Catholic School

On my 55th birthday, my wife congratulated me, and the next thing she me was, “When are you retiring”? I did so about five months later. I got, immediately, a job teaching science in a catholic high school.

My wife, Flo, had by this time become a grizzled veteran catholic educator. This was the only family venture into catholic education – both of us, along with our two kids, were educated in public schools. My gig was at Bishop Denis O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia.

I was inspired to write on this when I found an obituary in the Washington Post (I check the obits every day to make sure I’m not in them…) of my erstwhile boss, one Ann Marie Hicks. Ann Marie, I learned in the piece, died of Alzeimers Disease in her 80th year. I have worked for numerous supervisors in my career at DEA, my stint in the Navy and in other places. Ann Marie was the best of the lot, hands down. Although I had a couple of degrees in chemistry and a few decades of experience, I had never taught, least of all teenagers. She told me what to cover in the textbook, and told me she wasn’t about to tell me how to go about doing it. Ann Marie was, to the say the least, not a micromanager. She was always available to answer queations I may have had, but trusted me to do it my way. In the current idiom, I always knew she had my back.

All told, my seven years at O’Connell were the hardest working, but the most rewarding, in my working career. The school tended to hire retired military officers and civil servants. We could all be trained to teach, but there is no substitute, at the end of the day, for knowledge of our respective fields.

I well remember as a kid growing up that the scariest thing misbehaving, under achieving children could be threatened with was transfer to catholic school. Things have, to say the least, changed. For starters, there are few, if any in most of them, nuns, brothers and priests. There is no longer corporal punishment. Class sizes are greatly reduced. Tuition costs are not easily affordable for many families. In the case of O’Connell, located in the extremely affluent Washington, DC suburbs, the school had to pay reasonably competitive salaries to draw qualified teachers, given that the faculty was predominately lay.

There were, however, advantages for teachers. Although not required, the school encouraged the practice of opening each class with a prayer. This contrasts vividly with the prohibition of even the mention of God in the public schools. Unruly kids could be expelled (imagine that!). The bureaucratic load was nearly nonexistent by comparison. Although a couple of decades have passed since I taught there, I don’t think that much has changed. I also don’t think the nonsense we hear about these days (book burnings, woke culture, gender restroom issues, etc. etc.) have had much of an effect on these schools.

Fare thee well, Ann Marie. It was my privilege and honor to have known and worked with you. Although I do not deserve it, I hope God sees fit to reunite us in the afterlife. My deepest condolences to Norman and your kids.

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