Teaching to the generations

More than a few teachers in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas are now teaching the children of children they taught many years ago. As part of our Catholic Schools Week coverage, The Leaven asked a few of them to share their thoughts on teaching to the generations.

Patty Hill
St. John School, Lawrence

I have been teaching at St. John since 1980. During my years at St. John, I have taught just about every combination of subjects you can imagine — first grade, second grade, third grade, math, science, social studies, handwriting, art and music. I am currently teaching second-grade math and social studies.

As you can imagine, I have taught many children of former students — too many to count. I am currently teaching eight children of former students. I think that says a lot about the school — the fact that so many former students want their children to attend St. John. Quite often, I know immediately who their parents are. It’s always so rewarding to see former students return with their children. There is nothing better than seeing how far they have come since second or third grade, and that they are instilling the same values in their kids that we taught them when they were at St. John.

Many people have asked me why I have stayed at St. John School so long. There are so many reasons. I originally applied to St. John because my husband’s family has such a deep history with this school and church. But it soon became much more to me. Our staff is not just a group of people working together; we are truly a family.

Our parents are also a huge part of it. We really have the best parents, and they support us in all we do. But the best part is the kids. They keep me on my toes, and keep me smiling.

Mary Frances Jaksa
Christ the King School, Kansas City, Kansas

I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in the fourth grade at St. John the Baptist School [in Kansas City, Kansas]. I wrote an essay on it. Being the oldest in the family of eight children, it just seemed natural.

After graduating from Benedictine College, I returned to St. John’s and taught there for two years before coming to Christ the King. I have been teaching for 39 years, 37 of those at Christ the King in the first grade.

I have taught parents and children of the same family.

In having taught the parents and the children, a bond is created that often lasts a lifetime. We become like a family — they know me and I know them.

It’s always a pleasure to see former students, who are now parents, and their families. Sometimes the students are like their parents, sometimes not. The parents are usually the ones to say, “He’s a handful like I was,” “You might want to retire before you get her,” or “You can’t leave until you’ve taught my last child.”

I come from a family that believes in putting down deep roots. I’ve put deep roots into this family of Christ the King School. I hope I have shown the Christ the King community, school and families that I am as invested as they are in working for its success.

Debra O’Shea
St. Matthew School, Topeka

Hello, I am Debra O’Shea. I have been a Catholic school teacher my entire teaching career. I taught one year at Luckey High School in Manhattan, three years at Hayden High School in Topeka, and I have been at St. Matthew School for 20 years. I have taught business classes in the high schools and at St. Matthew I have taught technology and served as the resource teacher working with all the students in the school. Currently at St. Matthew, there are seven students who I had the privilege of teaching at least one of their parents.

I love to see former students with their own children and to watch them pass on their Catholic faith and love of Catholic education to their children. I am lucky to have this experience and it is one of the reasons that I love St. Matthew — the family atmosphere. I feel we are a giant, loving family that is there to help each other achieve the ultimate goal of going to heaven.

My favorite story is the fact that I was only 23 when I taught at Hayden High School. My first year there, I had both Father Jerry Volz and Father Tim Haberkorn as students. I was also blessed to have Father Jerry Volz as a parish priest for several years. I loved to tell the students that I was his teacher and that I was very old. The students never believed him when they compared the two of us — me with my gray-free hair and him with his beautiful white hair. They would just laugh and tell him he was wrong.

Nancy Henning
St. Benedict School, Atchison

This is my 32nd year teaching at St. Benedict School. While there, I have taught approximately 40 to 50 children of former students. There are seven students in my first-grade class this year [whose parents] I have taught.

I always enjoy starting off the year letting my first-graders know whose parents I have taught. Often, my students will find it amusing when I make the mistake of calling them by his or her parent’s name. Last year, I brought a musical Santa to school that a former student had given to me for a Christmas present so I could share it with her daughter that I had in my class. The daughter also brought in artwork and papers that her mother had saved to share with me.

Although I did not teach my two sons, I did have the opportunity to teach many nieces and nephews. Since I come from a large extended family, I have also taught several second cousins. One year, I remember being related to six of the students in my class.

I have taught an entire family — Mom, Dad and their three daughters. However, I have not taught any grandchildren of former students — yet. Hopefully, that will not happen too soon. That just might make me feel old!

The ability to infuse the Catholic faith into the education of each child is one of the main reasons why I have remained at St. Benedict for so long. It’s comforting to know that former students of St. Benedict find it just as important to do so by sending their children to carry on their Catholic heritage.

