Building the Pillars

August 12, 2019

By Michael Thornton, ’21

Michael Thornton

Michael Thornton, ’21, left
Candidate for Master of Arts in Teaching

“Why are you getting your master’s degree at Aquinas College? Why not at a state school?” These were the questions I was asked countless times when telling friends about my pursuit of teaching. Honestly, my answer at the time was simply that I felt called to Aquinas through my recent renewal of my Catholic faith. However, in recent weeks, my answer to those questions has been much different, and not quite as simple. Now, my answer is that I believe that my introductory class in the graduate program at Aquinas, Education in the Dominican Tradition, is the solid foundation I need for teaching, not only in a Catholic school, but also in a variety of educational settings. By using the four pillars of the Dominican tradition: prayer, study, community, and service, as the foundation to build my class plans, I can teach the whole student, in mind and spirit, which may fundamentally transform them.

This is the reason that I am going into teaching as a second career.

Prayer is the first and primary pillar for my foundation, as it is critical for my students. Without prayer, nothing is truly learned. In a Catholic setting, beginning each class in prayer sets the stage for students’ learning for the day, as prayer brings in the Holy Spirit to open their hearts and minds to learning. Along with this, it sets the example for students to follow when facing all challenges in their lives.

Learning about the Dominican saints in this class has provided me with excellent examples of the next pillar, study. The example of the saints, along with knowledge gained from other readings in the course, has shown me that I need a solid foundation in pedagogy, subject matter, and catechesis. This course has taught me that all are critical. Without solid teaching methods, as I will continue to learn here, and expert knowledge in my subject matter, I will lack the tools necessary to help my students to learn. My knowledge of the faith will need to be continually deepened in order for me to bring  explanations rooted in faith and reason that are critically needed if my students are to make sound judgments based on what I teach. This integration is essential for students to learn that both faith and reason are intertwined and inseparable.

The third pillar of my educational foundation is preaching and service. Through this course, I have realized the importance of this pillar because it is the reason why we learn. All education should be for future service to others, and I need to be able to demonstrate how the learning in my classes will help my students to fulfill this mission in their future. Without this education in the Dominican tradition, I might have overlooked this, but now, this will be a part of my daily lesson plans.

The final pillar, community, is of equally great importance because building a community in my classes and school will give students an example for their lives beyond the classroom. The world needs people who know how to get along and work with others and appreciate others for the gift they are. Community binds us all together, and the Dominican sisters have given me a living example of this. I might never have fully realized this without Aquinas College, and in particular, my Education in the Dominican Tradition class.

These pillars will be the basis for how I teach each course and every student in my career. Each student’s success in each pillar will be my goal to help educate students as the whole persons they hope to become. Without Aquinas College and the course Education in the Dominican Tradition, I never would have fully realized why I felt called to teach. This class has given me the road map to accomplish my mission.

Mike Thornton is a student in the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Aquinas College. He chose to pursue a vocation in teaching after recently leaving a twenty-five-year career in business. He has been happily married for 24 years and is the father of two children, a daughter in college and a son in high school.

This article originally appeared in Aquinas Magazine.

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