Ms. Stephanie Gonzales
Master of Arts - Secondary Education - University of Michigan; Bachelor of Arts - English, German (minor) - University of Michigan
I am certified to teach English/language arts to students in grades 6-12, and I have held state-approved teaching licenses in both Michigan and Virginia. Over the course of my professional career, I have taught at both the middle and high school levels in public, charter, and Catholic schools – so it’s safe to say that I have experienced a little bit of everything in the world of education! Prior to arriving at OLGC, I served as the English teacher at a middle school near Detroit, Michigan, and I ran a remedial reading program at a high school near Ann Arbor, Michigan. In August 2015, I moved from Michigan to Virginia and assumed my position as the middle school literature teacher. At OLGC, I have been provided ample opportunities to share my gifts and talents with others, and I am blessed and thankful to have been embraced and welcomed into such a loving community.
Faith in Action
I have always been a practicing Catholic. Throughout my life, my family has attended church every Sunday, and both of my parents have always volunteered in our home parish community. Growing up, and even through college and graduate school, I attended public school, so I was not used to being able to openly pray or openly discuss my religious views at school. My very first experience in a Catholic school environment was my first day teaching at OLGC. When I first arrived, I experienced a culture shock: We take so many opportunities as a school to pause and pray throughout the school day! I found that although praying in school felt almost unnatural to me at first – as it was not something I could do at school growing up – I liked it. Taking small moments to pray throughout the school day is a simple, yet powerful, method of refocusing on our Catholic values when we find ourselves distracted by our worldly academic and social goals.
I am very open to prayer or discussions about religion in the classroom – connecting a story we are reading to the Bible, discussing the actions and consequences of characters from a moral standpoint, taking real-life issues and events and connecting them to our Catholic values – because these discussions are such a staple to our lives as Catholics. The students live in a world with a wide variety of people and viewpoints regarding society and their roles as youth, and as a part of their Catholic growth, it is important that students know and understand where we stand, as Catholics, on an array of secular topics.
Every day I work with the students, I am reminded of the importance of my role in their lives as a Catholic educator. This lesson was reinforced to me in my first year at OLGC, when one of my students asked me to be his Confirmation sponsor. To have even been asked in the first place was nothing short of an honor, and, to be honest, when he first asked me to fulfill this role for him, I was caught off guard. Did this student really see me, a woman in her late 20s who barely knew where her own life was going, as enough of a spiritual role model to trust me enough to be a mentor in his growth in the Catholic faith? Calling that a tall order would be an understatement! I often wondered how this student deemed me worthy of this responsibility. Upon further reflection, I began to realize that the responsibility of modeling Catholic behavior is a responsibility that I had taken on all along, for every single one of my students, as it is a responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with simply being a Catholic school educator.
Right before Confirmation, my confirmand gave me a “Thank You” card for agreeing to be his sponsor, and that card is a piece of paper that holds an immeasurable amount of value to me. I currently keep the card beside my classroom desk to serve as a reminder that every day, through my best and worst moments, all of my middle school students are constantly watching my behavior and are looking to me as one of the many adult figures in their lives who leads them by word and example.
Being the quintessential Catholic is by no means a requirement for teaching or being affiliated with a Catholic school; rather, it is our moral responsibility, both as Catholic educators and general members of the Catholic church, to model Catholic behavior through our times of triumph as well as through our inevitable shortcomings that make us human. From the moment of hire – nay, from our moment of Baptism into our faith! – every single Catholic, regardless of whether or not that person is affiliated with a Catholic school – inherits this moral responsibility.
Even though some middle schoolers can put on a facade of being "too cool" to idolize the adults in their world, one lesson I have learned in my time at OLGC is that these adolescents care a lot more than we think (after all, we middle school teachers come to know the students and watch them grow up for three years; maybe it's not such a wild idea that they may grow to care for us as well!) Our middle school students are watching us, and yes, WE are influencing them at a very impressionable time of their lives. We, as adults, have so much potential to do so much good for them just by living out the faith that we preach. It is imperative that we take ownership of that responsibility.
Favorite Teaching Moment
It would be impossible for me to filter all my teaching experiences at OLGC into a singular “favorite” moment, as I find that each day with my students is jam-packed with unpredictable, quirky, and even heartwarming moments. Each new set of students that enters my class at the beginning of each forty-five minute period brings a unique atmosphere to the room, and the dynamics of no two classes are exactly the same. I suppose that if I had to highlight some of my most enjoyable and fruitful moments in the classroom, I would focus on the moments in which either the students or I stepped out of our comfort zones: When I went against my better judgment and allowed a group of sixth-grade students to read a story out loud using silly voices and found that suddenly, even the most timid readers were volunteering to read – and were reading comfortably in front of the class; when one of my quietest eighth graders, who I never would have suspected had an interest in theater, went home one day and, without being asked, photoshopped his very creative visions for some of the costumes for our eighth grade theater performance and proudly explained them to me; when I, new to the area and having never attended before myself, signed our school up for the Shakespeare Festival for the very first time and saw a multitude of natural student leaders emerge through the process of putting together the performance.
Yes, the students surprise, enlighten, and entertain me every day – whether they are wishing me “Happy Birthday” and aging me backwards and forwards every day for three weeks straight; attempting to justify that Friar Lawrence or that supposedly-minor character of the Second Watchman are the most responsible for Romeo and Juliet’s deaths; or finding a somewhat logical way to turn every single presentation-based assignment into some kind of class musical production – and I always end each of my school days with a plethora of stories to tell.
I truly believe that I have the best job.
I like cheese. Honestly. Kettle corn is great, too.
Favorite Activity Outside of School
Painting/drawing, writing, instrumental music (clarinet)
Fun Fact About Me
I played clarinet in the University of Michigan Marching Band for four years, but only ask me about that if you want to get me talking for a long period of time and don't feel like contributing much to the conversation for a while. (Don't say I didn't warn you!)
Also, when I was in twelfth grade, I won the mock election award of "Most Reserved" in my graduating class of over 500 students. I also won this same mock election award all four years of band in high school. Essentially, I now make a living doing the exact deed that I won awards for NOT doing earlier in life: Talking to adolescents. (My students know that this is an example of situational irony.)