, keep a teacher choosing in life to teach, despite the fact that there may be more lucrative occupations elsewhere? If one teaches primarily for the salary, whether big or small, the spirituality is one of money. If one teaches primarily to foist one’s will on hapless pupils, the spirituality is one of power. Should one teach primarily to share knowledge with pupils or students, form them as human beings, what is operative here could be a spirituality of teaching. Finally, should one however teach because of a discerned insight that this is what Jesus Christ wills for him or her, this is the foundation of a Christian spirituality of teaching. Preparing classes well, teaching well, correcting papers thoroughly, and accompanying pupils or students in extra- and co-curricular activities because this is what God wills, are enfleshed manifestations of a Christian spirituality of teaching.

This may seem easy. However, when the opportunity cost of following God’s will to teach information technology is giving up a more lucrative, professional career in information technology in a hi-tech company, the challenge of the spirituality is clear. When the imperative to help a student learn beyond the call of contracted duty is heeded, as God wills, then the cost of the operative Christian spirituality of teaching may be palpable.

At bottom: it is important that the operative spirituality of the teacher be “attended to” not just because this affects the productivity of the teacher, but more so for the welfare, growth, and sence of well being of the teacher.

It would be the special grace of Catholic Christian schools if teachers “ticked” due to a shared Christian spirituality of teaching. I say “special grace” because I believe such a spirituality can never be just deftly organized through human administrative willfulness; it can never be paid for by money; it can never be bought. It can only be supported in appropriate structures, prayer, humility and gratitude.

Different Catholic schools have different ways of helping their faculty appropriate a spirituality influenced by the charisma of the schools’ founders or of the persons or saints who define the mission of the school. Catholic education is nuanced by such as Dominican, Franciscan, Benedictine, SVD, Vincentian, Paulinian and Assumption spiritualities. Jesuits schools, ideally, are marked by Ignatian spirituality.

At least, as Fr. Jojo Magadia reminds us, this is the mandate that emerges from policy pronouncements of Pope Benedict XVI and the recent 35th General Congregation (GC 35). If a Jesuit school is a Jesuit or Ignatian work, “The heart of an Ignatian work is the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius” (GC 35, D6, n9). That is saying much, much more than just instruction, research and outreach.

“The rapid pace of cultural change has been accompanied by an interior emptiness as well as a new interest in popular religiosity, a renewed search for meaning, and a thirst for a spiritual experience often sought outside institutional religion. The Spiritual Exercises, which from the start have been a precious instrument in our hands, are today of invaluable assistance to many of our contemporaries. They help us to initiate and to progress in a life of prayer; to search for and to find God in all things, and to discern his will, making faith more personal and more incarnate. Our contemporaries are also helped in the difficult task of feeling a deeper sense of integration in the lives… “ (GC 35, D3, n21).

Benedict XVI, in his address to Jesuits during GC 35, says, “It is for you to continue to make it [the SpEx] a precious and efficacious instrument for the spiritual growth of souls, for their initiation to prayer, to meditation, in this secularized world in which God seems to be absent…. In a time such as today’s in which the confusion and multiplicity of messages, the speed of changes and situations, make particularly difficult for our contemporaries to put their lives in order and respond with joy to the call the Lord makes to everyone of us, the Spiritual Exercises represent a particularly precious method to seek and find God in us, around us and in everything, to know his will and put it into practice. “

There is much to be unpacked here. But the bottom line for the Jesuit school in today’s world: it is not Jesuit unless its core is the Spiritual Exercises, no matter how excellent the instruction, research or outreach. Leaders of Jesuit schools must take responsibility to open the school to their awesome graces.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
This entry was posted in Philippine Educational Reform, Teacher Spirituality and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Teacher Spirituality: What Makes Teachers Tick?

  1. profcap says:

    For eight years,I was privileged to teach in a Catholic school whose principal had for a quarter of a century been an administrator in the country’s biggest Jesuit university fronting ours. She mentored me in a manner that I could never ever have gotten in any school of education.I have never encountered any teacher patiently sitting with me at post-school hours to dissect my lesson plan or Table of Specifications to make them ‘perfect’. Moving to teach in a university later,I would visit my former school to pay tribute to my mentor and witness the same zeal of my co-teachers in their profession.A few have gone abroad or moved elsewhere but a great percentage (holds true for the administration and staff)remain loyal to the institution.This,because not much of the principal’s ‘administrative willfulness'(stern,to say the least) but of her personal touch;of the constant reminder that every student who comes to our school is a ‘gift’ from God, that we teachers have all been put there for a reason-that being to ‘serve’,and of the regular coming-together in prayer, contributed to us having what “special grace of Catholic Christian schools if teachers ‘ticked’ due to a shared Christian spirituality of teaching”(Joel Tabora,SJ 01,2011).Up until now,some of those who left have come back,not just to visit,but to teach again in the same institution,where that certain ‘operative spirituality’ of each teacher had consciously or unconsciously, on the principal’s part, been ‘attended to.’
    ON HELPING THE FACULTY APPROPRIATE A SPIRITUALITY INFLUENCED BY THE CHARISMA OF THE SCHOOL’S FOUNDER(Thanks to Fr.Tabora’s par.8 of his treatise,’Teacher Sprituality:What Makes Teachers Tick?’)

    • Thank you so much, Profcap, for sharing your beautiful example of a teacher/administrator whose operative spirituality was to teach excellently out of a conviction of Christian mission: that “every student who comes to our school is a gift from God, and that we teachers have been put there for a reason, that being, to serve…” – a spirituality nurtured by prayer. She was so much of an icon of this spirituality that she became your guro – as well as the guro of many others – in living out your own spirituality of teaching. This type of teacher administrator is very different from the teacher/administrator who is driven only to look good to his/her superiors or the teacher who is into teaching only to have a job.

    • nmm says:

      i am touched by this spirituality: that “every student who comes to our school is a gift from God, and that we teachers have been put there for a reason, that being, to serve…” – a spirituality nurtured by prayer.

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