Dennis Rankin: "We Cannot Find This Anywhere Else"
Whether novice or veteran, every teacher experiences challenging interactions with parents. Dennis Rankin, a graduate of the 17th cohort of ACE Teaching Fellows, is no different. For Dennis, though, one particularly stressful interaction led to a fuller appreciation of what it means to teach in Catholic schools.
Dennis awoke early one Friday morning during his time in Teaching Fellows to an email from a disgruntled parent regarding a grade their student had received on a recent math assignment. Karen Vogtner, his principal at Saint John the Evangelist, always encouraged in-person conflict resolution, so Dennis invited the parent to meet with him and the student after school to address the problem and work towards a resolution.
Dennis left the ACE Atlanta house that morning nervous for the meeting ahead. Though he had dealt with such conferences in the past, it was clear that this parent was particularly upset, and Dennis began the day with the meeting weighing heavily on his mind.
Like many Catholic schools, St. John’s holds a weekly Mass on Friday for the school community. So Dennis began his day by gathering his homeroom students and leading them to the church. Usually, he paid close attention to the Liturgy of the Word in hopes of finding inspiration for the school day ahead. However, he found it difficult to focus on the readings on this particular day as his mind wandered back to the email.
Following the Sign of Peace, Dennis walked to the altar and prepared to distribute Communion to his students. As the first child came forward, he held up the Eucharist and placed it in his student’s hands saying, “The Body of Christ.” In that instant, the stress from the email dissolved from his mind and the profundity of this seemingly simple act replaced it. Here he was, a middle school math teacher tasked with giving out the Body of Christ to his students. Gratitude and excitement washed away the anxiety and fear. He recognized this moment as the ultimate reason to teach in a Catholic school because, as Dennis says, we “cannot find this anywhere else.”
While the reality of the parent-teacher conference did not disappear, the peace of the Eucharist eased his stress. Strengthened by this assurance, Dennis met the parent and student with confidence and focused the conversation on the fact that “we both care deeply about this student.” In this light, the meeting moved from an argument to an opportunity to discuss how the three would work together as a team, not as adversaries.
Dennis remembers this day each time he is asked about the impact of Catholic schools. Teachers have the opportunity to reach students on many levels, with Christ always present at the center of the relationship.The celebration of the Eucharist is a participation in the fullness of divine revelation and salvation. Teachers and students are encouraged to participate in a “community” in the truest sense of the word.
Dennis spent five years at his ACE school as a member of the SJE family and was eager to remain in a Catholic school when he and his wife moved to the Twin Cities. Now in his second year teaching at Saint Peter Catholic School in Saint Paul, he continues to find strength in the transformational power of the Eucharist. He truly embodies the kind of Catholic educator ACE seeks to form in the way that he finds ways to teach the whole student. Dennis will take the next step in this development this summer, as a member of the 16th cohort of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program.
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