Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 22, 2010
Colleges prepare Catholic teachers
Program directors stress need for formation, academic training in faith
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Teachers in Catholic schools are expected to know Christ and his Church and to reflect the model of love and community found in the Trinity. They are also expected to be leaders of the faith and to teach it to their pupils.
The problem is that universities and colleges that train teachers generally don't offer religion as part of the curriculum.
Fortunately, several colleges and schools offer courses specifically geared to those preparing to teach in Catholic schools.
But if some educators could have their way, they would create a school of catechesis for Catholic teachers. Dan Kingdon, director of religious studies at Newman Theological College, would like to see that happen.
Students spend three or four years training intensively to become teachers. "But on the Catholic part of education, we don't have anything similar," he lamented. As a Catholic community "we don't have a program (that those training to become Catholic teachers) have to go through in order to cover the Catholic part of Catholic education."
At the moment, the expectation of many Catholic school boards is that teachers have two undergraduate courses in Scripture, theology or religious education. "Two classes is better than nothing. But when you compare that to all the training that they receive to become a teacher over these three or four years, you can see that is minimal," Kingdon said.
"We've been counting on the fact that the people (who become teachers) are people of faith who are practising their religion and because of that they are able to teach faith or teach about our beliefs in a Catholic school."
MORE IS NEEDED
Newman and the other institutions that provide religious education for teachers are doing a good job but much more is needed, he said. "My position is that we need a comprehensive integrated plan to prepare a teacher to be a catechist and a religious educator."
Educators must look to bishops and school trustees for such a program, Kingdon said, stressing that he was giving his personal opinion.
"The actual Catholic part of the teacher formation would be this whole idea of reflecting on my relationship with Jesus. It would have to have a liturgical basis and a prayer basis. My suggestion would be that the teachers be formed in a community so that they have that experience."
In Edmonton at least four colleges currently offer religious education for education students and teachers already in the system. Most of these institutions offer religion courses required by Catholic school boards.
St. Mary's University College in Calgary is the only institution that offers a bachelor of education specifically directed to the preparation of elementary teachers for Catholic schools. Kingdon thinks St. Mary's has the right idea.
The program, which started in September 2008, was designed in consultation with Catholic school boards and so religion is built into the curriculum. Currently 76 students are in the program. The first group will graduate in June.
"The whole program is designed to meet the demands of the Catholic school, so they study their faith, they study the history of Catholic education and they study what the Catholic classroom should look like and so on," explains Terrence Downey, president of St. Mary.
"What we are trying to do is give them a sense (that) a good Catholic education goes beyond just teaching subjects like math and science; it goes to the heart of the formation of people who are thoughtful and people who recognize that there's ethical and moral dimensions to what we do.
"We are not just giving (students) skills; we are forming individuals to be good citizens, to be people who take their responsibilities seriously as citizens and as teachers. The main focus is we are trying to get them to understand that teaching is not just a job (but) a vocation."
The education students at St. Mary's spend 21 weeks doing their practicum in Catholic schools. "So we are hoping that once they walk into a Catholic school, they'll be completely comfortable with what it means to be teaching in a Catholic school system," Downey said.
St. Mary's also offers a graduate diploma in religious education for teachers already working for Calgary Catholic.
Concordia (Lutheran) College in Edmonton also has a two-year after-degree education program for elementary teachers. No religion courses are built into the program because students are expected to have completed at least two religion courses before they enroll.
"What happens is when students are doing their first degree in arts or sciences there is a requirement at Concordia for them to take a minimum of six credits, which is the equivalent of two courses in religious studies," explains Dr. Mark Swanson, dean of education at Concordia.
"We have a really good relationship with Edmonton Catholic Schools so many of our students do a student teaching (practicum) at Edmonton Catholic Schools."
Upon graduating, students can be hired in Catholic school districts, Swanson said. "Now if they go to work for Edmonton Catholic, in addition they'll be required to take one more course in Christian theology teaching methods, which is currently being offered at St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta."
Swanson said Concordia is currently developing its own teaching methods course entitled methods in Christian religious education for students working or preparing to work in Alberta's Catholic schools.
One big issue in teaching the faith in elementary and secondary schools today is that teachers are working with students who don't necessarily come from families who practise within the Church, noted Swanson. "So in a classroom you are probably dealing with a wide spectrum of individuals in terms of their knowledge and understanding of Catholicism, Christianity and so on."
Another issue would be the confusion that exists between what is living according to Christian precepts or principles and what young people see on television, Swanson said, stressing that the program at Concordia prepares students to deal with those issues. "I think (we offer) a very effective approach to working with students in a real pluralistic setting."
St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta offers religious education courses required by Edmonton Catholic to education students at the University of Alberta. The courses are for both elementary and junior high/ high school student teachers.
One large umbrella course recommended for all teachers is The Theological Education of the Catholic Teacher, which deals with issues such as creedal statements, the moral and social teachings of the Church, liturgical practices and general theology and theory of Catholic education.
Those planning to teach primary school would take a course called Christian Religious Education and the Child. Those planning to teach junior high or secondary would take Christian Religious Education and the Adolescent/Young Adult.
Superintendents in Edmonton and surrounding jurisdictions have endorsed these courses. "If students don't take any of these courses, they could get a job (say with Edmonton Catholic) but they would not get their permanent certificate (until they complete the courses)," noted Ken Munro, academic dean of St. Joseph's College.
Approximately 700 students have enrolled in these courses in the current academic year.
"The students who have taken these courses are much better prepared to work in Catholic schools," added Richard Rymarz, the holder of the Peter and Doris Kule Chair in Catholic Religious Education. "The courses equip them to teach religious education well and add to the Catholic identity of the school. We think that the college is making a very valuable contribution to Catholic education in Alberta."
Still, Munro would like those preparing to teach at Catholic schools to take more courses.
"We are all concerned that teachers have sufficient theological and philosophical background to relate to the students (of) today because there are so many difficult moral questions," he said. "It's quite a challenge (to teach the faith) particularly in our very secular society.
"I think we are preparing students well (at St. Joseph's), except that I feel that it would be better if they took more courses. With two courses at six credits it's a bare minimum."
St. Joe's also offers courses on science and religion, history courses and philosophy courses. Many education students also take these courses.
Newman College offers courses for teachers who are already in the school system.
"We provide (religious) education to people who are already certificated," noted Kingdon. "I would call it in-service and so we try to provide them with their in-service training. (These people) have already graduated and they have already secured a teaching position and then we get them."
Most teachers take Newman's program on a part-time basis and so it usually takes them about seven years to complete. Some 200 teachers are currently taking these courses.
"It's quite a commitment," Kingdon said. "Most of them do the graduate diploma in religious education - that's 10 courses - and then they take a little bit of a break. And then 20 to 25 per cent of them come back and finish the second step - the master of religious education."
Each of these degree programs could be done in one year of fulltime studies. About 150 teachers take these courses in any given year.
Newman offers the graduate diploma in religious studies in three ways: online, on campus and off campus. It began offering the program in Saskatoon this semester. "In the West, Saskatchewan and Alberta are the two provinces that have publicly funded Catholic education and Newman feels a strong responsibility to really support that concept of education," Kingdon said.
Preparing teachers well today is vital "because 85 per cent of the next generation of Catholic parents are in our Catholic schools now," he said. "So whatever we do to help the teachers teach our children today is going to have benefit for the Church tomorrow."
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