A thoughtful approach to classroom management

Teachers talk about how, and why, they teach

By Mary Beth Peabody

Just about everyone can recall that one (or more) teacher who had a way of bringing out the best in students, whose presence in the classroom yielded respect and kindness, whose passion for the subject made a learner out of every classmate. Conversations with some of South Jersey Catholic Schools teachers offer some insight about how they do it — from engaging with learners, to dealing with discipline, to helping students grow their faith and maintain strong values.

A conversation with Julie Breyer

Saint Teresa Regional Catholic School, Runnemede, Middle School

Julie Breyer starts her eighth graders’ day with the Loyola Press 3-Minute Retreat, which combines a brief Scripture passage and reflection with meditative music. Students use a journal to reflect on their daily retreat. “I like for them to reflect on things in their young lives so they have that core in them,” she said, adding that her students speak openly with her and each other about moral decisions. “They share a lot,” she said.

Breyer has been teaching for 16 years, all in Catholic school. At Saint Teresa in Runnemede, Breyer teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grade math, as well as eighth grade reading, religion and social studies.

“I don’t know if I would be able to turn that off,” she said of the faith she brings to every class. Breyer said she can’t imagine celebrating seasons and holidays, for example, without the religious component. “It’s part of who we are.”

Breyer said discipline is rarely a problem, but she asks herself, “How would their mom deal with this?” when it comes to managing classroom challenges.

“I will take a student in the hallway and ask, ‘How can we make this better?’ Sometimes [students] are acting up because they aren’t confident, so I reiterate or reteach.”

Breyer said older students spend time with younger students, and the entire school community attends Mass on Fridays. “I love seeing the whole school there. … I think families still appreciate that we are going to Mass,” she said.

Over her 16 years of teaching, Breyer said the biggest change has come in the area of technology. And she has grown to love the access and flexibility it offers. Every eighth grader has a school-issued Chromebook for the year. Most textbooks and reading selections are accessed online, but available in hard copy in the classroom as well. “It’s great because so much is online … and with Google docs students can research and write all at once,” Breyer said.

Breyer said she believes parents value that “We’re not just teaching subjects. We’re giving them the ability to know they are loved — not just by teachers and staff, but by Jesus.”

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