The Spirit and Personality of the Teacher (Part One)


This book was written at the turn of the 20th century for Catholic teaching nuns. It is called The Catholic Teacher’s Companion  – A book of Inspiration and Self-Help by Rev. Felix M. Kirsch, O.M.C. (1924). The lessons between the covers are valuable for parents, educators and all who work with children.

Part Two is here.


No one can be educated by maxim and precept; it is the life lived, and the things loved, and the ideals believed in, by which we tell one upon another. -JANET ERSKINE STUART.

The teacher makes or mars the school. The building is merely the shell. Text-books are merely tools. Charts and maps and black-boards and other teaching equipment are merely aids. But the prime factor for the success or the failure of the school is the spirit and personality of the teacher.


We teachers never had a better friend than the late Archbishop John Lancaster Spalding, and he assures us that what the teacher is, not what she inculcates, is the important thing. The life she lives, and above all what in her inmost soul she hopes, believes, and loves, have far deeper and more potent influence than mere lessons can ever have.

Hamilton Wright Mabie declares: “Personality is the divinest thing in the world, because it is the only creative thing; the only power that can bring to material already existent a new idea of order and form.”

Goethe may be quoted to the same effect: “Whatever a man accomplishes, he accomplishes because of his personality.”

To shape the personality of her pupils, the teacher must have a well-developed personality of her own. Each child has a personality of his own, and it is with this personality that the teacher has to deal. This means that nothing really matters about a teacher, when all is said and done, but her personality, and how it is likely to react on the child. In other words, it is a question, not of what she can do, but of what she is.

Quite apart from the well-known fact that a good student frequently makes a poor teacher, as far as mere instruction is concerned, a girl may do brilliantly at college, and be vain, selfish, and ambitious. She may be a splendid disciplinarian, and be hardhearted, with a mean love of power, and a streak of cruelty. In each case she will be totally unfit to have control of children.

Hence it is that the religious spirit of the teacher and her observance of religious duties are the most important factors for her success in the schoolroom. Young eyes are always upon her, ready to be influenced less by what she says than by what she is. Those eyes are keen and quick to detect whether her actions belie her words. We may say to our pupils what we please, but we thunder what we are.

They will be all too quick to draw their own conclusions about our teaching if they discover that we do not practice what we preach. Let the teacher therefore realize that she is imprinting herself, not her words, on the sensitive souls of the little ones before her. She is influencing them daily and hourly for better or for worse; for the lofty or the low; for strength of character or for flabbiness of will; for faith, hope, and charity, or for doubt, despair and hate.


The example of the teacher is more potent than her word. Successful business men were relating experiences of their college days. One of the company remarked: “The professor whom the students respected most, was the Prefect, Father John. He was not the most brilliant man on the faculty. But we all were ready to canonize him after I discovered that he stole from the dormitory every night to spend an hour alone before the Blessed Sacrament.”

No precaution will cover, as Sister M. Fides Shepperson remarks in one of her books, innate falsity; no lip-loftiness will conceal low thought; no quotation-morality will hide a weak, unworthy life. Every word and act, every lesson of the year—be it the handling of a flower, the demonstration of a geometric theorem, or the interpretation of a poem—stands before the pupil in the mental and moral status of the teacher.

This is but paraphrasing the statement of Lowell: “After all, the kind of world one carries about within one’s self is the important thing, and the world outside takes all its grace, color, and value from that.”

The Holy Ghost gives this solemn admonition: “Drink waters from thy own cistern—then let thy springs stream forth and distribute thy water in the public places.” We must first practice before we may preach.

We must first practice the passive virtues before we can expect to succeed with the active virtues demanded in the schoolroom. The Imitation of Christ sums up all these points in the pithy sentences: “No one can safely appear in public if he has not learned to remain hidden. No one can safely speak if he has not learned to keep silence. No one can safely command if he has not learned to obey.”

Mother McAuley said with good reason that wheresoever a truly religious woman presides, peace, order, and harmony are sure to reign; and we all know how important these three fa-tors are in the schoolroom.

Is not religion, after all, a woman’s greatest ornament? Is it not her chief resource, and her greatest source of influence? Is it not religion that renders her truly amiable, truly estimable, that removes her natural foibles and enhances a hundredfold whatsoever she has that is generous, noble, and good?

In Measure for Measure Shakespeare has eloquently voiced humanity’s reverence for the nun:

I would not—’tis my familiar sin

With maids to seem The lapwing, and to jest

Tongue far from heart—play with all virgins so:

I hold you as a thing ensky’d and sainted;

By your renouncement an immortal spirit;

And to be talk’d with in sincerity,

As with a saint.

Our Catholic people are quick to recognize the nun’s loyalty to her high calling. The aged woman quoted in Mannix, Chronicles of the Little Sisters of the Poor voices the sentiments of a large class:

They are a fine community. Giving their whole souls to their work, they know neither fear nor favor; always courteous and gentle, yet having all the reserve and dignity necessary to true Religious; and remarkable above all things, I should say, for the spirit of detachment which preserves them from worldliness. Into that Congregation, at least, the spirit of the world had not yet crept—or had not when I knew them, many years ago.

“It is our solemn duty as Catholics, therefore, to be conscious of our duty to America, and to preserve its freedom by preserving its faith in God. . . But as we talk about patriotism, it might be well to remind ourselves that in a crisis like this even devotion to the stars and stripes is not enough to save us. We must look beyond them to other stars and stripes, namely the stars and stripes of Christ, by Whose stars we are illuminated and by whose stripes we are healed!” – Venerable Fulton J. Sheen


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The saints assure us that simplicity is the virtue most likely to draw us closer to God and make us more like Him.

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