Words of Wisdom: Catholic School Professionals Share Advice for Future Educators

Trish Irvine and Courtney Ceponis are experienced Catholic school professionals who offer valuable advice to new graduates seeking a teaching job in a Catholic school. Irvine teaches at a Catholic high school in South Dakota. Ceponis serves as Leadership Coordinator at a Catholic school in New Jersey. During her career, Courtney has previously taught 3rd-8th grade at various times. In their interview, both suggest highlighting teaching certifications, experience, and being Catholic on a resume. Graduates should also tailor their applications to show why they are a good fit for a particular school and position. To prepare for a job interview, candidates should familiarize themselves with the school’s mission and values by visiting their website and social media accounts. During the interview, candidates should be prepared to explain why they want to teach in a Catholic school and how they can contribute to the school’s mission. Overall, Catholic schools need teachers who are passionate about helping students excel academically and grow in faith.

What advice would you give to new graduates seeking a teaching job in a Catholic school?

According to Courtney, “Catholic schools need good Catholic teachers like you, who are passionate about teaching the whole student, helping them excel academically AND grow in faith.” Trish adds, “I would encourage them to learn as much as possible about the school where they are interested in working. Talk to teachers who work there already (especially if you already have some connections there) or families who are part of the school and see if it is a place where you would like to work.”

What specific qualifications or experiences do you think are most important for new graduates to highlight on their resumes when applying for a Catholic school teaching position?

Ceponis writes, “In my experience, the first three things that school leadership is looking for in a potential hire is that you have a valid teaching certification/license and are certified to teach the grade level or subject(s) listed in the job description of the position for which you are applying, that you have teaching experience, and that you are Catholic.”

Irvine mentions ministry options as key experience to include: “I would highlight various experiences of engaging in ministry opportunities. Opportunities that directly relate to teaching are good, but non-teaching ministries can help show an experience of engaging with different populations in various settings. Students themselves span a wide range, as do their parents, so highlighting the experience of engaging with various personalities in different situations can be helpful.”

Ceponis added this advice, “For new teachers, who may have limited classroom teaching experience, including related experience that speaks to a similar skill set as would be required in the classroom setting is also valuable, such as camp counseling, coaching, youth ministry, children’s ministry, library programs, museum programs and so on, can be helpful.

That said, emphasizing your classroom teaching experience is most important, even if it predominantly includes the practice teaching you did as a part of your teacher preparation program.”

How would you suggest new graduates become familiar with the mission and values of Catholic education, and how they can effectively integrate these values into their teaching?

For Irvine it is important to encourage the parents and families of the students. “When I meet parents at the beginning of the year open house, I thank them for being the primary educators of their children. So many of the parents don’t feel qualified to teach their children or don’t recognize the important role they have as formators of their children. I like to remind them of this and encourage them to keep trying, even when it seems difficult.

In the classroom, I try to present an integrated curriculum when possible, utilizing literature to flesh out theological points or aspects of the created world to show how science works alongside religion. Catholic education is meant to be an integrated whole and so I would encourage new graduates to find ways to make their classroom an (attempted) experience of the whole of reality and not segmented, as much of education tends to be.”

Ceponis stated, “The primary goal of Catholic education is to lead souls to heaven.” It’s a simple goal but an important one. She includes a couple excellent resources to help get better familiar with Catholic Education:

USCCB’s webpage dedicated to K-12 Catholic Education

Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis).

“To better understand the specific details of the mission of the school to which you are applying, visit and read the school website.  Look at their mission statement, but also their newsfeed and calendar to get an understanding of what the mission in action looks like for them on a day-to-day basis through the things that they prioritize and showcase,” added Ceponis.

Can you provide some tips on how new graduates can prepare for job interviews and stand out as candidates for Catholic school teaching positions?

Here are a few suggestions Ceponis found helpful in the past:

  • Consider why you want to teach in a Catholic school, specifically, and what draws you to Catholic education in general.
  • Familiarize yourself with the school prior to the interview by reading the school’s website and social media to learn about the school’s mission and unique aspects/offerings.
  • Take note of the organization of the school, including which grade levels are served, which subjects are taught, and the size of the school/staff.
  • Consider how your experiences, education, and areas of expertise make you a good candidate for the specific position at the specific school to which you have applied.
  • Look up the school on Google maps to understand its location and identify possible local opportunities for walking field trips or community connections.
  • If possible, take time to visit and attend Mass at the school’s parish church to make a personal connection to the community when speaking about your desire to work at the school.
  • Be prepared to speak to your classroom management/behavior management strategy, approach to parent communication, ability to use and integrate technology, your philosophy of teaching, and answer questions related to your instructional approach or the curriculum at the grade level or content area to which you have applied.

