By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Ted Elsesser seemed to be in his element Feb. 5 as he chatted with four of his students in a crowded lively cafeteria on the campus of Sacred Heart Academy (SHA) where he is a theology teacher.
Mary Lee McCoy — principal of Sacred Heart Academy — said the students respond so well to Elsesser, because they know he cares.
“Girls are relational beings. In order for them to do well in school, they need to know you like and respect them,” said McCoy in an interview at the school last week.
“They need to know you will encourage them and make the classroom a safe place to make mistakes,” she said. “He does all those things with ease.”
Elsesser, who has taught at Sacred Heart for 38 years, will receive the Father Joseph McGee Award for Outstanding Catholic Educator during the Salute to Catholic School Alumni dinner on March 18 at the Galt House Hotel.
“He deserves the recognition, because he puts his heart into everything he does,” said Courtney Wheeler, a 10th-grade student at SHA.
Wheeler said she had a difficult time as a transfer student, but Elsesser helped her to settle into life at her new school.
McCoy said that Elsesser is not only very dedicated to his students, but committed to helping them grow their faith in their own lives.
One way Elsesser does this is through his work as moderator of the Interact Club — a Rotary International service club for youth.
Every week, Elsesser takes a group of students, who are members of the club, to visit shut-ins at Mercy Sacred Heart. This is not a requirement, noted McCoy, it’s something he does on his own time.
In a statement from the school, Elsesser is described as a “storyteller” who uses examples from his own life to relate his teachings to students.
“He’s not just teaching content, but character,” said the assistant principal, Amy Nall.
“He makes his classes fun,” said Carmen Miller with a big smile. “He teaches religion in a way that helps us make the connections in our daily lives,” explained Miller who is in the 10th grade.
According to McCoy and Nall — who nominated Elsesser for the award — he is not only outstanding as an educator, but also in the way he lives his life outside of school. For this reason, they said, it was easy to choose him as a nominee for the prestigious award, which honors an educator who exemplifies the values of Catholic education.
“We have so many good teachers, but he stood out as a whole person,” said McCoy.
Nall and McCoy pointed to Elsesser’s commitment and involvement in his parish. He’s a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Church where he is a server, a sacristan and also involved with the RCIA program. He has also served as head of lectors at Our Lady of Lourdes where he organized lector ministry and trained and coached lectors.
“He personifies what it is to lead a life of integrity, faith and dedication to others,” said Nall.
When Elsesser found out he was nominated for the award, he said, he was very surprised. He recalled during an interview last week that he walked into the meeting thinking, “I’ve either done something very, very bad or very, very good,” he said laughing.
On a serious note, Elsesser added that he felt humbled by and very grateful for the honor.
“I may be the one receiving this award, but many of my colleagues work very hard without recognition,” he said. “I am accepting this on their behalf.”
It’s this humility, Nall said, that’s deeply ingrained in Elsesser, that made him stand out as a nominee for the award.
“He doesn’t seek the spotlight, said Nall. “His physical presence is large, his voice is loud, but he’s a very humble man,” she said.
At the end of the day, Elsesser said it’s his faith that motivates him to work as hard as he does.
What he hopes to impart in his students, he said, is a “love of Christ, active participation in the church and confidence which will enable them to tackle issues of faith.”