Pictured: The Ryan family, summer 2021, at Johnny’s first profession of vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross. Back, left to right: Joe, Patrick, Jimmy, Brigid. Front, left to right: Jean (Mum), Johnny, John (Dad).
In the Catholic tradition and among the ACE community, I am often reminded that parents are the primary educators of their children. In my own case, this is especially true. My parents are educators both on the professional and familial levels. And the cliche is true: I would not be where I am today without them--so forgive me if this becomes something of a love letter to my parents.
I know I have been truly blessed when it comes to my family. My parents have encouraged and supported me every step of the way. They have been my inspiration and role models. Both early ‘90s alumni of Notre Dame, they each went into education straight out of college. My dad returned to his high school alma mater, St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey, with his shiny ND physics degree, bringing his new wife with him. My mom of course was not to be outdone, having completed not only a STEM major in math, but also a language major in Spanish as well. I have been told countless stories of their time teaching at Benedict’s. They even brought my older brother and me into school with them when we were babies. Thus, quite literally, I have spent almost my entire life going to school, learning from my parents both in and out of the classroom.
Luckily for them, God, family, and education overlap in Catholic schools.
Anyone who has spent time with my parents quickly realizes how much they love Catholic education. The only two things they love more than that, I think, are God and family. Luckily for them, God, family, and education overlap in Catholic schools. The family of St. Benedict’s is incredible, from the monks of the abbey, to the teacher-coach atmosphere, to the students who strive to meet high standards. My parents love that family. I hear it in their voices when they recount stories, recalling by name students from so many years ago. I see it in their faces when we get to visit Newark, reconnecting with their friends and colleagues who remember what I was like as a toddler. My whole life, my parents have shown me how being an educator enriches and broadens one’s vision of family.
When we moved to Massachusetts, and my mom started staying home with the growing number of children in the house, my dad found another fantastic Catholic school family in St. Sebastian’s School. When I became a student there, I had already been part of the Arrows family for a long time. Thanks to my parents, my siblings and I grew up in and around a wealth of educational opportunities. I am overwhelmingly grateful for the ways in which my parents served not only in the nurturing parental role, but also the roles of teacher, coach, and mentor for me and my siblings. Whether it was my dad breaking out the telescope to show us the stars and moon, or my mom running through math fact flashcards with us, or both of them reading through whole book series with us, their parenting was also a continual form of teaching. Because of my parents, home was like school, in the best way possible; learning and growing was always intertwined with the love and belonging of family. This in turn made it easier for school to feel like home.
I have learned so much from my parents and the way they teach. In some ways, I think, teaching is simply the way they live. Before all the “work-life balance” alarms go off, let me clarify. When I was preparing for year one, they kept reminding me: “Love the kids.” For them, the labors of teaching (and, I’m sure, of parenting) are rooted in love. It is in this spirit, their spirit, that I try to teach. They continue to lead the way, as my dad approaches 30 years as a high school teacher and coach, and my mom tutors, helps in the school office, and serves as a teacher’s aide. More than any one thing my parents have shared with me, it is their loving spirit that I most hope to incorporate into my own practice as an educator. As much as I want my students to remember Newton’s Laws or Latin vocabulary, I am equally concerned that they feel loved and supported by their school family.
Mum and Dad, I cannot thank you enough for inspiring me and my siblings. If we all had the opportunity to gush about you in a blog post, I’m sure we would. We each in our own ways hope to carry on the light you have passed to us. Johnny’s in seminary, I’m in ACE, and Patrick is waiting to hear his own ACE placement. It’s almost like Catholic education is the family business. Brigid and Joe, no pressure. :)
Learn more about ACE Teaching Fellows at ace.nd.edu/teach.