Inspiration to teach came from English nuns, says Utah educator portrayed in Hallmark movie

Friday, Apr. 08, 2011
Inspiration to teach came from English nuns, says Utah educator portrayed in Hallmark movie + Enlarge
Emily VanCamp portrays Stacey Bess in a scene from the Hallmark Hall of Fame film ?Beyond the Blackboard.? The film is scheduled to air Easter, April 24, 9-11 p.m. EDT on CBS.
By Special to the Intermountain Catholic

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Stacey Bess has been a lifelong Mormon, but the inspiration for her to become a teacher came from Catholic nuns who taught her in England in her youngest years.

Bess’ father worked for the federal government, and was sent on an assignment to Leeds, England. And what may seem amazing to the sensibilities of American parents is that "public schooling was not available to us," she said.

"All the kids whose fathers worked for the government were sent to this private Catholic school. For four years, I grew to love the priests and nuns," Bess told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview from her home in Salt Lake City.

"I’m guessing that in our younger years we build relations or understandings in our brain about what good relationships are," she said. "I remember when I came back (at age 7) to first grade in America I was looking for the nuns!"

Bess became a teacher, and her first assignment was a nearly overwhelming challenge: teach homeless Salt Lake City children from first through sixth grades in a one-room "schoolhouse" at a warehouse-turned-shelter alongside the railroad tracks, with scant support from the school district.

How Bess dealt with the challenge is the subject of a new "Hallmark Hall of Fame" made-for-television movie, "Beyond the Blackboard," to air Easter, April 24, 9-11 p.m. EDT on CBS.

What Bess, now 47, said she learned about herself from that teaching experience is that "if you can endure a school with really high needs, then you are well-prepared for all students."

Bess now works part-time at Utah State University, teaching prospective teachers and visiting them in their student-teaching assignments. She also speaks about her own teaching experiences, based in part on the book that served as the launching pad for "Beyond the Blackboard."

Even though she has talked to audiences for years about her classroom time, "it was painful for me to relive all of the events that took place" when on the movie set, Bess told CNS. "Those were powerful, powerful years in my life."

She added, "I have no regrets, but it’s not a comfortable position to be in. ... It’s uncomfortable to put yourself out there, but the goodness that I believe it will provoke outweighs some of the fears that I have."

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