Education and Its Effects

By Sister Bernie Hart

Having entered the Sisters of Mercy at seventeen, all of my major education has come since then.  In the Novitiate I was given the foundations for religious life.  Next came my education as a teacher.  And subsequent education developed my spirituality, preparing me for becoming a spiritual director.

In the Novitiate we had theology and philosophy classes, pluses lectures from the Novice Mistress.   Combined these solidified by faith life as well as my understanding of choosing a religious way of life.  It was a gradual development, while at the same time starting other general college courses.  Our daily schedules, the prayer times, times for retreat, as well as the example of other religious deepened these basic teachings.  When I made my final vows, ten years after entering, I knew without a doubt that I was on the right track for me.

I was sent out to teach before I had finished my BA studies, and with only a bare minimum of teaching classes.  My first two years in the classroom were counted as my student teacher years, though I was the lone adult in a room of fifty nine and ten year olds!  The saving grace for me those two years was my teaching science to the other fourth grade.  For twenty minutes a day I went into an organized classroom with students who could sit still, and they miraculously cooperated with me!  (This came about because the Principal did not think my handwriting a good example for the students and had the other Sister teach my class handwriting.)  But it worked out as I did not have to put my energy into classroom management, just teaching the basic subject.  When I was changed to another school in two years I felt I knew what I was about and felt very confident in my teaching.  I wasn’t of course, but I kept learning!  After earning my life-time teaching credential I went on to earn a Reading Specialist Credential.  I loved to read myself and wanted to convey this to my students and help them to be proficient. 

As I moved from school to school I built up lessons I repeated and honed with each time.  I also took classes and workshops during the year and in the summers.  I began to incorporate art into my classes and had favorite lessons I would use with each class.  Some teachers used art as an incentive for behavior, so if their students were not good, they did not get art.  Secretly I think they did not like teaching it!  But I began to teach it on Thursday afternoons, as then I realized they could finish it on Friday (rather than holding it over to complete the next week).  I learned to use art in religion, reading, English and any other subject I taught!

  I also learned to departmentalize and team teach.  I taught to my strengths and got another teacher to teach to hers!  Math was the first subject I “gave away”!!  I chose English, reading or religion as my subjects of choice.  Even in a single grade school I was able to do this.  One of my best “learnings” as a teacher came the summer I worked at UCLA’s Lab School with 4, 5, and 6 year olds!  I worked with three of the top teachers under Madeleine Hunter and observed a lot by being there.  She was a tope educator in California and her three teachers all had PHD’s!

After classroom teaching I was a librarian for four years-my all-time favorite job!  And then I moved into Vocation work.  Again I had classes and seminars on “how to do” this or that aspect of bringing in new members to the Community.  I traveled a lot and attended myriad of meetings!  The best part of these five years, education-wise, was learning how to listen as a spiritual director.  I had the practice before the training, as we did Busy Person Retreats three or four times a year.  I knew I was NOT a spiritual director, so the second summer I took an intensive month-long training in this.  When I left Vocation Work it was to finish my training as a spiritual director and move into this field.  I am still learning how to improve on this and hope to do so until I stop.  But it also helps my own spirituality and prayer life.