Elizabeth Lemus has taught at Holy Rosary Academy & Preschool in San Bernardino for 14 years. Previously, she taught at St. Anthony School in San Bernardino, which has since closed. She currently teaches first grade, but has also taught second and seventh grades.
As part of our series on Catholic School teachers in the Diocese, Lemus sat down with the BYTE to tell us a little about herself and her life as a teacher at Holy Rosary.
BYTE: So you just taught seventh grade for a few months before switching to teach second and then first grade. What do you enjoy about teaching those younger grades?
Lemus: This is where my heart is. I loved second, but I don’t know, first just has my heart. These little ones come in as still kind of like kindergarteners, but they leave here so grown up and so changed from over the year ... I love first grade; I don’t see myself going anywhere else, unless something unforeseen happens and I have to move grades, but my heart is in first grade.
BYTE: What made you want to teach in the first place? Was it something you always wanted to do growing up or in college?
Lemus: It’s funny, I really wanted to be a marine biologist. That was my goal. I loved dolphins, I loved marine life. And then realization came in when I saw that Scripps University only took like five kids a year at that time and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t think I’m going to make it.’
So Father Ed Gomez, who is a priest in the Diocese [currently Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Chino], said, ‘You should be a missionary. Go out. You have no kids, you’re single, go and be a missionary.’ And I was like, ‘Father, I don’t think I could do that. I’m very family-oriented person. I don’t think I can go that far.’ He said, ‘Then you need to be a Catholic school teacher. Have you ever thought about that?’ And I was like, ‘Actually no.’
I taught catechism, I was a lector, but I hadn’t thought of being a Catholic school teacher. And that right there changed everything ... that’s where it all started. And ever since then, I’ve never left, and I don’t ever plan on leaving.
BYTE: What would you say you enjoy most about teaching?
Lemus: I think my most favorite thing is being in a Catholic school. Because not only in my teaching curriculum, but I’m also teaching them to love Jesus, to find their faith. When things are tough in the world or in their lives, we can sit and we can pray about it or just find scripture about it.
If they lose a pet or, you know, a family member passes away, we can sit and we can talk about it and pray about it, and just seeing them turn from their sadness to happiness. That’s one of the best things that I love about teaching in Catholic school.
BYTE: What are some of the ways that you incorporate the faith in the classroom just in a concrete day-to-day basis?
Lemus: We pray throughout the entire day but also just finding Jesus in everything that we do. Whether it’s reading a story and bringing out the religious aspect or the Catholic identity or even just a virtue like kindness in that story ... just finding Jesus in everything and letting them know that Jesus is always there in everything that we do, that God is there.
BYTE: What would be some challenges that you’ve had to face while teaching, maybe during COVID or just over your entire teaching career, that you’ve had to deal with and overcome?
Lemus: I think really COVID and catching up after COVID has been a challenge, remembering that they’re still kiddos and a lot of them didn’t have that kindergarten experience, or last year was like the real first year of school for them because before that was COVID. Just letting them catch up a little bit, letting them be kids again and understand that they struggled being home, it was a whole different kind of life.
That was tough, us changing from teaching face-to-face and learning new technology like Zoom, and then for them it was tough socially. And I think now, we’re hopefully going to get back to a little bit of normalcy.
BYTE: Last question would be, do you have a favorite saint or Bible verse you would like to share, and what do you like to do in your free time when you’re not teaching?
Lemus: I actually have my favorite Bible verse posted in my classroom: “I could do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). My mom always said, “God will never give you anything that you cannot handle. Whatever it is, you can handle it with God.”
And then I love spending time with family. I have a three-year-old and a husband and we like to try new things, go out and have adventures, things like camping with my family. I’m big on family; I love my family to death. And so I just like to spend as much time as I can with them.
BYTE: Was there anything else you wanted to add or mention?
Lemus: Yeah, you know, I just love teaching at Catholic school. People always say, “Don’t you want to teach somewhere else? Don’t you want to make more money?” And I’m like, no, because every day I wake up and I’m happy, I’m happy where I’m at. You can’t beat that, coming somewhere and going to someplace that you love. That right there means the world to me. So, I mean, that overrides anything.