By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published February 8, 2018
ROSWELL—In Florida, Heather Beck first labored as a social worker after college and later taught fifth grade at a Title I public school with low-income families, deepening her passion for social service and advocacy. Now at Queen of Angels School in Roswell, she infuses her deep faith and social consciousness plus a good dose of patience in teaching literature to middle school students.
“Teaching is the ultimate social work, I decided, when feeling kind of empty sitting behind a desk,” said Beck.
A passionate reader since childhood, she joyfully deconstructs books with her pupils.
“When you’re encountering literature there are so many elements of the human person that you can unpack and analyze,” Beck said. “With all the conflicts and problems that characters face, I like to help students to make a connection to their faith, what our faith calls us to do here in this situation, in our decision-making and the way we look at the world and live our lives.”
At Queen of Angels, she first taught fifth grade but then moved to middle school, longing to help youth go deeper.
“I prayed about it and felt drawn to say yes to this position because it was a path for helping students grow in their faith and morals,” she said. “It’s a really formative age for developing a deeper consciousness and a deeper faith. Middle-schoolers are very exciting, and there is never a dull moment.”
Beck herself journeyed on faith to Atlanta in 2013. While teaching in Gainesville, Florida, she decided to attend a Catholic school job fair in Atlanta and a week later interviewed with Queen of Angels. A month later she was offered a job but was feeling nervous about it. One night she picked up her devotional book for Catholic teachers and read the day’s reflection that happened to be from the Queen of Angels principal, who called her a short time later.
“I was kind of scared to move, and here the Lord God comes in,” she recalled. “That reading gave me the courage to say yes … it was kind of a sign to me from God that that was what I was supposed to do next on my teaching journey.”
It was the right move indeed. On Jan. 27, she was recognized as the Queen of Angels honoree at the Catholic Schools 11th Annual Archbishop’s Banquet for Catholic Education.
“I’m very affirmed, and it challenges you to keep forging a path that continuously responds to what it means to be a teacher who models Christ,” Beck said. “It’s humbling too because you want to make sure you’re still improving and growing and becoming a better teacher.”
Principal Dr. Jamie Arthur praised her “beautiful job” in teaching English.
“She’s a very faith-filled woman, and so she uses literature as a tool to help students develop and form that Catholic lens in looking at people, in living their faith in the world,” she said. “When I go in her classroom it’s a beautiful example. She really has a learning community. At the center is literature and how she develops her curriculum through a Catholic lens and imparts those values to her students.”
Creating a literature encounter of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, Beck and the former religion coordinator developed a Lenten service learning project to be repeated this year based on the book, “A Long Walk to Water,” about a Sudanese refugee who returns to build a well and frees a girl trekking eight hours to fetch water.
At the school, sixth-graders silently hauled water along a nearby trail, heard refugee testimony and learned about Catholic Charities’ refugee resettlement program.
“We walked in solidarity with refugees, those who have to walk for water each day because they don’t have the privilege of having it nearby; they have to walk to flee danger,” explained Beck. “Obviously we are in a much different situation but we walked with them in prayer, praying for refugees. We carried a gallon of water on our backs and donated it to Catholic Charities.”
She also completed a two-year Jesuit Contemplative Leaders in Action Program at Ignatius House in Atlanta to grow in faith and openness to lead, with prayer having always been central to her vocation.
“I have really felt led by God in my teaching career rather than being the sole decider of my journey,” said Beck.
And there’s no better place to live her faith than at the Roswell school.
“I work with the best people, the most amazing and supportive fellow teachers and administrators and I have phenomenal families and students to work with,” she said.