Teaching Advice from Catherine McAuley

August 2, 2016

By Sister Katie Mindling

Catherine holds #MakeMercyReal wristbands at Trocaire College. Photo by Pam Jablonicky.

Catherine holds #MakeMercyReal wristbands at Trocaire College. Photo by Pam Jablonicky.

Some would think that teachers have the “summer off,” yet those who know better are aware that they are gleaning the best from their experiences, keeping up with educational trends and insights from professional publications and circles, and designing ever-new ways of orchestrating opportunities for learning for the students scheduled to begin a new academic year with them.  For those dedicated to teaching, year-round preparation is paramount and discovering ever new ways to facilitate learning and growth in the students is ongoing.

As a teacher of high school students, these weeks find me reviewing the best of last year’s lessons and designing new approaches to integrate technology for the coming year.  Among the many summer teaching-related activities that fill my days, I am writing letters of recommendation for numerous rising seniors; monitoring make-up assignments for a student who had the challenge of having osteo-sarcoma; visiting the classroom of a graduate who is now a teacher at a summer Catholic experience in a local parish; offering guidance to a sophomore who is finishing up course requirements because of having had to take a medical leave from school last year; following the adventures of four students who are doing international service projects for Amigos de las Américas in Latin America; and mentoring teachers who will be new next year and are doing their preparations now.  

Right now while teachers all throughout the northern hemisphere are preparing to return to the in-classroom part of their profession, it is helpful to take a look at the way Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy and a teacher herself, counseled and challenged those of her sisters charged with the instruction of children. “Catherine expected that all the sisters would understand that the primary principle and method of education was “to be and do what we teach,” acting and speaking mercifully, forgiving and asking forgiveness, serving and respecting those who are economically poor.”  She fostered personal zeal and humility while encouraging teachers to take a keen interest in their students, ensuring that each one would learn to know and expand her or his potential.  Let us recall a few of the actions and attitudes she encouraged:

  • ask for the grace to perform well, allowing daily prayer and personal renewal to be a tone-setting, pre-classroom ritual;
  • be knowledgeable, well-prepared and ready to select and integrate appropriate educational innovations; and
  • be thankful for the beauty and potential found in responding to the call to teach.

Let us all approach our teaching vocation with joy, humility and zeal during this Year of Mercy!

Sister Katie’s thoughts on Catherine’s teaching advice were originally shared in her article “Mercy at LaSalle,” DeLaSalle Today, Vol. VII No. 2 Summer 2011.

For further reading, Sister Katie suggests “What teachers are really doing every day,” by retired private school English teacher Jan Sidebotham.

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  1. Mary Ann (Fitzgerald) Lally

    Beautiful article, Sister Katie!! Thank you for sharing the McAuley roots of a Mercy’s teaching values. Best wishes for a successful school year ahead!


  2. Jane Francisco

    As a semi- retired of fifty plus years I have to agree with Catherine.I believe students do not care how much you know,they want to know how much you care.This has stood me in good stead over many years with the sacred title of “teacher”. God bless all teachers during this school year,you have my prayers!