Like mother, like daughter takes on a whole new meaning in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Catholic school system.
Three sets of mothers and daughters serve the area Catholic schools in the same roles. Ann Grunwaldt teaches second grade at St. Dominic School in Brookfield, while her daughter, Emily Friday, teaches second grade at St. Adalbert School in Milwaukee. Lori Miles and her daughter, Melissa Miller, both teach third grade, Miles at St. Adalbert and Miller at Christ King School in Wauwatosa. Finally, Ellen Knippel and her daughter, Emily Berg, call themselves principal, Knippel at St. Anthony on the Lake in Pewaukee and Berg at St. Joseph School in Racine.
All three daughters in the teaching or leading teams saw their mothers in school settings as children, but not all of them went into teaching because mom did.
Teaching is a second career for Grunwaldt, who first went into the science field and then started teaching preschool. Her daughter, Friday, would come to visit her after school and play with the preschoolers. Friday said the desire to teach was always there, and Grunwaldt said she suggested it as a possibility as Friday went through school.
Such is not the case for Lori Miles, whose daughter, Miller, also spent time in her classroom when her school schedule differed from her mother’s.
“I didn’t push anything at all,” Miles said. “I wanted her to make her own decision and be happy with whatever it was that she was going to go into.” Miller said she didn’t have any interest in teaching until her senior year of high school when one of her own teachers inspired her.
But Berg saw her mom as a principal and immediately took interest.
“I’m a third-generation (educator), and I followed in my mom’s footsteps to become a principal.” said Berg, now in her second year as a principal. “To become a principal, I watched her go through the process of getting her master’s when I was in high school, and just watched how she grew as an educator, being that leader. I’ve always been the leader. In basketball, I was the captain. I was the editor of the paper at the school. I like being that leader to help guide.”
While all three family teams focus on teaching their students at their respective schools, they also learn and teach each other, as they share the same role.
When Friday first started teaching, she lived at home with her parents, where she shared the struggles and joys of teaching second grade with Grunwaldt.
“It drives her dad and my husband crazy when we’re together, because we’re always talking about school,” Grunwaldt said. “My husband would leave the room.”
But having her mother as a mentor in the first year of teaching was a blessing, said Friday.
“She was very helpful to me because it was my first year,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I had a really tough class in regards to behavior, so she was really helpful to me in thinking of strategies to work with those kids.”
Friday is now in graduate school, learning lots of new techniques and passing those on to her mother.
“She’s on top of different current trends in teaching that I didn’t learn, so she helps me with those,” said Grunwaldt.
The dynamic is similar with Miles and Miller, as well as in the role of principal in the case of Knippel and Berg.
Miles learns new technological techniques from Miller, and Miller learns how to manage her classroom and work with her students on behavior from her mother.
“I’m more confident in my teaching because of my mom,” said Miller. “She has always given me advice. Although I’m (a) younger (teacher), I feel like I can be confident because I can use her as a sounding board.”
Berg often feels confident after talking to her mother as well. “I can come to her with my stresses and my nervousness and not have to worry about being judged, because she’s my mom and she’s not allowed to do that,” she said.
Knippel says sharing and brainstorming with her daughter is useful, especially since she’s been an administrator for the past 15 years. “You get stagnant after a while, and I think that having the opportunity to talk to someone who’s got those bright, fresh ideas is invaluable,” she said.
Teaching similar grades, as is the case with Grunwaldt and Friday, as well as Miles and Miller, allows them to let their classrooms interact with one another. Both mother-daughter pairs have set up a pen pal system with their classrooms. Each second grader from Grunwaldt’s classroom gets a pen pal from Friday’s classroom, and every third grader from Miles’ classroom gets one from Miller’s classroom.
The students even visit each other’s classrooms from time to time.
“What I find exciting is the opportunity for my students from Brookfield to make friendships with (Friday’s) students from Milwaukee,” said Grunwaldt. “They come from very different family backgrounds yet have so much in common. The kids get excited when they read a letter and find they share the same interests, are learning the same thing in math or science and are preparing for the same sacraments (Sacraments of Reconciliation and First Eucharist).”
Miles echoed that statement, saying, “It doesn’t matter that (Miller’s students) come from a higher economic group and my kids don’t,” she said. “The kids love it. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t play a part at all. They’re just kids.”
Although some things may differ, one remains the same in all six of the women: they all have a passion for their students and for teaching in a Catholic school.
“We both have a very strong passion and dedication to helping kids learn not just the academics, but learn to have a spiritual life and learn in their emotional growth,” Friday said of herself and Grunwaldt. “Again, our communities are different so our kids need to learn different things, but we both have a passion to teach kids more than just the academics, but how to be a good person.”
“I think in Catholic education, the beauty is we get to express our faith every day and share in that love for God in everything we do,” said Berg. “I can sit and pray with my students when there’s an issue, in addition to just discipline. We can talk about it and pray about it and seek God’s word. I think that’s beautiful, and not something everyone can do.”
“Our students are just amazing,” said Knippel. “They are full of life, and that’s what keeps me going as an administrator, to see the spark in their eyes and the excitement of learning.”