By NADIA MARIA SMITH
CS&T Staff Writer
SECANE – Helen McAllister is a proud Catholic teacher who has been recognized by the National Liberty Museum as a “Teacher Hero” for her 37 years of dedication and distinction as a Catholic educator.
McAllister has taught at Our Lady of Fatima School in Secane for almost four decades because she is “helping youth in a way I wouldn’t be able to in a public school,” she said. “Christian values are a big part of my teaching.”
McAllister admits that she has sacrificed financially to teach at Catholic schools, but she has “a real sense of commitment” to Catholic education, she said.
She was raised in Catholic schools attending Most Blessed Sacrament in Philadelphia and West Philadelphia Catholic High School. She credits her teachers- – lay and religious – for fostering her desire to become a teacher.
“I had the idea of being a teacher from a very young age, but I grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and that socio-economic area was not one where girls went to college. It was a big surprise to my parents when I wanted to go to college. They were very supportive, and I attended Penn State University and graduated with an elementary education degree,” she said.
She landed a job at Our Lady of Fatima where she found a strong sense of community and support and believes she was making a difference.
She began by teaching fifth grade for seven years and then she was moved to seventh and eighth grades, where she has been teaching for the past 30 years.
She has also coached the girls’ track team, taught Irish dancing, was the volleyball moderator and co-director of the eighth grade’s variety shows.
Her favorite part of teaching is learning, she said.
Every day she learns something new and has continued her education through various teacher enhancement workshops.
She has also learned to adapt to the changing culture and its effects in the classroom -allowing her faith to be her constant source of strength.
“I truly believe that society has some major challenges today because of the breakdown of the family unit which has resulted in some of our students facing challenges that I never faced or that some of my earlier students never faced,” she said. “Students also have a greater knowledge of the world around them because of technology, which puts an added burden on parents and teachers to make sure they understand where the world’s values can go wrong.”
On the upside, McAllister has also seen a dramatic growth in career opportunities for students and never tires of hearing about the success of her former students.
“I’ve been in contact with many of my former students and I’ve seen how they’ve taken what they’ve learned here to accomplish what they have in their lives,” McAllister said. “They have gone on to own businesses and have families and are very successful and many of them say it is because of the background they had in Catholic schools.”
CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 965-4614.