On Nationa Teacher Day, Sr. Anita Rolenc reflects on the awesome responsibility of preparing students to be faithful to God, responsible adults in society, and loyal to their country
Sr. Anita Rolenc always knew she wanted to be a teacher. As a toddler, she would line up her dolls and teach them. She was inspired by her mother, four aunts (two of whom were Notre Dame Sisters), and a couple of cousins who were teachers. She had the Notre Dame Sisters for teachers in both elementary and high school, which motivated her even more to become a teacher.
After graduating from college, Sr. Anita taught elementary school for 20 years and high school for 36 years. She was also an elementary school principal for two years. After retiring from full-time teaching, she substituted at St. Philip Neri elementary school for seven years. All of these years of experience added up to an impressive 43 years of teaching.
Sr. Anita faced many challenges throughout her career, but she always took each challenge as a way to be more effective. She modified the “new method” learned at teachers’ conventions to suit the students and experimented with various ways to reach them. Her motivation was a love for teaching and an even greater desire to assist her students to be successful in the classroom and in life. If any student struggled, she would provide individualized lessons, readings, and tests to help them succeed.
Sr. Anita went above and beyond for many of her students, but two instances stand out in her mind. One was with a boy who failed the second semester of sophomore literature she was teaching. She reminded him several times that he needed to do the work if he wanted to graduate in a couple of years. She devised a plan for him to do the work independently, with a deadline in December. She had a conference with him and his parents and explained that she was not going to “hound” him to get the work done; he was responsible for it. At his graduation party, his father thanked her for caring enough to make his son do his assignments to pass the course.
Another instance was with a freshman boy who struggled to learn. He had been in remedial classes at the public school and failed the reading course. His mother transferred him to the Catholic school, and the counselor asked Sr. Anita to teach him one-on-one and to cover two years in one. She asked the boy what stories he liked to read and learned he hated grammar. She came up with a plan to have him read simple stories and answer questions either orally or in short written answers. She would make tests that were either true/false or 2-3 multiple choice. Since she realized he could not write a paragraph, she avoided essay questions, but would question him orally about the story he read. The impact? He came to her classroom every day with a big smile on his face. He did the work and passed 2 years’ courses in one!
Sr. Anita’s advice to aspiring teachers or those just starting out their teaching careers is, “To love your ministry of teaching and love your students. Remember, you are not their friend; you are their teacher. Determine your class rules so the students know you are in charge. Do not hesitate to correct them when needed.” Sr. Anita learned in working with high schoolers that they know if you love them, no matter how strict or demanding you may be. Love shows! In the ways you correct, advise, and help them.
Sr. Anita has received several “thank you” letters from students of hers years after graduating from high school telling her how she influenced them to enter education as a profession. Some tell her the impact she made on their faith life. Some thank her for having taught them in high school. Some have invited her to their wedding or sent her a notification of the birth of a child.
Finally, on this special day, Sr. Anita sends a message to her students and fellow educators about the importance of education and the role of teachers in shaping young minds. To her students, “I enjoyed being your teacher. Each day was an exciting challenge, a gift from God to help you succeed not only in the course material but also in life after graduation. You have made me proud to have taught you! I thank God and pray for you daily.”
To fellow educators, “Your ministry as a teacher is an awesome responsibility for you are preparing students to be faithful to God, responsible adults in society, and loyal to their country. Pray for your students and be an adult role model by your example.”