Mary Ellen Mathieu

Psalm 46:10 advises: “Be still and know that I am God” – a simple command that, when put into practice, provides quite an impact.

For Mary Ellen Mathieu, a teacher at St. Mary School, West Bend, that advice has been practiced in her classroom during her 37-year career, and its impact has not gone unnoticed.

“She has a steadiness, a stick-to-it-tiveness and she always has time to help you,” said Liz Peters, school secretary and mother whose children were Mathieu’s students about 20 years ago.

In 2009, Mathieu was named one of the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Teacher Fellows, nominated by St. Mary principal Gail Kraig, who had just come to St. Mary and saw Mathieu as her mentor during her first year.

“I had wanted to nominate someone from our school, as we had four teachers with at least 30 years’ experience each,” Kraig explained. “Her dedication and passion for Catholic educaution just really set her apart.”

People of Faith

Name: Mary Mathieu
Age: 59
Parish: St. Matthew, Campbellsport
Occupation: Teacher, St. Mary School, West Bend
Book recently read: “Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul,” by Jack Canfield
Favorite movie: “White Christmas”
Favorite quotation: “It’s OK to make a mistake, but it’s a mistake not to try.” – a quotation which appears on the wall in her classroom

(Submitted photo courtesy Mary Ellen Mathieu)

She was the only diocesan teacher of the 100 named for the award, and the only one in Washington County,” added Kraig.

Mathieu is soft-spoken, and says she believes in loving discipline, setting standards and helping each student realize his or her potential. She has been married 31 years to her husband, Ray, and their daughter, Kelly, is expecting their first grandchild in May.

“I try to tell them that they each have gifts, and it’s my job to realize what they are capable of achieving…. I believe in the unique personalities and abilities of each child,” Mathieu said.

Parents appreciate her style and realize that the lessons their children are learning go beyond the classroom.

Chris Schellinger’s son Tyler is a student in Mathieu’s fifth-grade science class, and was also in her first-grade class – a level at which Mathieu taught for 36 years.

“I know my son was not happy at first when he knew he would have Mrs. Mathieu again, but I think her dedication to the students is something they appreciate. She may be strict, but she also is caring, and has a calmness about her that students respect,” Schellinger said.

Mathieu credits her own first grade teacher at St. Frances Cabrini School in West Bend for providing a great example of teaching with love and structure.

“She had 60 kids in her classroom, and she had a way of teaching us with a loving discipline,” Mathieu explained.

Gail Brown, a 1980 St. Mary alum who now has children at the school, also saw Mathieu’s approach as a sign of faith.

“She is someone who is in front of the kids every day, and to me her calmness in dealing with the challenges of teaching is a real sign of faith, and she is an example of trusting God,” explained Brown.

“I always tell the kids to take a breath when they get frustrated, and in that breath, make a small prayer to God,” Mathieu said, explaining that teaching in a Catholic school makes it possible to teach Gospel values along with science curriculum.

The challenges of the job also reap the greatest rewards for Mathieu, especially when the current generation is so “plugged in.”

“With all the things the kids are exposed to, the biggest challenge can be in dealing with kids who can’t focus. Often, you’ve got to take it slow, be hands-on and just be there for the kids,” she said. “Then when that ‘I get it!’ moment happens, you see the growth in the kids, and that’s the best part of the job.”

Parents also point to Mathieu’s leadership in liturgy participation – she regularly serves as an extraordinary minister of holy communion at school Masses –  in teaching their children about their potential to take the lead in faith.

“We really include everyone in liturgy prep,” explained Mathieu. “Everyone takes part in liturgy when it is our turn, and here again, we look at what each student’s gifts are. It makes for a meaningful experience in the classroom with our faith.”

While Mathieu is enjoying her new role as fifth-grade teacher, she admitted the change wasn’t easy.

“The first graders were my heart, but I soon realized when I began teaching this year that (fifth graders) are still little kids at heart, and still open to show affection,” she said.