REFLECTIONS

on Forty Nine Years Teaching in Catholic High Schools

SJU1962.jpg (157587 bytes)1962 - 2011 joewatching_sunset1.jpg (542847 bytes)

Sixties

Seventies

Eighties

Nineties

New Millennium

Association of Catholic Teachers

       

As I prepare my class presentations now, it is very obvious that the profession and the utensils that we have available to us today is a whole different world compared to when I began in 1962.

 

In the spring semester of 1962. I  completed my student teaching at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School in Lafayette Hill.  As I remember it, I was assigned  9th and 10th grade history classes.  Exactly what those classes were have since passed my memory, but I do remember that a lot of our classroom current events discussions centered around Southeast Asia.  I was  a second semester senior at Saint Joseph's (College then) University.   The only time the cooperating teacher sat in on the classes was when Mr. Jack Ramsey visited as my supervisor from St. Joe's.  It was a good experience and the staff and administration were very kind to me. 

My official career began on the Wednesday after Labor day in September, 1962.  St. Matthew's High School  in Conshohocken, PA was where it all began.  The year began with a faculty meeting in room 207 presided over by the Rev. Walter Laut.  He was very much in charge of the school and ran it very strictly. Catholic school faculties were much different in those days. In addition to the priest principal, there were three diocesan priests, four Bernadine Sisters of St. Francis, two Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,  nine Sisters of St. Joseph,  eleven "lay": teachers (9 men & 2 women). A first year "lay" teacher's salary was $4,000 per year over a 10th month period.  That came out to $100 per week minus taxes. In addition there were eight adjunct music teachers from the Philadelphia Orchestra.  With 50 students in a class, discipline was taken very serious by administrators and teachers alike.  There was were few  difficulties in classroom discipline and classroom presentations usually took the form of lectures while students took notes.  Diocesan wide examinations were given in each subject in January and June.  Not only was I assigned to teach Junior American History but also National Problems to the senior class. National Problems was a course that covered Political Science/Government and Sociology.  In many schools it was simply referred to as POD - Problems of Democracy.   At that opening faculty meeting I was assigned (to my surprise) the extracurricular activities of forensics and stage crew.  What did I know about either?  Well, I had been involved in St. Joe's Twilight players and performed in several of their productions. But Forensics - I didn't even know what it was. In those days you learned as fast as you could.  I visited Sr. Miriam, SSJ who had been the moderator the year before.  I remained very active in the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Forensic League throughout the 1960s and gained much experience and made many friends.

The senior members, and obviously captains of the debate team, were John Myers'63, and Bernard Moore '63 (now a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, Montgomery County). John and Bernard placed second in the Philadelphia Catholic Forensic League's Debate finals at St. James High School and earned a spot to compete in the Nationals in Pittsburgh.  Each year we seem to place at least one or two students in the Nationals in Denver (1964), and Miami (1965).  As treasurer of the Archdiocesan Forensic League I was responsible for raising the airfare for the air transportation costs.  I don't wish to see another bar of "World's Finest Chocolates." There were several new members who remained devoted to the Kinahan Society.  Some of them are now deceased (John Toole '65) and most have moved away.  

Georgetown University was where I spent the first half of the summer of 65.  The university's debate coach and the debate coach at Dartmouth directed a six week forensic four credit workshop. (I could use credits like this today for ACT 48.) The campus in the extreme northwest section of Washington, D.C. was an exciting place to be and the colleagues in the class were a great bunch. I first rented a studio apartment in Arlington across the Keys Bridge but found that lonely.   Shortly I moved into one of the dorms and shared a dorm room with the debate coach from Miami High School, who had a $12,000 budget for his team. Classes were held in a circular language lab across from Holy Trinity Church. At the end of the program we ran a debate tournament.  Several of the teachers from the archdiocese of Philadelphia schools, who were studying in different programs, were called upon to serve as judges.  One of these was Dave Horn from McDevitt who went on to lead the Archdiocesan Forensic league to greater heights.  I shall always treasure my summer at Georgetown.

