Fr. Nick Monco, O.P.
Dominican Friars Central Province, USA
‘‘Fr. Monco, most people think you’re an okay teacher but a great guy.” That response by one of the 300+ sophomores I taught this year answered the question, “So what’s my reputation like amongst the students?” It dovetailed with the two biggest surprises for me in returning to my alma mater, Fenwick High School, as a teacher. My first surprise was how difficult teaching was and how bad I was at it. Given that this teaching job was a long coveted position for me and the attention I had paid to the great teachers I had over the years, I was shocked to find out how hard it was to make teaching look easy. I lost my voice on day two, my immune system was in shock for a month, grading papers took the better part of eternity, and despite initial good behavior, classroom management soon became the biggest challenge of each day.
The second great surprise was how well I seemed to connect with the kids and positively influence them. In the classroom I could tell that most of the kids were paying attention most of the time and really engaging the material. By and large it was also an enjoyable experience and they appreciated the effort I made, which was considerable, to liven up the class with relevant movie clips, music videos, and other assorted pop culture. It was my work outside the classroom that most validated what I did inside of it. When students came to talk to me after class about their difficulties it told me that they knew I cared about them. Far and away the best part was hearing confessions, either at reconciliation services every semester or by appointment. To have my own students come to me in confession meant that at least a part of what I had taught about the sacraments had touched them and in their eyes I was someone whom they trusted with their confession, even if they had to see me the very next day in class.
Obvious as it might seem, teaching 150 sophomores each semester taught me about the primacy of love in ministry. At the end of the day the kids did not care if I wasn’t always perfectly prepared for class or if the lesson was sometimes boring or if I gave too much homework – they knew that I loved them and so they forgive just about anything. In my teaching and preaching this first year after ordination I learned what it meant to be a spiritual father and my students quickly became “my kids.” I loved them so much I even found going to their sports games interesting because it was my kids who were playing, even though as a student my interest in sports teams I was not playing on hovered just above nil. Despite the myriad challenges facing any first year teacher, this experience has reinforced for me the truth of Jesus’ saying, “My yoke is easy and my burden, light.”