Earlier this year, several Catholic school teachers were honored with the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Fellowship Award.
Established in 1990 by retired U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, the award recognizes around 100 teachers every year from public and religious schools.
Award recipients are chosen for “their superior ability to inspire a love of learning in their students and ability to motivate others, and for their leadership and service within and outside the classroom,” according to the Foundation’s website.
Each award recipient received an individual grant of $3,000 as well as an additional $3,000 for the school at which he or she teaches.
Two Catholic school teachers who were honored, Mary Baenen and Lynne Kern, have been teaching for a combined total of more than 75 years. Baenen has taught for the past 20 years at Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, and Kern for the past 33 years at Holy Family Parish School in Whitefish Bay.
Baenen fell in love with teaching through helping her younger siblings with their school work.
She completed her undergraduate degree at UW-Madison and got her first teaching job at SS. Peter and Paul Parish School in Milwaukee. She then taught for several years at St. Mary’s Academy on Milwaukee’s south side until it closed in 1994, then started at Catholic Memorial.
Baenen teaches a variety of math courses at Catholic Memorial, and has worked extensively with students on the accelerated and remedial tracks. She enjoys the challenges and rewards of working with both groups.
“I’m very good with kids who struggle, because I think I have this ability to kind of break it down for them in a
2015 Herb Kohl Foundation recipients honored
MILWAUKEE — Other recipients of the 2015 Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Fellowship teaching in Milwaukee archdiocesan schools are:
Theresa Konkel Dixon, St. Catherine High School, Racine
Janet O’Brien, Waukesha Catholic School, Waukesha
Kristen Peterson, St. Joseph Catholic Academy, Kenosha
Kiersten Purves, Pius XI High School, Wauwatosa
Amanda Seppanen, St. Joan Antida High School, Milwaukee.
way that they can understand it,” said Baenen. “I also like to teach the accelerated courses because I like to push those kids a bit, to go a little bit beyond what the text book has in it.”
Baenen said she tries to view learning from her students’ perspectives and to be aware of individual learning styles. Her ultimate goal is to inspire students to pursue learning on their own.
“They realize that I’m inviting them to the process and that they can actually learn some of this stuff, and in the future the teacher might not even be needed,” she said.
Lynne Kern started teaching at St. Robert Catholic School in Shorewood, following her graduation from UW-Milwaukee. She took a few years off from teaching to start a family, then resumed teaching at Holy Family, where she teaches first grade.
Kern attributes her decision to pursue teaching to her mother’s encouragement, and has never looked back.
“That was the career path I chose, and I never regretted it,” Kern said.
She said the most significant challenge for younger teachers is to learn to go with the flow.
“I think it’s very important that you are flexible, because the day is never going to work out the way you plan it. It’s important to be understanding and you need to make learning fun,” said Kern. “The best part is when you see the kids excited about a concept that you’re teaching, when you see them say, ‘Oh, this is really fun.’ Those moments are the best part of my day.”
Kern’s nominator for the Herb Kohl Fellowship Award was a parent whose three children have all had Kern as a teacher.
“She wanted to stress the fact that she felt I made the day exciting and fun for the kids, and that students who have been through my class remember things they have done, things that impacted them,” Kern said.
Both Baenen and Kern emphasized the importance of the parents’ role in the educational process.
“I think parents need to really trust the educator in the classroom,” Kern said. “It’s so important to remind kids that we’re here for a reason and that we all have the same goal. I think parents need all the help they can get, so if we’re reinforcing what they’re doing at home that’s an extra bonus.”
Both teachers appreciate the unique strength of community and level of parental involvement found at a Catholic school.
“Everybody is in this together. The parents are working with the students and the teachers, and the teachers are working with the students and are in contact with the parents. There’s all this collaboration,” Baenen said. “And I think because it’s a Catholic school you have respect for each other and a common mission.”
“I feel that teaching all these years in a Catholic school, it’s not just a job that I go to. It’s a community that cares about each other. Our school really lives up to its name – it’s a family,“ Kern said.
Kern said being a teacher at a Catholic school is as much a ministry as it is a profession.
“Teaching at a Catholic school you can always incorporate what Jesus did, how Jesus lived. It’s every moment of the day, it’s not a certain subject,” she said. “The values and the morals that you want to pass on can be talked about in every class and at every moment of the school day, on the playground, in the lunchroom.”
For Baenen, the award was an opportunity to look back at her many years of teaching with gratitude.
“When I walked up to get that award, I thought to myself, ‘wow, 42 years and I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else.’”