Christian Brothers University LANCE Program

Producing teachers with heart, soul and mind

11/19/2010  |  DR. RICHARD POTTS
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Part of my job as the recently appointed chair of the Department of Education at Christian Brothers University (CBU) in Memphis, TN, is to keep up with the trends of teacher education in the United States. What I have been reading lately is somewhat disheartening. For example, a recent op-ed piece by Bill Maxwell (St. Petersburg Times) is titled, “Blaming the teachers continues.” In the editorial Maxwell says that teachers have long been blamed for many of the failures of public schools, and the tendency to do so continues, even in the federal “Race to the Top” program today. As a former principal and district administrator, I have hired, tutored, taught, and, yes, fired teachers in the past. Lately, because of this negative focus, a question has piqued my interest: why would someone want to pursue a career that is currently so fraught with negativity and, some would say, overzealous accountability?

I did not have to look far for an answer to my inquiry. I only had to listen to the voices of the future teachers at my own institution to satisfy my curiosity and replace the negativity with praise for the future they have chosen. Christian Brothers University is a Lasallian institution. St. John Baptist de La Salle, the patron saint of teachers, began the Christian Brothers and founded the first teachers’ college in France in 1687. He once wrote, “If you want the instruction you give to be effective in drawing those you are obliged to teach to the practice of good, you must practice these same truths. You must be so full of zeal that your students can share in the communication of the same grace for doing good that is in you.” CBU’s mission continues this tradition with its emphasis on “excellence in teaching and individualized attention to the whole person in a values-oriented, interfaith educational community. The university prepares students for professional careers and advanced study in the arts and sciences, engineering, business, and education, and for lives of moral responsibility and constructive community involvement.”

Following in the Lasallian tradition, the Department of Education at CBU offers undergraduate and graduate programs to prepare students for initial teaching licensure as well as advanced degrees, additional endorsements and educational leadership. The goal of the department is to prepare educators as servant-leaders who will contribute strongly to high-quality educational practice in their schools and communities. At the spiritual core of the department is the Lasallian Association of New Catholic Educators (LANCE) program. LANCE is a two-year academic/service program fashioned after the lives of the Christian Brothers. LANCE participants serve the underprivileged and at-risk youth of Memphis through teaching in the Catholic Schools. The program emphasizes the following core values:

  • Educating the poor and underserved through inspired and excellent teaching;
  • Ensuring caring, individualized attention to each student as a whole person;
  • Regarding teaching as a corporate and communal exercise; and
  • Contributing to the compassion and justice-seeking of each school in which one teaches.

At the foundation of the LANCE program is what is known as the “Call to Service.” Participants join the program to dedicate two years of their lives to teaching and helping others. The cohort members live in groups of five to seven men and women, sharing practical responsibilities, providing social support, and worshipping together in a setting that emphasizes stewardship for the students they serve.

Each member is employed full-time, on a reduced stipend, for two years in a school of the Diocese of Memphis. In addition, LANCE members complete a two-year program for a tuition–free graduate degree and initial teaching license (MAT). The residential model begins during the summer prior to the member’s first school year, and runs continuously until the conclusion of the second year of teaching. In addition, LANCE members participate in summer sessions and weekend retreats aimed at helping them grow in the context of Catholic teaching and in their own spiritual lives.

Founded in 2000 through a grant with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) based at the University of Notre Dame, LANCE is a member of the University Consortium for Catholic Education (UCCE). It began its first cohort in 2003 with a group of seven members and continues today with cohort eight — for a total of 41 alumni and current participants. The students come from all over the United States to participate in the program and many have remained in Memphis to continue their teaching careers in Memphis public, charter and Catholic schools. Twenty- four of the 35 alumni are still teaching today.

What distinguishes this group of beginning teachers is, first, their academic preparedness before beginning the program. LANCE members have undergraduate degrees from colleges and universities such as De Paul, Stanford, Loyola, Loyola Marymount, Notre Dame, Providence College, St. Mary’s of California, CBU, Rhodes College, and the University of Dayton. Second, the LANCE participants undergo a rigorous application process. Third, they live in an intentional, Christian community where they worship together and collaborate both personally and professionally for two years. Finally, their teaching is closely monitored by a university supervisor and the director of LANCE who visit their classrooms three to five times per semester and oversee their daily lesson plans and initial professional development. The LANCE member also has a school mentor and coach who assists them transition from a fledgling to full-fledged teacher.

When I talk to these future teachers, it is blatantly apparent why the LANCE program is the heart and soul of our department and university. The program epitomizes all that is best of the Lasallian tradition. When I need to be reassured that our future is bright, all I need do is listen to the testimonials of current and former LANCE teachers:

“I chose to participate in LANCE because I wished to continue the tradition of a Catholic Christian school that educated me. The idea of living in a community of teachers unified in mission is very appealing to me. Education is a group/community effort, and LANCE allowed me to take part in that effort. I wanted to continue my formation as a Christian educator. “ — Thomas Klitz, Cohort 2 Alumnus

“Some people become teachers because they love the subject matter they teach. Others join the teaching profession because they love children and want to be a positive role model for young people. I joined LANCE for all these reasons. But most of all, I joined LANCE so that I could teach in the urban schools of Memphis and, to quote Mohandas Gandhi, ‘be the change I wish to see in the world.’” — Nicole Klitz, LANCE Director and Cohort 3 Alumnus

“Becoming a teacher for me is really about a love of the material. I think that English and Literature are incredibly valuable; at the same time, loving children and appreciating them in terms of their potential and promise brings me away from research or writing and into the classroom. I want to see these children succeed, and I can help them while being engaged in and celebrating something I really care about. Marrying the content with the pedagogical mission, all within the spirit and structure of the Lasallian charism, has really made teaching in LANCE the perfect opportunity for me. LANCE celebrates and capitalizes on the promise and potential of young teachers.

“Just like we trust our young students to engage material, to take chances, and to explore something new, LANCE trusts young teachers the same way, and I think that the close, Lasallian community is one which puts teaching at its forefront, and children as its mission. As much as I am growing in this program, I appreciate that, ultimately, LANCE is about students as much as it is about me.” — Andrew Moriarty, Cohort 8 member

When I hear future and current teachers speak like this, I hear the heart, and the soul, and the mind of the patron saint of teachers, and I, like he, can rest assured our children and the future of education are in good hands.

Dr. Potts is chair of the Department of Education and assistant professor of Christian Brothers University. For more information, visit www.cbu.edu/teach.

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