Answering the Unanswerable Questions

As a first-year teacher one thing that can stop me dead in my tracks is when a student asks me a question that I am unable to answer. The unanswerable questions themselves are not what stop me; rather, it is the inability to help one of my students that makes me pause. My faults and the limitations of knowledge are things that I am really familiar with going back to my early days as a philosophy major. In fact, one of my favorite quotes is one that I learned at the beginning of my studies while reading of the Trial of Socrates: “I am the smartest person in this room, if only because I am the only one who knows that they do not know everything.” Fortunately, as I look at my life now my philosophical studies unexpectedly prepared me for these perplexing questions from students and—with strenuous reinforcement and implementation this past semester—taught me how to truly listen, as a sixth-eighth grade teacher, to the questions of my students.

Everyday a single student might ask hundreds of questions, from the inane, “Mr. Peters, can I go to the bathroom,” over and over … and over again, to the deep, “Why do we believe in Hell?” Furthermore, a single study hall of 50 minutes might cover the breadth of helping create variable equations, symbolism in Fahrenheit 451, and balancing the sides of a chemical reaction. Previous schooling prepared me to solve and answer some of these questions on a basic level, but in most cases I have not practiced any real technical stuff in several years. But, what do I actually do when I get questions I forgot or never thought to learn?

Like a good student, we always begin by reading the instructions. Next, I do what I learned as a philosophy major, I ask simple questions until the student and I have a firm foundation—a foundation where both the student and I know the basic building blocks of the subject. Finally, we return the original question. The key to start solving a problem is knowing which questions to ask and, ultimately, listening to how someone answers. Students and I have answered many homework questions, but they have also taught me a great deal more.

My students have taught me that I need to ask a lot more questions in general. They have also taught me that I need to be more precise with my directions, like the times that I had them all get up and start walking somewhere without the “go” word. And, my students have taught me that I need to break things down to more simple questions at first, like when I asked for the definition of a word from my eighth grade English class, which I thought should be obvious and instead I got 16 eighth graders staring at me with deer-in-the-headlight eyes.

All 92 of my San Miguel students are a work in progress. I work hard to help them learn something new every day, and each day I hope that they ask me more questions on their own prerogative (if only so they can eventually teach themselves and I can just sit back and relax.) Overall, we have already grown a lot together, and my hope is that they grow—at least as much as they have helped me grow—because they have definitely shown me the way.

Ben Peters is a first-year LV serving at San Miguel School in Washington, DC. He is a 2018 graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

By |January 9th, 2019|Categories: blog, news + events|0 Comments

Embracing the Unexpected and Trusting God’s Plan

2018 has been quite the year for me. I graduated from college, traveled the East Coast putting on mission trips for teenagers with Catholic Heart Workcamp, started a relationship with a guy who is one of my best friends, moved to Memphis, Tennessee, to start my service year as an LV, went on an epic fall break camping trip in the Smoky Mountains with my community member, plus a whole bunch more. Besides graduating college, nothing on that list was part of my plan for 2018. However, I am very grateful that they were part of God’s plan for me.

Looking back at the beginning of this year, I would have never expected to be where I am today but that’s what makes life fun. The unexpected. I have so many friends who have planned their life out to a T. They know exactly what company they want to work for, the year they want to get married, how many kids they want to have, the neighborhood they want to live in, etc. Planning out my life like that, in all honesty, scares me. You see, we can plan out our life precisely how we want it to be, but ultimately our life is in God’s hands. As Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

In March of my senior year I got my site placement for Lasallian Volunteers. I was hoping to go somewhere exciting like California or New York. I put in my application that I wanted to go literally anywhere but the Midwest. God had a different plan though. I was placed in Memphis, Tennessee, at De La Salle Elementary at Blessed Sacrament.
Originally when I got my site placement, I was told that I would be doing things like teaching religion, co-teaching reading classes, teaching specials classes, and things like that. However, when I arrived at my site, the principal offered me something different. He told me that they were still in need of a middle school science teacher. My background is in elementary education and middle school social studies. Teaching science was never really part of my plan. I trusted God’s plan and jumped right into my next adventure.

This job is a tall order. I am constantly reteaching myself science concepts and planning lessons that are engaging and differentiated to fit all my students’ needs. There are always assignments that need to be graded. Classroom management of middle schoolers has tested me more times than I can count. Sometimes I feel like I am failing, but my students always seem to give me reassurance. This reassurance comes in many different forms and exactly when I need it most. Whether it be in physical form such as a letter or Mexican sweet bread, or verbal affirmation like having one of my most difficult students thank me for making him guided notes, they always remind me that I am following God’s plan for my life. I know that my struggles are nothing compared to what some of my students are going through. At our school there are refugee families, single parent households and some where parents are not even in the picture. There are families who struggle to pay tuition and put food on the table. I know that school is a safe place for many of them.I have built meaningful relationships with my students, and they give me the motivation to keep following God’s call to serve.

