26 March 2013

The Importance of Teachers

I am a product of Catholic education.  From 2nd to 8th grades, I attended St. Jerome Catholic School in Phoenix, AZ.  It was a relatively new parish at the time, in a fast-growing city.  I had a number of teachers I remember well, but two who stick out the most as having influenced me.  My 6th Grade and Social Studies teacher was Karen Stevens.  She was a phenomenal teacher who not only loved her students, but really respected them.  She taught me the importance of leadership, maturity, and responsibility.  

The other was a teacher who had been at the school for a while even when I was a student (nearly 30 years ago), my 8th grade and Math teacher, Rose Mischke.  She was the "cool" teacher, popular and friendly.  She nurtured in me a love for school, and the drive to do well at it.  She was tough, but you knew she cared about the students and the school.  The reason I mention all this is that I learned through my sister, who learned it through Mrs. Stevens (even after all these years, I don't think I could ever call her "Karen") that Ms. Mischke has decided to retire.  This is a woman who gave her life not just for education, not just for Catholic education, but Catholic education at St. Jerome school.  

Below is an article done last year by Our Sunday Visitor, profiling her commitment to education.  The story talks about the 8th grade adopting a family and the "Mexican Dinner" they put on to raise money for that family.  We did the very same thing when I was in 8th grade, and I am amazed that the tradition has continued so long.  

May God bless her in her retirement and may God bless all those who have committed themselves to Catholic education.

On a recent Friday, teacher Rose Mischke and about 20 students from St. Jerome Catholic School in Phoenix, Ariz., got out of class early and spent four hours with two refugee families that they “adopted.” 
Teacher Rose Mischke and her students with one of the refugee families the class has adopted. Courtesy of Rose Mischke
They shopped for paper products and toiletries for the parents and five children from Iraq, played soccer with the teens and their father, and played games with the youngest kids. When the ice cream man came through the neighborhood, the students bought something for everybody. 
They also visited a family of parents and four kids from the Congo, who had spent 12 years in a refugee camp in Rwanda. When one student gave the mom a sack of potatoes, the woman hugged her. 
“Sometimes you feel like you’re Superman,” Mischke said. 
Those simple acts and more are part of the Catholic spirit that she nurtures in her students at St. Jerome, where she has an eighth-grade homeroom, teaches religion and teaches math to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Mischke, 62, has taught at the same school for 40 years. 
“The service work enriches the children’s lives and my main theme is about service,” she said. 
Mischke helps students to stage an annual Mexican dinner and accompanying raffle that last year raised $40,000 for the local St. Vincent de Paul Society. 
“Every year, the same people donate because they know it goes to good use. One guy gave us 200 pounds of cheese and 200 pounds of beans,” she said. “And the kids have to do the dinner themselves, so it’s really living their faith.” 
The school is involved with a parish project that collects and redistributes household items, toys and other goods that someone else can use. So there were things on hand one afternoon when Mischke encountered a homeless woman outside the school. When she said she had a job interview and needed help, Mischke sent her to the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, but when Mischke went back inside the school, she realized that the shop was close to closing time. 
“I found some extra sheets, food products that people had donated, and within 10 minutes, my kids were running down the street trying to find this lady,” she said. 
They couldn’t, but they later found her praying in the chapel. 
“All of a sudden, she was there, and when they gave her all this stuff, she started crying,” she said. “These are the kinds of things that happen, and you can’t say it’s luck. I believe that everything happens for a purpose. We talk about how God closes one window and opens another.” 
She has seen how Catholic education influences what students can become. One girl founded a high school club to teach English to refugee families. Another went on to teach at a public school and organized his own Mexican dinner fundraiser to purchase eye glasses for needy students. 
“I know that this [service] is working,” she said. “They are taking what they learned here and carrying it into their formative years and their adult years. You can see how it carries on.” 
Mischke had an uncle who was a missionary priest, and an aunt was a nun who taught in Chicago. 
“I was born a Catholic, raised a Catholic, and my only desire was to teach in a Catholic school,” she said.