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Thoughts on Catholic Teacher Formation Today

Thoughts on Catholic Teacher Formation Today

Catholic teacher formation promotes a distinct philosophy of education. This is underpinned by Catholic anthropology, which is a particular understanding of the human person. The Catholic vision is that each human being is made in the image and likeness of God, that they have intrinsic dignity and inherent worth, and that they are body, mind and soul. The use of the term ‘formation’ rather than popular secular descriptions of teacher ‘training’ or ‘education’ signifies this distinction. Catholic teacher formation exists in the context of Western secular democracies, including those with a ‘pluralist’ education system (which includes faith-schools).

The Church increased its attention to Catholic teacher formation in the 1970s and 1980s, as members of the laity assumed the teaching roles which were previously the task of Religious Orders and Teaching Congregations. The Church stated that the aim of Catholic teacher formation was to prepare teachers for a ‘vocation’. This requires ‘an appropriate formation, both on the professional plane and on the religious plane’ (Lay Catholics in School, 1982, 60). The following three aspects of Catholic teacher formation (taken from The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988)) remains essential, over four decades later. It could be argued that there is an even greater need for these considerations today.

‘Careful preparation’

‘The aim of the [Catholic] school is knowledge.’ Contemporary Western Catholic schools are educational and cultural milieus, and thus Catholic teacher formation should imbue its student teachers with ‘religious knowledge’ and ‘secular knowledge.’ The Catholic teacher should be equipped with religious literacy, and this should be combined with the knowledge to teach the required curricular or subject disciplines, whether at primary or secondary level. Catholic teachers are required to be able to skilfully balance their religious and secular educational duties.

‘Best possible qualifications’

Catholic teachers should possess the best possible qualifications. This will signify that prospective teachers have displayed ‘educational skills’, which are importantly ‘informed by educational research.’ Catholic teacher formation should promote the academic profile of its students, thus drawing upon the wealth of educational research available locally, or from the global catalogue. As such, Catholic teacher formation should extend beyond the initial period of formation and continue into the career of the Catholic teacher. Catholic teacher formation is linked, therefore, to professional development for Catholic teachers already in the profession.

‘Adequate religious formation’

Catholic teacher formation requires ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’ formation. The Church’s view is that religious formation is primarily intellectual, and this includes aspects such as knowledge of Sacred Scripture, Divine Revelation and the Tradition in the Church. The Catholic teacher must possess such religious formation to present the Catholic faith as both intellectually robust and coherent.  Religious formation also extends to the arts, music, sciences and philosophy, among other disciplines. Furthermore, the liturgical year informs many aspects of life in a Catholic school. As such, spiritual formation is essential. Catholic teacher formation should immerse its students into prayer, the Mass and different forms of liturgy, pilgrimage and particular Catholic cultural expressions and devotions. A Catholic teacher formation which does not pay attention to spiritual formation will not equip its future teachers to navigate the liturgical life of the school.

It is important to consider the role that Catholic teacher formation has in the Catholic educational arena. Perhaps it is time for a renewed appreciation of the role Catholic teacher formation plays in the life of the Church, and for the contribution it makes towards education in secular societies more broadly.

He is a presenter at Easter Reflections at the Quay, on BBC One Scotland 11:30am-12:55pm on Easter Sunday. It will be on the Iplayer for a year so you can watch him more than once!

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