Honoring our teachers
Presenting the third annual St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award
We asked everyone from across the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois what Catholic teacher in our schools is making a big difference in the classroom? What teacher goes above and beyond, someone whose impact is deep and personal? What teacher authentically lives out what it means to be Catholic and instills our faith into his or her students? What teacher embodies St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded Catholic schools in the United States?
The Office for Catholic Schools and Office for Communications for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, organizers of the award, received a record number of nominations — 72 teachers in all — from principals, teachers, parents, priests, previous students, and current students this year. A team consisting of former educators in our diocese poured through the nominations and read all the stories of impact about each teacher, narrowing the list to five finalists, which Catholic Times presents in this edition along with quotes taken from nomination forms. Catholic Times will reveal the winner of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award in the May 15 edition. Thank you to everyone who submitted a nomination and thank you to all our teachers who work so hard!
Sacred Heart School, Effingham
“I first met Mrs. Wenthe when my oldest son began school at Sacred Heart School in 2013. My first impression of her was that she was someone who lived her faith in her life, every day, all day. It was apparent to me that God was center in her life and that resonated with me because that was something that I needed to work on in my own life. Seeing her was a great example for me. Mrs. Wenthe reinforces religion all day long and integrates it into her teaching. This is natural for her because she chooses to always keep God first in her own life. Mrs. Wenthe volunteers her time to stay after school and help students who need a little more time with her. It is important to her as an educator that every child succeeds, and she makes that happen by going above and beyond with giving of her time and talents to her students. She also volunteers her time to teach for our PSR program. She serves as a greeter for Mass, is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, and helps with social events.”
Billi Jansen, colleague
“I have known Mrs. Wenthe for eight years and in those eight years, I have worked with her in a variety of roles. She has been a principal, teacher, volunteer, and one of my beloved parishioners. In every role, she has taken and in every day of her life, she puts God first and lives her faith.
“Currently, as our fourth-grade teacher, I see Mrs. Wenthe focus on the academic excellence in her classroom, while maintaining Christ in the center of her lessons. She volunteers her time to tutor her students after school if they need extra help. She is a disciple of Christ and gives of herself to help others.
“Mrs. Wenthe joins me for prayer in church on a regular basis, and this also brings her closer to Christ. She understands the importance of time with God and shows her students that also. She ensures that they are shown the importance of prayer by bringing them to church during the school day.”
Father Michal Rosa, pastor
St. Paul School, Highland
“My daughter was blessed to have Mrs. Tallman as her second-grade teacher. Mrs. Tallman is innovative in the way that she teaches her students, and she loves and cares for her students like they are her own children.
“When my daughter, Lillian, entered second grade, I was concerned about her reading abilities. Mrs. Tallman quickly noticed her challenges and reached out to me. From that point forward, she did anything and everything she could to support Lillian. Her expertise even helped her to realize that Lillian had a tracking problem and was in need of glasses. But she did not stop there. One of the things she knew about Lillian is that Lillian likes reptiles. Mrs. Tallman is an animal lover herself, and she had a bearded dragon at home that was no longer getting much attention from her own children. With our permission, she asked Lillian if she would like to take the bearded dragon, Lizzy, and take of her care of her for a while. One thing about Lizzy is that she really likes being read to, and Lillian would have to take time reading to her new friend. After a few months of Lizzy staying at our house, Lillian’s reading scores began to improve. To reward Lillian, Mrs. Tallman surprised Lillian by presenting her with an adoption certificate. A year later, Lizzy has become a part of our family. She is a constant reminder of the hard work Lillian has put in and of what a caring teacher Mrs. Tallman is. At the start of second grade, Lillian scored in the third percentile on her readying test and this year, she has moved up to the 56th percentile. Mrs. Tallman exemplifies what the love and support of a wonderful teacher can do for a student. She is truly an example of a teacher who brings light and love to her students in the same way Christ does for His followers.”
Susanne Himsel, parent of student
“My son, Matthew, struggled with reading, and that had led to behavior issues in first grade. We worked with him constantly, and he made little progress. With COVID and all the changes, it was a battle. Starting in second grade, he just wasn’t confident. Before the school year started, I spoke to his new teacher to make sure everyone knew he might need extra help. She was very reassuring and confident they could work on it.
“About a month into the year, Matthew had changed. He had so much excitement to go to school each day! His reading level improved to his grade level. I sincerely couldn’t believe it. Matthew also received the Viking Award from the principal based on his kindness and behavior at school.
