The following story appeared in the April 16 issue of the Idaho Catholic Register
by Emily Woodham
Naomi Kerns does not regret her decision to leave public education in 2014 so she could teach at Boise’s Sacred Heart Catholic School. She loves incorporating her faith as she teaches her fourth grade students.
This year, her hard work is being recognized by the National Catholic Education Association.
Kerns is the only Catholic school employee in Idaho to receive the NCEA’s “Lead. Learn. Proclaim.” award, which recognizes “outstanding efforts, contributions, and achievements on behalf of Catholic school education,” according to the NCEA website. Teachers are nominated by others to receive the national award.
“As a child, I always wanted to become a teacher. I started by ‘teaching’ my younger brothers in the basement of our house,” Kerns said. “I’ve always loved school, both as a student and a teacher. I love working with students; I want them to have the same love for school I feel.”
After graduating from Gonzaga University in Spokane in 2006, she taught for seven years at a public high school before coming to Sacred Heart.
“I inherited the 4th grade job from a talented and beloved veteran teacher,” Kerns said, referring to Lu Doles.
“After accepting the job, I went in to look through all her files and to my surprise found a fourth-grade assignment belonging to my husband when he attended Sacred Heart Catholic school 30 years ago,” she said. “It was the sign I needed to know I had made the best professional decision of my life.”
Faith provides the window, she said, to see her students in God’s likeness. Faith also connects her to her students. “Our shared beliefs guide our purpose at school, no matter what subject we are learning about,” she said.
Being in a Catholic community helps her keep perspective, and her colleagues help motivate her to be the best person and educator possible. “The work we do is bigger than ourselves and our school,” she said. “Teaching is a special job in that no matter what is going on in the world outside the classroom, being with the kids always feels like a safe place.”
Kerns challenges herself to find new ways to reach her students. Although she has been teaching for 15 years, she continually looks for opportunities to hone her skills. “I love to attend conferences and research new ideas online, and I often look to my own students to help me reinvent lessons,” she said.
As much as she loves teaching, however, she does encounter obstacles. “My greatest challenge in teaching is witnessing a student deal with real emotional hardship,” she said. “I pour myself into helping them feel their worth and the love we have and God has for them, but sometimes the student is still hurting when he or she leaves my class. It can feel defeating. I think about and pray for these students long after they leave my classroom.”
Her favorite aspect of teaching is seeing students get excited about learning. “I love the feeling when a student gets hooked on a book or finds renewed enthusiasm about school. To me, helping a student have a positive approach to learning is more important than any content I can teach,” she said.
Her favorite approach in the classroom is to apply St. Therese of Lisieux’s “Little Way,” which emphasizes making small differences to change the world. “All my students know of my love for St. Therese and her teachings.”
A favorite quote of hers from St. Therese: “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”
The NCEA awards are given to school administrators, pastors and teachers who are currently employed NCEA members who have served in Catholic education for at least five years. Recipients must also lead an active faith life and demonstrate leadership and virtues in the school setting. Recipients were honored at the NCEA conference in early April.
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