Lonnie Tupa
Xavier Catholic Preschool, Leavenworth

My name is Lonnie Tupa and I have been teaching at Xavier Preschool in Leavenworth for the past 30 years. Xavier Preschool has a student population of 120, ages 3 and 4. Our preschool is unique in that roughly half of the children come from military families who are stationed at Fort Leavenworth. Their families are just here for one year. The other half of the students come from Leavenworth, Lansing and the surrounding area.

I have taught many children of parents who were former preschool students of mine. It is absolutely thrilling to have this opportunity. I can always pick these children out because this is a small community and I have been able to watch my former preschoolers grow into adults, marry and start their families. It is amazing to see how much they resemble their parents and have many of the same personality traits. I especially love it when I get to start with a family and then teach all the other siblings in the family, too. The added reward is when I see my former preschool students take on leadership roles within our faith community as adults.

We were a military family and when we moved to Leavenworth in 1984, we knew we had found a real treasure in the Leavenworth Catholic school system, preschool-grade 12. I started teaching at the preschool in 1985 and fell in love with it. It didn’t take our family long to know we wanted to retire and make Leavenworth our home. It has been extremely satisfying for me to have had the honor of teaching families spanning the last three decades. It has never felt like a “job,” but rather like a whole lot of fun . . . and the blessings just keep coming.

Gary Baldridge
Christ the King School, Topeka

I have been teaching at Christ the King in Topeka for 22 years. I am a seventh- grade homeroom teacher and I teach seventh-grade religion and seventh- and eighth-grade American history and sixth-grade world history.

This past year, I got the opportunity to teach my first student of a student. There are several younger students whose parents I taught; sometimes they look like Mom and Dad, sometimes I have to see the child with her parents before I make the connection.

I was truly excited to get my first student’s student. I enjoy seeing brothers and sisters, cousins and former students’ kids at CTK. To me, it allows for a continuity of teaching and relationships.

My first student’s student is particularly great because I have taught with her grandmother since the beginning of CTK.

I love teaching at CTK because I can incorporate Christ in virtually all of my subjects. I also get to teach middle school kids, the best in the world.

Sister Kathy Atkins
Resurrection Catholic School at the Cathedral, Kansas City, Kansas

When I began my teaching career in 1973, we were assigned such short stays in a school that I never thought about teaching children of the children I was teaching. But times have changed. In 1985, I was assigned to Bishop Ward High School. For 25 years, I taught math and computer classes there and, for many of those years, I was a senior class sponsor. So I knew, in some way, every student who graduated from Bishop Ward during those years.

In 2010, I chose to resign, wondering where God was calling me to serve next. I was incredibly lucky to be hired to teach middle school math at Resurrection Grade School. I was thrilled to know that I would continue to teach the young people of eastern Wyandotte County. The most enriching experience of these past seven years has been the opportunity to teach children of the children I taught at Ward. I would guess I have taught about 10 of the children of my former students. Sometimes, a student introduces him- or herself to me and says, “You taught my mom!” Sometimes, I don’t realize I am teaching the next generation until a parent walks in for conferences and I recognize a former student. I am always touched that they remember me, but most especially, that their experiences at Bishop Ward were rewarding enough that they entrust their most precious “possessions” to us to educate at Resurrection!

And I look at those former students and have no doubt that their children will grow up into fine young adults just like their parents did!

Rosalie Divelbiss
Sts. Peter and Paul School, Seneca

I have been teaching at Sts. Peter and Paul School in Seneca since 1974. Most of my career has been in the middle school, teaching religion, math and social studies. Twenty years ago, I earned a master’s degree in educational technology and a Kansas library certification. Since then, half of my school day is in the library where I meet with each class (preK–8) once a week. Besides the library work, this year I am teaching seventh-grade religion and world geography, and sixth-grade world history.

Seneca is a small, close-knit, rural community (population 2000). I am privileged to watch our students from the time they are small at parish and community gatherings. This year, there are about 25 students enrolled at SPPS whose parents are my former students. Working with these students provides a warm feedback; former students think so well of their time here, they willingly entrust their children to my care.

Currently, five of my former students are teaching with me here at SPPS and another is on staff. The kindergarten teacher always introduced me as her “old” teacher, until this year when one of her former students joined the faculty. Now, she refers to us as “former” teachers.

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