by Paula M. Riley
When William Brennan started teaching social studies at Our Mother of Consolation Parish School, President Nixon was in the White House. Four decades and seven presidents later, Brennan is retiring from teaching U.S. history and current events to OMC’s seventh and eighth graders.
Brennan’s admits that his favorite period in history is the Civil War, but said he finds interesting aspects about each era, and he believes it is important to teach them all.
“I have always felt it was important to give students a strong foundation in American History before they go to high school,” Brennan said.
One of the ways he did this was by introducing fun activities in his classroom. The La Salle University graduate didn’t want the children to simply learn the history – he wanted them to appreciate how those in the country and the country as a whole dealt with struggles and difficulties.
While studying immigration, students created an “Immigration Board.” Students first researched U.S. policies and then created their own immigration policies. Individuals applying to get into the country came in front of the board and these new policies were the basis on which access was granted or denied.
In one assignment, students memorized a historical speech and delivered it in costume. During Civil War studies, Brennan’s students created a newspaper. By writing articles on battles, creating advertisements, and writing personal interest stories, the children learned about the war as well as the cost of goods, the war’s impact on inflation and the personal experiences of the citizens.
Brennan taught about the past as well as the present.
“For 40 years, Mr. Brennan has been devoted to the idea that every student needs to understand both the past and the present,” said Bruce Hagy, principal of OMC’s parish school. “ His social studies lessons not only spanned the breadth of past human events but examined the daily events of today’s world. Student interaction, discussion, and Socratic questioning are staples of his pedagogy.”
Most years, students created a “Current Events Notebook.” Each week they choose an article on a current event to discuss with the class on Friday and add it to the book where they summarize the article and give their opinion.
“I tried to stress the importance of understanding civic affairs and the role they (the students) play,” Brennan explained.
These lessons in civics did not go unnoticed. Marianne and Tim Dwyer sent all of their seven children to OMC’s parish school.
“In addition to teaching strong studying habits, Mr. Brennan kept our children interested in current events,’ Marianne Dwyer said. “Today as adults, they maintain that interest in what is going on in the U.S. and around the world.”
In his 40 years, Brennan has seen many changes.
“In the early year of teaching, it was mostly lecture presentation, but today teaching is more project orientated,” he said. “Today there is an insistence that it’s student-oriented – projects and group learning.”
He said the focus has gone from having to know information (memorizing) to having to know how to find the information.
“It’s now about being able to take the knowledge, apply it to a new situation, analyze and synthesize it,” he added.
Brennan serves as the one eighth-grade homeroom teacher, thus his classroom is the last stop before OMC students move into a variety of area high schools.
“Over the years, each student – over a thousand in number – has been given an extraordinary graduation gift – a more highly-refined compass to direct their personal and professional decisions and the practical knowledge to perfect our society and world,” Hagy said. “There is no evidence – in the 150-year history of Our Mother of Consolation Parish School – that any other teacher has this record of distinguished, uninterrupted commitment to our school. Mr. Brennan’s 7,200 days as a teacher, marked by virtually no absences, still is not the key consideration in regards to his tenure.”
Brennan said his retirement years will be spent traveling, taking online courses and exploring his passion – topography – and that he will miss interaction with the children the most.
“Teachers not only share knowledge but you certainly learn every day in the classroom from your students,” he added. “I will miss that.”
The Rev. Bob Bazzoli, OMC’s pastor, reflected on Brennan’s tenure and contributions.
“Mr. Brennan has touched the lives of thousands of our students and our parishioners,” Bazzoli said. “He has not only provided his students with an excellent academic foundation for some of the most challenging high schools in the area, but he has also – perhaps more importantly – taught our students to center their lives in Christ.”
Bazzoli quoted St. Francis de Sales in discussing Brennan.
“De Sales once said, ‘Those who go stay and those who stay go,’” Bazzoli said. “A part of Mr. Brennan will truly be in our school for years to come, for he has touched our lives profoundly, and we know that as he leaves, he will take a part of us with him.”