APPLETON — Throughout 57 years of teaching, Chris Rettler has practiced an adage attributed to her favorite saint, Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, also use words.”
Rettler, a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Newton, began her career in Appleton, teaching 17 years at St. Joseph and St. Mary elementary schools. Since then she has taught in a variety of public and private schools at almost every grade level. Last year she retired as an assistant professor of education at Silver Lake College of the Holy Family in Manitowoc, where she taught for 29 years.
There are differences between public and private education, including class size, preparation of teachers and students, funding, administrative standards, cost, discipline and teacher certification. But, there is one overriding factor that is the same for both systems. “Private and public schools desire to hire the ‘best of the best’ teachers to model much-need servant leaders,” said Rettler.
“If you melted it all down, looking at standards for both public and private education, the main difference between them is spirituality,” she said. “In a parochial school, I can demonstrate my faith-based spirituality to provide students what they need socially, academically, emotionally, psychologically and physically. In a public setting, I cannot speak the words but I can model the words.”
There are advantages and disadvantages to each system, Rettler believes.
“In a parochial setting, there are more determining factors for students to enroll — there’s a code of conduct,” she said. “In a public school, everyone is required to be accepted, but they have more resources for their pupils such as reading specialists, psychologists, social workers, special education teachers, etc.”
Over the last half-century, students have changed to some degree, which may be attributed to media and technology. Computers have created a culture of instant gratification, said Rettler. According to Microsoft Technology, over the last decade alone, the digital lifestyle has shortened the human attention span from 12 seconds to eight seconds.
Parents and parenting have changed as well.
“Parents today want nothing more for their kids than to be socially accepted,” she said. “They get them engaged in tons of activities. It’s the fast-paced world, it’s the economy, it’s the millennials — they want everything now.”
Families, overall, have changed dramatically since Rettler began her career. “There are 15 different family structures that have been identified that come into our school. Mom, dad and child are probably in the minority,” she said, adding that these varying family structures can lead to a lack of consistency and stability in children’s lives which can affect their performance and behavior in the classroom.
Parenting is the most important job in the world, said Rettler. “There isn’t anything more important than raising children with beliefs, with resilience, with the idea that you do wait and earn things in this world — you earn respect, but you also earn the ability to buy a car when you’re a teenager. Those types of things aren’t being demonstrated as much today as they were.”
There are a lot more on teachers’ agendas today than the traditional core curriculum that includes reading, writing and arithmetic, she said.
“There is so much out there that teachers have to attend to these days that aren’t part of teaching,” said Rettler. “Breakfast is added now, then there’s driver’s education, sport activities, the arts, human growth and development. Every decade the list has gotten longer of what they added to the teaching day for the public school teacher, but not one minute has been added to the school day.”
Rusul Alrubail, author of “The Heart of Teaching: What it Means to be a Great Teacher,” believes that “At the heart of every great teacher lies kindness, compassion, empathy, positivity, the desire to build something, and the will to inspire.” This is what Rettler hopes she has accomplished.
“My faith-based decades of teaching have been driven by Franciscan values — compassion, community, peacemaking and respect for creation,” she said. “I’ve always based my teaching on being a servant leader and giving back. … I don’t care if you’re public or private (school teacher), teachers have the ability to teach those qualities through modeling and other things. The art of giving back is so powerful.”