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New Jesuits Learn Lessons in Teaching through Creighton Program

Jack McLinden, SJJack McLinden, SJ, feels confident about the upcoming school year. And for a new teacher preparing to lead his first high school class, that’s a win.

This summer, McLinden and a handful of his fellow Jesuits took a crash course in classroom success through Creighton University’s Summer Teacher Prep for Jesuit Regents program.

Spearheaded by the Department of Education in the College of Arts and Sciences and Creighton’s Magis Catholic Teacher Corps, the program offers new Jesuits the chance to experience the University’s professional educator training as they prepare to take on teaching assignments as part of the Jesuit formation process.

“It gets to the DNA of Creighton,” says Max Engel, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Education and one of the organizers of the Jesuit teacher program. “We welcome the Jesuits. The Jesuit charisms permeate every program on this campus. … I think the instruction that we provide is geared toward those in Catholic schools, while certainly meeting every requirement and beyond for public school teachers as well. That’s unique about our program.”

Following a period of study as a religious brother or scholastic (a person entering the priesthood), Jesuits completing the formation process enter the regency stage, in which they work full time in a Jesuit ministry and live in a community of Jesuits. The regency typically lasts about three years, and many regents spend the time teaching in Jesuit high schools or universities, learning to balance apostolic work with a life of prayer and communal living.

But formal training has traditionally been scant for new regents preparing to teach for the first time, says Colleen Chiacchere, MS’14, director of the Magis Catholic Teacher Corps. So, informally at first, word began to spread among the Jesuit community that Creighton’s summer education courses could provide a solid teaching foundation for regents preparing to start classes in the fall.

“We have a robust summer program anyway,” Chiacchere says. “Our classes are still pretty small, about 10 or 20 students. The professors do a ton of group activities. It’s very hands-on.”

The University has since formalized the Jesuit teacher program, expanding outreach efforts to formation directors in all of the Jesuit provinces in the U.S. and Canada, Engel says. And organizers are finding that word travels far.

“The Jesuit networks are pretty tight and pretty small across North America,” he says. “The guys are reporting that (the program) really makes a difference. That they feel better about (teaching) and that it’s been a good experience.”

Research has shown that teachers who receive training tend to enjoy the experience more and become more effective educators, Engel says. As a result, Creighton’s efforts are increasingly being recognized by Jesuit high schools around the country.

Organizers have received positive feedback from several Jesuit regents who have passed through the program, including the Rev. Matthew Spotts, SJ, who spent time teaching history, theology and philosophy at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis.

“When I compare my experience of preparation to those who did nothing to prepare for regency, I had a much smoother entry than those who did not prepare,” Fr. Spotts says. “Not only did I have concrete tools, techniques and ideas, but I also acquired a language set that allowed me to more effectively process the huge number of new experiences during my first year.”

This year’s cohort, which included McLinden and four other Jesuit regents, completed two education courses on campus through June and July. The first, EDU 551, covered general principles of teaching at the secondary level. The second, EDU 601, covered new technology and how to use it in the classroom. While taking the classes, the regents lived on campus in the Jesuit community.

In addition to the Jesuit regents, participants included recruits to the Magis Catholic Teacher Corps, which trains college graduates to teach in Catholic schools, and other lay students. Both sessions were taught by Mike Mansour, an adjunct instructor at Creighton and dean of academics at Omaha’s Jesuit Academy.

The key when training new teachers, Mansour says, is to teach them how to craft student-centric lesson plans. New teachers, he says, tend to teach how they were taught last and often default to the college approach of lectures and note taking.

During the class, Mansour taught the future educators various techniques for keeping students interested and engaged, often introducing them to new classroom technologies. In one exercise, he demonstrated how to use a Makey Makey, an electronic device that lets students control a computer with everyday objects.

“(We learned) how to keep the students engaged and think about what the students are doing with their hands,” says McLinden, who is set to teach at a Jesuit high school in Detroit this fall. “It’s been a great immersion into what course planning looks like.”

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