“We have four children, our oldest graduating from Father McGivney Catholic High School in 2018. We have experienced a lot of different teachers and teaching styles. I have never been so impressed with the attention, understanding, and passion Mrs. Tallman gives all her students. I am extremely grateful for all of the extra love and attention she has given Matthew.”
Suzanna Bushur, parent of student
St. Agnes School, Springfield
Junior high literature teacher (grades, 6, 7, 8)
“Mrs. West always makes sure her students, no matter what their background or skill level is, understands and comprehends the material she is teaching. She spends so much time preparing lesson plans that meet the needs of all students. She also tries to make learning fun for the students by preparing activities to play on ‘Fun Friday’ that are related to the curriculum that is being taught. Mrs. West has improved mine and many others’ understanding of English and reading, and I feel like she has very much prepared us for high school, college, and beyond.”
Emma Johnson, current student
“Mrs. West is always in a good mood no matter what. She always has a smile on every day. Mrs. West constantly strives to make sure every student gets the education they need and gives everyone enough time to complete any assignments. She is always focusing on the mental health of the students and worries about how each student feels. Every day at the start of class, she asks us how our day is going, as a way to ‘wind down’ as it comes toward the end of the day. She gave me great advice that I still keep with me today. She told me, ‘Separate yourself from people who put you down.’”
Gloria Ayilisungu, current student
St. Mary School, Brussels
Third/fourth-grade teacher, fifth/sixth-grade language arts teacher
“Mrs. Tepen exemplifies the ideal Catholic school teacher. She instills a love of God in all her students and her reach extends to each child’s entire family. She teaches with joy, love, and understanding. From the moment I saw in her parent orientation, I was in awe of her passion. She read the Starfish Poem, highlighting how small acts can make a big difference. In a world where it is easy to be distracted on what is important, Mrs. Tepen is focused on her faith and leads by example for all her students.
“One of the most impactful aspects of Mrs. Tepen’s teaching is her handwritten notes for each student. During parent-teacher conferences, she presented a three-page written letter highlighting my child’s strengths in the most beautiful words. She eloquently included areas my daughter needed to work on but made sure to express that all children have different talents, all children are not on their best behavior every day, and through all of it, God loves them.
“Mrs. Tepen has been a teacher at St. Mary School for more than 20 years. Without a doubt, she has made a positive difference for every child blessed enough to be part of her classroom.”
Renee Rose, parent of student
“Mrs. Tepen will do anything for her students. She got to share the miracle of being a grandmother with all of us, her students. She is very dedicated to being Christlike and holy. She loves God with all her heart. She is really sweet and an amazing teacher. At Lent, she hand- makes boxes for students to put money in for the missions. She inspires me to be the best version of myself. She helps us all to love God, learn about God, and spread the Gospel. She loves anything Christlike.”
Conley Klocke, current student
Our Lady of Lourdes School, Decatur
Religion teacher (grades 3, 5, 6, 7, 8)
“Mrs. Keller organized over 60 students and led them during the March for Life. She spent hours during the weeks before explaining and teaching our Catholic belief that all life is sacred from the moment of conception to natural death. She walked alongside the students. I’ve always likened her to our very own St. Mother Teresa. Finally, Mrs. Keller makes every student feel loved. I’ve seen her wrap her arm around the shoulder of a student and say, ‘I love you,’ and “I hear you.’ You cannot be in her presence and not feel joy!”
Elizabeth Wherly, parent of a student
“Mrs. Keller has been a pillar of Catholic education in Decatur for many years now. She taught for 25 years at St. Teresa Catholic High School, and everyone I’ve met who has had Mrs. Keller as a teacher loves and respects her greatly. With her at Our Lady of Lourdes, I watch the way her students interact with her, and I’m so impressed. She has their affection, their attention, and their utmost respect. When I’m in her classroom, I watch as student after student come in to give her a hug or tell her ‘Good morning.’ They truly love her — and she takes a vested interest in every aspect of their life. When they need to be loved and healed from the difficulties of young adolescence, Mrs. Keller is there. When they need to be challenged to rise to a better version of themselves, she is there.
“As a religion teacher, she is not teaching them — she is modeling for them what true discipleship is. I see this especially when Mrs. Keller has to challenge them to love and respect each other more. She simply does not shy away from the difficult conversations, but the way in which she addresses them with love and sympathy is unparalleled in my experience. I’m truly grateful to have her as a teacher at my school! I enjoy seeing her love for the students, and it’s a privilege to see the care and generosity that she has reached now with a second generation of students in Decatur.”
Father Michael Friedel, pastor