BOSTON — The annual convention of the National Catholic Educational Association is a busman’s holiday of sorts.
Every year thousands of Catholic school teachers and administrators take a big chunk of their Easter vacation to learn how to do their jobs better.
They attend dozens of workshops dealing with the nuts and bolts of how to get kids to write more creatively or understand math concepts. They also get tips on ways to use
technology in class and suggestions for ways this technology should be curbed, if possible, by students off campus.
The educators also deal with bigger challenges: how to cope with closing schools, competition from charter schools and how to teach the faith in a world that seems to continually grow further from it.
But the three-day event, which took place April 11-13 in Boston this year, was not all learning. The 10,000 participants, most of whom were women, also just seemed to enjoy their time together. (One sign there were more women than men were the men’s bathrooms in the convention hall that were temporarily converted to women’s rooms.)
These educators, including catechists, congregated in groups in between “classes” and got together for meals that were most likely better than the usual cafeteria fare.
Although some joked that they “don’t get out much,” they seemed to know just how to get out in this city gearing up for its opening day Red Sox game at Fenway Park tonight and the upcoming Boston Marathon this coming Monday.
The regulars at these conventions know the drill. They comb through the convention program for workshops that catch their eye and then many complain that there are too many good workshops offered at the same time.
The overall mood of this group was certainly upbeat. These folks are really committed not only to their students but to the whole idea of educating young people in the faith.
Even this reporter, who has been to lots of NCEA conventions, was impressed. I was also glad my kids have had the benefit of dedicated men and women such as those in this crowd.
In no way was this a group of Pollyannas either. In discussions during some workshops, these educators expressed frustration that they sometimes feel they are lone voices stressing the importance of Catholic schools. It seems they not only have to fight for funds to keep going but also for support.
Often people reminisce about the old days when schools were staffed by nuns and some lament how those days are over.
A photo at the NCEA headquarters from the first convention illustrates these old days: All the participants attending a general session are sisters wearing habits.
Those days are gone. Certainly there are still women religious, priests and brothers leading schools and religious education programs, but the bulk of the work is done by the laity.
And from the looks of things, these men and women are taking their charge seriously.
One workshop presenter told NCEA delegates that their schools better be ready for Monday morning when these teachers and principals return reinvigorated.
Maybe the whole Catholic Church should be ready.