Teaching middle schoolers is HARD. Community life can be challenging. Living over 700 miles away from home is difficult. Being in a long-distance relationship is not the most fun. But all of these challenges are part of God’s plan for me. I know that I would not be the person I am today without these things that were not necessarily all part of my own plan.

When I go home for the holidays my family and friends are going to be asking me what my plans are for next year. In all honesty, I really have no idea. I could potentially stay in Memphis, switch service sites, or move back to Minnesota. If I wanted to, I could even move to a different country. All I do know is that I will strive to follow God’s plan for my life no matter where it leads.

So, here’s to 2018 and all the unexpected things God has in store for me in 2019!


Sheyenne Bauer is a first-year Lasallian Volunteer serving at De La Salle Elementary at Blessed Sacrament in Memphis, Tennessee. She is a 2018 graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.


By |December 12th, 2018|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on Embracing the Unexpected and Trusting God’s Plan

Christmas in Community

Take a moment and close your eyes. Reflect on what Christmas is to you. What do you think of when you hear the word “Christmas”? Do you see a tree with twinkling lights and lots of presents under it? Do you imagine yourself dressed in your Sunday best going to church with your family? Are you thinking of sitting next to the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate (and marshmallows!… don’t forget the ‘mallows’) and enjoying a Christmas classic with your family? Or do you imagine all the home cooking and start to smell the aromas of homemade meals and baked goods? Whatever may come to mind, everyone shares many different traditions and experiences over Christmas.

Christmas was, and still is, a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus, but it has become a worldwide tradition enjoyed by many from all different backgrounds. This holiday season differs per religion, but in general it is pretty festive in America. For those who are not religious or do not attend church regularly, are more apt to think of Christmas as the tradition it has become over the years. Decorating the tree, singing songs about Santa, exchanging gifts, watching classic holiday movies, and baking all the sweets from recipes passed down. These are just a few things most people might reminisce about when discussing their Christmas traditions. While living in community, the meaning of Christmas and the holiday itself means more and really humbles oneself when going through this experience.

In community, we do the basics, picking out a tree (even though it usually looks like the tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas), decorating it together, baking our favorite homemade goods from our family recipes, and watching the classic Christmas movies. What makes Christmas in community so different is learning from the Brothers the meaning of Christmas and partaking in Advent. Though I am Catholic, I do not have a very religious background, therefore making last year my first time partaking in Advent. Outside of Advent, living in community over the holiday season opens one’s eyes to see all the different backgrounds and traditions everyone in community has and is willing to share with one another. Christmas in community is seeing the joining of traditions from everyone in the house and the discussions around the table bringing everyone closer together through shared experiences.

Christmas in my community is celebrated from December into January. Since most of the community goes their separate ways surrounding the days approaching Christmas, we celebrate the conclusion of the holiday season on January 6th, which is Three Kings Day. On this day, we gather and invite over close friends of the community to celebrate and host our annual tradition of a gift exchange. Christmas in community has been one of my favorite experiences yet, and I cannot wait to experience it one last time this year.

Happy Holidays!


Jazmine Cole is a second-year Lasallian Volunteer serving at Serviam Gardens (a senior housing center) in Bronx, New York. She is a 2017 graduate of Arizona State University.


By |December 5th, 2018|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on Christmas in Community

Remember Why You Serve

Often times I get caught up in the stress of my service site and my life. I find myself complaining too much instead of being grateful for what I have and what I have accomplished. Yes, I am going to be cliché and write about being grateful and thinking about others immediately after Thanksgiving. I think it is important to take a step back and realize how good I actually have it.

Like many of the other Lasallian Volunteers in my cohort, my role at my service site  can be very demanding. We all have those difficult students, families, clients and elderly people we serve. With that being said, it is easy to get caught up in the thought that they should make it easier on us because we’re giving up a year or more away from our families to serve them. I often find myself complaining to Julia, my lovely community member and fellow LV, about these difficult students and families I encounter. Asking her things like, “Why? Why won’t this student follow directions or listen to me? Why won’t this parent respond to my emails or letter home? Why does this student not like me, not respect me?” I am forgetting that these students and families have lives outside of school just like me. They have things going on that I do not know about and I cannot begin to understand.

I need to remind myself to take a step back and remember the reasons why I am here. I did not do this because I thought it would be fun or it would be easy. I decided to do these years of service because these people deserve it. The people we serve deserve to be treated better and to have better lives. Doing service is not about you, it’s about who you are serving. If I didn’t decide to step up and give back, who would? It starts with me and that’s why I am here in Concord, California. The fact that I even have the privilege to do a service year—two actually—is reason enough to do so.