West Chester (then State Teachers College) University is where I spent the last half of the summer of 1965. It was in August that I took the first course (Civil War and Reconstruction with Dr. Draper) toward the M.Ed. in Social Sciences which I earned in 1968. I would take at least one course during each semester and take as many courses I could in the 3 summer sessions they offered. I forget most of the names of the professors I had there but besides Dr. Draper, I specifically remember Dr. Patricia Johnson.  It was through her demanding and tough standards that I finally learned how to properly research and write a research paper. We had to write three or four 10 page papers during the semester.  Copies had to be made for every other student in the class and distributed to them the week before the class presentation. The students came to the presentation with all kinds of red corrective marks and plenty of questions which required a defense.  Tuition for graduate credit at West Chester, at that time, was $20.  I would not have been able to afford more than that. My salary then was around $4200 per year over 10 months. So for July and August I had to borrow money to pay tuition and living expenses and pay it back over the salaried school year. The curriculum in the Master of Education program at WC required a great deal of work.  There were required research courses, a certain number of courses in the various social sciences and humanities. Candidates were required to maintain a B average, write a thesis (mine was entitled "Drug Addiction: Crime or Disease", of which I still have a copy), and take both written and oral boards.  Thankfully, a test in a foreign language was not required as it was in some other masters programs.

 

The fall school play the first year was (November, 1962) "The King and I."  It was a lot of work several nights a week and weekends under director George Noake.  To this day, I know all the words of the songs from that play.  I stayed with the school play for a couple of years and made many good friends doing that also. "Sweethearts" was the school play for the Fall of 1963.  I don't remember that production at all. Tracey Hall was alive with music for the Fall Play, 1964, "The Sound of Music," followed in the fall of 1965 with "Camelot."

The first mock election in 1964 was more exciting than any others with which I was involved throughout the rest of the twentieth century.  Sr. Hostia and I set up certain requirements. In order to vote students were required to register and when they registered they were required to take a literacy/knowledge test based on questions and answers we had supplied.  Approximately 85% of the students registered and were able to vote in the Johnson-Goldwater Mock Election.  The student body divided themselves into Republican and Democrats and held rallies during lunch periods and after school.  Prior to the afternoon homeroom, an assembly was held for the candidates represented by students could make one last attempt to convince the students for vote for their candidate. The auditorium was all decked out with patriotic colors with bunting covering the front of the stage.    Stage demonstrations for the candidates were performed by each party. Johnson won the mock election in a landslide as he did in the national election. Some of the students involved in that first Mock Election are still involved in Montgomery County and national politics.

 

roma66b`.jpg (325890 bytes)There were other school activities with which I became involved in those early years.  The formation of the 'World Affairs Club' in connection with the World affairs council of Philadelphia was formed in the 65-66 school year.  The yearbook states that, "the purpose of this club is to arouse interest and end apathy in the affairs and the events in the world around us."  We were very adventurous and jumped right into several projects.  A constitution for the club was drawn up by the students. (I wish I had a copy of that constitution now.)  We staged our own Mock United Nations Assembly in the Gym/Auditorium and debated the issue of the admission of the People's Republic of China.  Several students (Ralph Spanish, Mickey Johnson, Enrica Ritrovato, and Mary Pat Myers), were delegates to the Model United Nations General Assembly at the University of Pennsylvania Museum hosted by the World Affairs Council. Also, the World Affairs Council sponsored a chartered trip to Rome during Holy Week.  Thirty students and I joined them on the chartered Lufthansa jet flying out of Philadelphia to the Leonardo Da Vinci airport in Rome at the cost of $400 per person.  We stayed in a first class Roman hotel near the train station.  On our first night this young, 25 year old teacher decided it would be nice to take a walking tour to see the coliseum.  We found it to be quite a busy place.  Later we found out that the coliseum at night was not one of the safest places to be in Rome in those days.  None of us saw anything which we shouldn't have seen.  On a free day, about six students and I decided to take the Train to Florence (Firenze).  Florence is one of the most beautiful cultural cities in the world.  It was Holy Thursday and we visited as many churches as we could.  In one church there was an American art student sketching one of Michelangelo's Pietas.  He then went on and gave us a quickie lesson on Michelangelo's four Pietas.  Returning to Rome, we visited St. Peters for an audience with  Pope Paul VI, visit the church of San Pietro en Vincoli (St. Peter's in Chains) where the beautiful sculpture of Moses by Michelangelo is housed, the Sistine Chapel, and all the other must tourist things to do.

