Religion teacher John Whittaker is passionate about three things: educating his students, planning his wedding, and Notre Dame, his alma mater. He believes teaching is “the most noble profession there is,” which drew him to education after receiving an M.A. in theology. Teaching religion to sophomores and juniors, he guides students through topics like the feminine genius, immigration, the death penalty, and more.
“I’m passionate about students seeing the complexity in the world; I’m also passionate about bringing Jesus to my students,” John said. In learning about ethical and moral issues in the world, he asks students to think about this question: where is Jesus in all this mess? Through project-based learning and robust discussions focused on civil discourse, students begin to think about their own opinions and question what makes them think the way they do, bringing them to a greater understanding of self.
He also encourages students to develop important skills, like building a website, advocating for their beliefs, and putting into practice Salesian Spirituality. “If I were to define the Salesian charism, it would be practically living one’s faith,” said John. “I was talking with Fr. Patrick and he said that St. Francis de Sales was committed to becoming friends with people, and then bringing them to the faith.”
For John, this is a part of his daily work at Visitation: building relationships with students, “in which there’s mutual respect, care, and love so that when they leave [the school], seeds are planted; they can live virtuous, ethical lives.”
His favorite Little Virtue of thoughtful concern for others plays right into that. “If you’re thoughtful, respectful of others, that will lead towards an authentic expression of agape love, self-sacrificial friendship,” said John. “If you’re really concerned about others, that leads to giving yourself completely to another friend as Jesus did for us on the cross.”
John loves the community at Visitation. “In regards to students, one of the best things about teaching here is the passion and drive to be educated and to be all in … about learning [and] investigating their faith,” he said. “It feels like the faculty is a family … we love this institution. It inspires me to care and motivates me to do the best I can.”
John’s an academic through-and-through. Outside of school - for fun - he likes to read and write, thinking critically about politics and ethical issues. He’s training for a half-marathon (“not fun”) and planning his summer wedding (fun is debatable). John’s also a chef, and loves to whip up new recipes in the kitchen.