Unlike some of my students and families, I come from a loving, supportive home where I am safe and never hungry. I live with two amazing Christian Brothers and another LV who will go above and beyond for me. These are things I need to keep in mind when working with a difficult student or family. They deserve all of my love and support because they may not be getting it elsewhere.

Although at times service can be difficult, I am experiencing so much—lifelong relationships and love I could not get anywhere else. As people, we naturally expect things to be easy and to be perfect, but I think the beauty of doing service is that it’s hard. The challenges I face now are going to make me a better teacher and even a better person. With over a year under my belt already, I have already become so much better than I was before.

This past week, I visited my high school and talked about what I do as an LV and my experiences thus far. One of the girls asked me, “What gave you the courage to do a second year?” Initially, I said, “the love and support of my family,” but I have been thinking about it. Honestly, what I do is not nearly as courageous as the challenges that our students, families, clients and elderly face and overcome every day. It’s actually humbling to see what they have to deal with and how well they do so.

Ashley Weinberger is a second-year Lasallian Volunteer serving at De La Salle Academy in Concord, California. She is a 2017 graduate of La Salle University. 




By |November 28th, 2018|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on Remember Why You Serve

Serving from Sea to Shining Sea

One of my favorite parts of studying and teaching literature is making connections between the text and current events and themes in our world today. One of my favorite poems that almost instantly comes to mind is “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman. His words, which begin and end with “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear…Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs,” show how each individual’s hard work joins together to create one great and diverse country. These words especially resonate with me this week as our country remembered the sacrifice of our servicemen and women on Veterans Day. Whether it is serving in the armed forces, at a local church, a food bank, or giving a year to serve in vulnerable and marginalized communities, our country’s generosity with service is what makes America great.

Regardless of one’s skill and passion, the simplest act of service to another, to me, is the sincerest form of gratitude for all of the gifts we have received. While we often hear about stories of violence and sadness in the news, how often do we act on the words of the television icon Mr. Fred Rogers when he comforted television viewers by telling them to “look for the helpers.” I was blessed to have received a Catholic education since first grade, and I felt called to become a teacher and a Lasallian Volunteer as a way to give back for all that my teachers and the Christian Brothers gave me throughout my childhood. I think it is safe to say that many of my fellow Lasallian Volunteers have similar thoughts, and whether they are serving in Chicago, Tucson, Philadelphia, or even Bethlehem, we are all here to serve the students entrusted to our care.

I am serving at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, a coeducational school with 750 diverse and extremely talented students. I am working in the Learning Center with students who need extra academic support and learning accommodations to help them achieve their short- and long-term goals. I meet with my students for individual support on a weekly basis depending on the level of need, and I often find myself out of the office to check up on students in their natural school environments and to support them in their classrooms. My belief is that my calling in this role is to not sit behind a desk all day, but rather take advantage of every opportunity to make a positive impact on a student, especially those who struggle most. The most rewarding part of my service here is seeing a student motivated and confident that they can succeed and master their material, and the glimmer in their eyes when they finally get a concept motivates me in my role.

I also serve in Lasallian Ministry where I help plan diverse programs to support our students’ academic and spiritual growth. For seven years, I have served in several parishes as a CCD teacher where I educated young children about their Catholic faith and finding Jesus in the seven sacraments. My work in Lasallian Ministry allows me to use my creativity and love of the Church to get students involved in the spiritual component of our Catholic and Lasallian school. We recently celebrated All Saints Day as a school community and incorporated elements of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) into our prayer space. As with many Catholic schools today, a portion of our student body is either not Catholic or not religious, but I used our school Mass to get all students involved in our liturgy in a different way. Our graphic design class created and our Spanish classes colored “papel picado” (traditional Mexican banners). In addition, our art classes created mini-ofrendas out of shoeboxes to remember their loved ones, our art club made flowers out of tissue paper, and the school community was invited to bring in pictures of family and friends who have died for our community ofrenda table.

Seeing our students and staff come together as one community while doing even small actions of kindness helps me remember the good that still exists in our world and why service is so important. While a convenient opportunity since I recently graduated from college and am not burdened with as many challenges as my peers, my year here at DeLaSalle High School is allowing me to give back and contribute to the song of America that Walt Whitman wrote about many years ago. Together, and by association, our “voices” and acts of service to others come together as one great country.

Joseph Samuel Rogers is a first-year LV serving at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is a 2014 graduate of Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh and 2018 graduate of La Salle University in Philadelphia, both proud Lasallian institutions.


By |November 14th, 2018|Categories: blog, calendar|Comments Off on Serving from Sea to Shining Sea