Easter break 1967 saw me take a second group of students to Italy.

A new principal (Rev. Joseph McCloskey) inquired why I wasn't planning a trip to Italy.  It was my impression that only one every 4 years was permissible.  With that inquiry, I contacted a travel agency that dealt wit the Archdiocese.  Having been there the year before,  I had an opportunity to plan the trip and 2 weeks left it open ended.  Problems arose almost immediately. There was some kind of federal law that a group could not travel overseas unless they had been together as a "group" for a minimum of 6 months and we just began as a travel group 2 weeks before the trip was to commence.  The principal suggested that I contact a politician.  Senator Hugh Scott (PA) was a nearby neighbor and an acquaintance of my father. It was one of his clerks (Betty) that was able to contact the federal agencies involved under the law and they were able to give us a clearance.

 

 

For the next couple of school years (63-65), I was assigned National Problems, American History, and Business Arithmetic (in 1965 the course was replaced with General Business).  I continued to serve as Stage Manager for the school play and as Forensic Moderator.  After 10 years at the helm, Fr. Laut was assigned as pastor at St. Frances Cabrini Church in Fairless Hills, Pa. and the Rev. Charles Gallen was named as his successor. When the 65-66 school year opened in September we did not know that it would be the last year under the name of St. Matthew's High School.  It was after the centennial banquet that we first heard that the name was being changed to Archbishop Kennedy High School after Thomas Kennedy who had been a 17 year old lay principal of the school,  later was ordained and became the Archbishop Rector of North American College in Rome and confessor to St. Pius X.   

There was a great deal of excitement around the centennial of the school (1866-1966).  Many of the older alumni, who had been upset over the school being taken away from the parish and made a diocesan high school, came back in full force to help plan and be part of the festivities.  However, at one of the banquets, Cardinal Krol leaned over the principal to then Superintendent of Schools Msgr. Schulte and asked him if he had received the note about the name change for the school. Fr. Gallen informed us in his office shortly after the banquet.  We were informed that it would be named for a formal principal - Thomas Kennedy.  Thomas Kennedy had been principal of St. Matthew's HS in the 19th century at the age of 17.  He resigned his post to enter St. Charles Seminary and was ordained and eventually sent to Rome to be Rector of the North American Seminary.  He is buried in the crypt there.  While at the post he was the confessor to Pope ST. Pius X.

 

Association of Catholic Teachers begins in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Lay teacher positions were not very secure in the mid 1960s. Even though most of us were young (still in our 20s) there was a commitment to Catholic Education which had educated all of us to where we were at that time.  Many of us felt that the diocese had looked at us as just fill in for the religious nuns and priests.  Job security was non-existent.  You were lucky enough to be invited back for the next school year on the last school day of the year.  One was entirely at the mercy of the priest principal of the school. There were no benefits at all except for maybe a 10 day sick leave if needed. Female teachers were paid on a lower pay schedule than the male teachers were.

We began to talk together.  Many of us had become acquaints and friends with teachers at other archdiocesan schools through our moderator capacities of sports, co-curricular and extracurrilar activities.  Many of our religious colleagues had also seen our common plight for our futures.  Were we here just putting in time before we moved on to something else or another career or were we going to make a lifelong commitment to Catholic Education?  Our first gathering was in a classroom of  West Catholic High School for Boys.  We vented our frustrations and worries there. Of course, we continued our discussions in our local schools.  This was a time when schools were at their full capacities and plans for building new schools were in the planning stages.

Our next meeting was in the auditorium of West Catholic High School for Boys.  By that time we had identified issues that were of great importance and would determine if we were going to be full partners in the future of Catholic education or part timers who would hang around for a little while and then move on. Our leaders - John Murray, John Reilly, Rita Schwartz, etc.- were willing to stick their necks out and investigate what options we had. With the support of some of the greatest leaders in the Office of Catholic Education,  Msgr. Hughes and Msgr. Schulte, the Cardinal was convinced to allow an election under the NLRB . The vote was very strong for the Association.