Irvine added these tips:

  • Teaching in a Catholic school requires both mastery of subject material and the ability to share personal encounters with faith.
  • Even if not interviewing for a theology position, it is important to be able to share about one’s faith and its significance in their life.
  • It is recommended to research common interview questions and prepare answers in advance.

How have you successfully integrated Catholic values into your teaching curriculum and classroom management strategies? What advice would you give to new graduates who are just starting out?

Irvine’s advice springs naturally from a mindset of prayer: valuing the dignity of the student. She described it this way, “When I need to correct students, I try to intentionally remember their dignity as a human person. It can be easy when the same student has caused a disturbance or answered rudely or failed to cooperate repeatedly to get upset. If it is serious enough to take them out of the classroom, I try to let them have a chance to share their perspective or to see if they think I am being unfair. In the classroom, I try to create a calm atmosphere and give the space for freedom but also allow students to know what to expect.”

Ceponis detailed out how to integrate Catholic values into teaching through prayer. She wrote, “While most of us have likely heard Fr. Patrick Peyton’s statement, ‘The family that prays together, stays together,’ I have also come to believe that ‘The class that prays together, stays together, too.’

The third-grade teacher added, “For new teachers looking for a place to begin, I’ve found that the most important place to start is to pray.  Inviting God into the classroom each day by cultivating a culture of prayer in the classroom, such that it becomes a natural go-to response at any point in the day and for any need, is a fruitful way to integrate the faith throughout the day and across the curriculum.

Additionally, consider the Liturgical calendar, significant feast days and celebrations within the year when completing your long-range annual curriculum planning. Mapping out instruction for the year is a helpful way to infuse faith across the curriculum.  Incorporating the lives of the Saints into instruction across subject areas is another fascinating way to bring the faith alive for students.  When teaching history, highlighting the Saints who were contemporary to the period (ex: St. Junípero Serra when speaking of the Catholic missions in California).”

What advice would you give to new graduates regarding how to effectively incorporate prayer and other religious practices into their daily routine with students in a Catholic school setting?

Irvine gave the following advice when it came to including prayer throughout the day: “I have found it most effective to practice a particular type of prayer each day of the week with my students.”

She added, “Having a routine is helpful for both me and my students, I believe. It helps me vary how we are praying and not fall into doing the same thing each day. Yet it also gives stability so that students have an idea of what to expect. One day each week I give my students a Scripture passage or religious quote and I invite my students to enter into 10 minutes of silent prayer. Another day, we read the Gospel for the upcoming Sunday and discuss it. Having a particular way, we are praying each day also helps me to not forget to begin with a prayer since it is clearly a part of my lesson and plans for the day.”

Ceponis provided several various ways to include prayer throughout the school-day:

  • Opening and closing each day and/or class with prayer
  • Collaborating with your students to write a class prayer to pray daily
  • Praying for one another’s intentions regularly
  • Praying the rosary together, either in its entirety or a decade a day (particularly in the months of October and May which are dedicated to the Rosary and Mary, respectively)
  • Praying grace before meals (and, possibly, after meals) together as a class
  • Praying for St. Anthony’s intercession when something is lost
  • Choosing a saint your students particularly identify with as the patron/patroness of your classroom
  • Establish a prayer corner, table or area in the classroom
  • Teach and regularly use traditional Catholic prayers (e.g., Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Act of Contrition, Guardian Angel Prayer and so on)
  • Follow the Liturgical calendar with your students by updating displays to reflect the colors and symbols of the new season

Summing Up

In conclusion, new graduates seeking to teach in Catholic schools should prioritize demonstrating their teaching experience, certification, and Catholic faith on their resumes. They should also take the time to research and understand the mission and values of the school they are applying to and prepare themselves to articulate how they can contribute to that mission. With this advice, new graduates can stand out as strong candidates for teaching positions in Catholic schools.

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