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Most Rev. Michael C. Barber, SJ discusses teachers' contract
May 5, 2014 -- Bishop Barber -- The Catholic Voice
Q. What led you to make changes in the annual teacher's contract?
A: I made a very small change to the annual teacher's contract in order to clarify for teachers - and the school community - that each of our Catholic elementary and secondary schools is an integral part of the mission and ministry of the Catholic Church. This makes them different from a charter school or public school. Our school contracts are invitations to teachers to join in this mission and ministry of the Church. I wanted to restate the mission of a Catholic school, and the expectations required of those who desire to participate in this mission and ministry.
Q: What is expected of Catholic School teachers?
A: All teachers are expected to join in the Church's educational ministry, teaching and modeling the values and ethical standards of Christ and the Catholic Church. This has always been so. Our employment contracts and faculty handbooks have underscored this for years. It is more than just a job. I restated the mission and ministry of a Catholic School in my meeting with school principals and presidents last August. I also published an article in The Voice on the same subject. Each of our schools provides a "Christ-centered" education. Our schools are a primary ministry of the Oakland diocesan pastoral plan "To know Christ better and to make Him better known."
Q: There is controversy about including new language referring to a teacher's professional and personal life as being important to classroom teaching and being role models. Can you explain your thinking?
A: This contract does not redefine any roles, but simply clarifies what has always been. My intent is to call attention to the reality that teachers are role models for students. They teach by example. It's much more than teaching "math" or "English." A good teacher makes a lifetime impression on a young person. Teachers have enormous influence on their students, who are sent to us by their parents at an impressionable age. As we have seen in the news in recent weeks, in one case, because of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) what was done in private and then became public, damaged the values and reputation of a notable NBA organization. Catholic Schools have values. We exist to teach these values to the young. Teachers teach by modeling these values.
From the Sept. 9, 2013
Catholic Voice, Bishop Barber: What makes a school a "Catholic school?" www.catholicvoiceoakland.org/
Q: Some people are concerned that these changes introduce a new level of scrutiny into their private lives.
A: This is not the case. We have absolutely no interest in monitoring or prosecuting personal private lives. We have no "lists" of prohibited behavior. There is no categorizing of individuals or groups. I have heard it said that we are targeting teachers who might be gay. This is manifestly untrue. The Catholic Church treats all people, regardless of sexual orientation, as children of God. Sexual orientation does not lessen the dignity, worth or rights of any person. Pope Francis said, "Who am I to judge?" I say the same. But we do teach, model and uphold the values and commandments of Christ and his Church. So does Pope Francis. This is the Church's mission. This is the mission of a Catholic school. By signing a contract to teach in one of our Catholic schools, a teacher is voluntarily joining us in our mission.
Q: Other dioceses seem to be addressing a similar issue much more proscriptively.
A: The Diocese of Oakland is not. I trust the intelligence of our teachers and administrators that they understand that conduct outside the classroom, in rare instances, can possibly negatively affect their integrity as a role model inside the classroom. If it is true of sports stars and team owners, it is true of a Catholic school teacher.
Q: I understand that almost 20 percent of your teachers are non-Catholic. What is their role?
A: Some of our best teachers are non-Catholic. They have the same role as Catholic teachers, nothing more, nothing less: To teach and model the values and ethical standards of Christ and the Catholic Church. Many non-Catholic parents send their children to Catholic schools, often at great sacrifice. These parents value the moral and ethical education, as well as the academic excellence and rigor that their children receive. Education is something the Catholic Church does very well. We have done so for many years. This is something we gladly share with all who enroll in our schools - regardless of their religion.
Q: How will the terms of the contract be enforced?
A: The same way they always are: within the management relationship between the school administration and the teachers. And as always, any serious personnel issues related to our schools and our teacher contracts should be referred for guidance to the diocese and our human resources director.
Q: Would you summarize your thoughts for us?
A: I welcome that opportunity: The small change that I have made in our diocesan school contracts has created a good deal of discussion and some real pain. I apologize if the wording that was used in making this change was misinterpreted. To be ultimately clear, I am not beginning a witch-hunt of any kind. My desire is simply to make explicit in the contract the importance of being a public witness to the values and practices that are an integral part of the Catholic faith. I am not interested in examining a teacher's private life. But the public manifestation of a practice or a belief contrary to Catholic morals or beliefs, e.g. through Facebook, Twitter, etc. has consequences on a teacher's ability to fulfill their ministry as a role model in a Catholic school. As always, any serious personnel issues related to our schools and our teacher contracts should be referred to the diocese and our human resources director.
To return us to the spiritual, another thought from Pope Francis to guide us: "…each of us should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are. All of us are called to offer others an explicit witness to the saving love of the Lord, who despite our imperfections offers us his closeness, his word and his strength, and gives meaning to our lives."
- Evangelii Gaudium 121