29 May

What A Truly Great Teacher Looks Like

by Jon Katz

(The second Bishop Maginn High School Wish List told out Tuesday evening. Thanks)

I believe a good teacher leaves an indelible mark  on the soul of a student, especially students who are poor, vulnerable and needy. I was too messed up to learn much, and my Dyslexia made my teachers wary of me, many suspected I was not bright.

It is a revelation and joy to see Sue Silverstein Gilligan, a long-time teacher at Bishop Maginn High School in the middle of Albany. She teaches art and music and theology, among other things.

Her art room is a refuge and gathering place for the whole school. Her love of teaching and her love of her children, many of them the very poorest refugees, is palpable, as is their love of her.

For years, she bought art supplies out of her own money and hated to have to tell students there were no supplies for them to work with. The Army Of Good has taken care of that, at least for now, and it was a thrill to see her students busy working with their new markers, brushes and sketch pads.

Sue – we are friends now I think – is a dog lover, an avid reader.

This summer, she will be working at the school tending to a vegetable garden that  feels a homeless shelter down the street. She will also keep her classroom open for kids who spend the summers baby-sitting for their parents, who work day and night.

I asked her if she  gets paid for working through the summer like that, she smiled and said, turning away, “well, I just live a few doors away.”

These students can come to the classroom any time to paint or draw, there are some impressive artists in her class. There are always students painting and drawing in her  art class, whether it’s in session or not.

Sue has the gift, the spirit, the temperament for teaching, she encourages without fawning, she challenges without fear, she is a safe place for children who have experienced the worst kind of brutality and fear and often live in absolute poverty.

“I can’t tell you how many of these kids show up in the deep of winter wearing sandals. There is no money for sneakers or boots.” I told her I hope she will tell us when that occurs, we are good at buying boots and shoes.

I love watching her and Maria bond and click with another. Sue is at the epicenter of this Love School. It feels so good just to be there.

We became instant friends. So did Maria. Few people have ever made me feel more welcome or comfortable. Her students are very lucky, and you know what? They know it.


  1. A truly great teacher knows they are blessed by their students, which you can see in this picture (or I can project at least!)

    I’m already in love with Sue. At times Catholicism appears to be “melting” like the Wicked Witch, and then you see the places where the love and ideals still live. I’m so grateful to share by proxy.

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