Anita O’Shea, Teacher of English and Religion at Clongowes Wood College reflects on the Fourth Characteristic of Jesuit Education: Becoming Like Christ. Fully Human and Fully Alive…
The care of the person is the characteristic that I would really emphasize. From it everything else flows. Whether in the classroom, or in the boarding school or on the rugby pitch; whether you are doing drama or taking the students away; you are responsible for them and you want them to be the best that they can be. That is why we provide so many activities for them. Care for the person helps define our relationships with our students: these are characterized by being very warm, respectful – familial really, especially here, given the nature of our particular school.
The religious element, being energized by the example of Christ, can be challenging. I did meditation with a class one day and thought it went really well, but as they left one lad said ‘that was good, Miss, until you brought Jesus into it’. So I was left wondering what do we need to do to get over that hurdle! It is a challenge to communicate that dimension, whereas they will buy into ‘being a person for others’. The social justice elements of the characteristics get the most buy-in: fasting, fund raising and fun. But often they don’t go beyond that to the more reflective side of things: they buy in on different levels.
Excellence is now interpreted in terms of the person rather than by external standards, so we want each of our students to be the best that he can be. That also includes the ‘bread and butter’ issues of the academic. This influences your approach to teaching and your work in the classroom. You stretch them academically so that they grow and develop through the six year cycle. We see them change and mature and develop as people. That’s a privileged vantage point for us as teachers.
There is the dichotomy between trying to educate and also to get leaving cert points! We want them to develop as persons for others, but their exam performance is important too. Some parents are fixated by academic result – I am frequently asked, ‘can you guarantee my son an ‘A’ in the Leaving Certificate?’. You can’t guarantee anything, but you do have to help them to achieve to their ability. We live in the real world!
We have a mixed intake and there is a very strong learning support for those who need it. That has to be factored in too. It can provide an opportunity for some to work on homework together, so they are aware of supporting each other. We also run competitions and programmes that target and encourage gifted children as well: there is a Maths Modelling Programme with the University of Limerick and academic writing competitions run between schools such as the Beckett and Joyce awards.
Ours is a model that works: people do buy into it. Recent research in relation to ethos and the Characteristics among past pupils and parents showed that they recognised the qualities and values of our educational system. It is well understood that we do things for a reason, and that the reason is based on our religious perspective. However, it is important also to say that there is great respect for the personal religious position of each individual.
There is buy-in from parents, who are now more involved in the school through the Parents’ Association. They know we are serving the community and the Church, and that we are operating from a faith perspective.