 

 

 

September, 1993 Arrival at Archbishop John Carroll High School

The shock of leaving the high school where I began my professional teaching career was a big one.  If I was old enough to retire, this would have been the time to do so. Luckily, I was moving into a very professional environment  led by the Christian Brothers.  Brother Richard Kestler ( whom I knew when he was principal at West Catholic High School and attended classes with me at Villanova for a degree in Educational Administration) was just appointed principal.  Brother Richard had called me during the summer to let me know that the Social Studies Chair position was available. For a number of reasons, I knew that I was not right for a chair position at the time  since I had just backed out of one I was offered at Lansdale Catholic. There was a young professional teacher I had worked with at Kennedy who I thought was perfect for the job - Patricia Rigby.  She did apply for the position and it was hers. Therefore, when I started at Carroll, I was not going there alone.

The professional faculty at Carroll was very welcoming and I can still remember Coach Dan Bielli coming up to me with an outstretched hand of welcome and let me know that we knew people in common. As we had lunch in the courtyard between the library and the auditorium, I was impressed or somewhat awed at the 13 original state flags in full display from the wall.  I was coming from a place with a history of over 125 years and arriving at a place which embraced the history of our country and the first Archbishop of the United States of America - John Carroll.

 

THE LAST YEAR (2010-2011)

In September, 2010 I was not expecting this to be my last year teaching.  A prediction had been made to the class of 2012 that I would stay until they graduated and leave with them. I will miss them greatly and hope that I can return to visit or sub frequently during their senior year.

The year began with a new principal being appointed by the Office of Catholic Education. Also, the department received a new teacher through constriction.  This was going to be his 5th school in 11 years.  That record should have been a warning in itself.  We did welcome him and tried to bring him in to the fold.  He constantly criticized everything we did. Nothing about the opening days of school was acceptable to  him.  At first, he seemed  to trust me but that soon went away as I started visiting his classes.

He began to develop a relationship with the new principal.  Visiting him on a daily basis, they obviously talked a bit about technology in the classroom and Quadrant D learning.  Therefore, whenever I had a post conference with him with suggestions, he would counteract as to what the principal wanted. My position as department chair in trying to get this teacher to pay some attention to curriculum content was sabotaged by the principal.  With collegiality in mind, I informed the Assistant Principal for Academics what my concerns were. She informed the principal who then called the teacher in immediately.  There was no way I could reach this teacher after their meeting.

Students began to complain that they weren't learning. One student asked to see me to talk about what was going on in this new teacher's American History class. I agreed.  However, on December 23rd, she told the teacher that I wanted to see her during his class period. I had not agreed to this and went to the Guidance Department's Christmas party.  She left the class and I was told that she told him that I wanted to see her to find out what was going on in his class.  He never approached me about this but went to the principal and told him that I pulled a student out of his class to talk about  him.  When I heard about this, I told him that I had not done what he was convinced that I had.  He told me that he was told not to discuss this with me without the principal being there. I looked for the principal  but he was not in his office.  The teacher had followed me into the office of academic affairs and still would not listen.  I called him a "trouble maker." That incident started a firestorm. (I still believe that he was and enjoys causing trouble and dissent).

It still doesn't make sense to me that the new principal had developed such a disdain for me.  The only reason that makes sense is that my seniority was costing OCE too much money and therefore any way that he could get me to retire would be good..  Whatever the reason he found every opportunity to harass and disrespect me. During the first month, I disagreed with his policy of what chairs were to collaborate with an administrator before they gave their written evaluations to the teachers in the department. I shared my view with him because that was the collegial approach which I had always had with administrators and other teachers. Obviously, to disagree with this principal was either disrespectful or insubordinate.  He used the new member of the department to stir up trouble.  Therefore, he was his "hatchet boy" to create trouble and to make me look bad.  After the above mentioned December 23rd incident, every month brought some type of failure or crises.  His February complaint was that I had not had  the department develop any celebration of "Black History" Month. Even though I replied that all teachers were free to develop whatever celebrations they wanted, the Principal agreed with him and felt that I was not showing any academic leadership in the matter.  March was "Women's History" Month .  April was a disagreement over my signatures to allow one of his students to move up a track.  This lasted until the end of the school year even though the Assistant Principal for Academic Affairs addressed this with him.