DeMatha teacher Patrick Smith receives national award
Thursday, April 28, 2011 7:38 AM
With a degree in economics from Harvard University, Patrick Smith could have his pick of financial professions. Instead the father of six chose a slightly different career path winding up wearing the many varied hats of a Catholic school teacher.
Patrick Smith, a literature teacher and the director of admissions at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, is being honored this week at the National Catholic Educational Association convention in New Orleans with a Catholic Secondary Education Award. (PHOTO BY ED POTSKOWSKI)
This week Smith becomes the third teacher from DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville to be honored by the National Catholic Educational Association as an outstanding Catholic educator. He will join six other faculty members or administrators from Catholic secondary schools across the country to receive the recognition at the association's annual convention scheduled for April 26-28 in New Orleans.
In more than two decades at DeMatha, Smith chaired the English department, coached basketball, led the department of Christian Service and currently serves as director of admissions and enrollment at the Hyattsville boys' school. Additionally he teaches three sections of world literature where on a recent spring afternoon he was reviewing his favorite novel, The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, with about 15 juniors.
"He's really very engaging," said Miles Powell a junior. "He puts things into terms we can understand." His classmate Andrew Copeland agreed, adding that Smith "finds a way to make classes fun." In addition to learning how to write better papers, Copeland said his teacher taught him how to find more details while reading.
For Smith, his goal is to pass along the same academics, the same morals and the same life lessons he received at the Trinitarian-sponsored school as a member of the class of 1982. "Much of what I got from DeMatha close to 30 years ago is what I'm trying to convey to them," Smith said. The teacher said he wanted students to maintain a sense of perspective, to realize their actions have consequences, and know their commitment, effort and hard work bring positive results. But above all Smith noted he was "more concerned about the people they become than the content they keep."
Elijah Brooks, a DeMatha graduate and history teacher, said Smith cares about the whole person. Smith is "well-grounded and has great balance in the way he teaches, mentors and leads his life," the co-worker added.
With his trim build and athletic frame befitting the former Ivy League basketball player, Smith still manages to teach his lessons with an unforgettable flair of his own, at times donning a pair of swim goggles and cape to become "Goggle Man" at various school assemblies.
'gets the job done'
A recent article in the school's alumni magazine referred to Smith as DeMatha's "go-to-guy." The profile described Smith as "someone who gets the job done, handling each assignment with precision."
"His flexibility is invaluable," noted Dan McMahon, principal and fellow DeMatha alumnus who counts his colleague as a wonderful friend as well. The administrator said in the five years Smith was the director of the school's service program he elevated it to include reflection papers, increased senior outreach and service fairs for the students.
"He is a terrific classroom teacher," McMahon added. The principal said by the time students reach their senior year, even they come to realize Smith could be working almost anywhere, yet chooses to serve DeMatha.
Smith models authenticity, McMahon said. "He enriches everybody and ennobles the profession."
Humble at all times, Smith would cringe at such praise instead ticking off his list of mentors by name, starting with McMahon. "You can't get a better individual example of someone committed to teaching at a Catholic educational institution," Smith said of his principal. Yet the teacher would also include Hall of Fame basketball coach Morgan Wootten, who taught him coaches are often the best teachers, and the late Charles "Buck" Offutt, a beloved English teacher at DeMatha who was also honored with the same award from the National Catholic Educational Association. Smith recently told the student newspaper, The DeMatha Stagline: "I will always appreciate Dr. Offutt for what he taught me about how to be a teacher and the integrity with which he approached the profession that he loved."inally, Smith credits both his school teacher mother and his father who held a career in the military, with instilling in him the lifetime goal of graceful service. Perhaps most importantly though, Smith said he learned the most about the education field from his wife, Liz Smith.
"She got me fired up about teaching," Pat Smith recalled of his high school sweetheart. "She likes to include a conversation about faith" with her students, he said.
A teacher for 15 years at what was formerly St. Mark the Evangelist School in Hyattsville, Liz Smith now works at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring, a new school made up of families from St. Mark's and St. Camillus parishes. Next month, Liz Smith will be among 10 Catholic educators in the Archdiocese of Washington who will receive the Golden Apple Award. "It was extremely well-deserved," Smith said of his wife's recognition.
The award-winning couple will have been married 24 years this summer. They have six children including two sets of twins: Joey, 21 graduated from DeMatha and is currently a senior at St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland; Sean, 19 graduated from DeMatha and attends Boston College; Maria, 19, graduated from the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington and attends St. Louis University; Nathan and Matthew are juniors at DeMatha; and Daniel, 5, attends St. Francis International.
Smith is proud to say he has coached each of his children's teams at least once either at school or in a CYO program.
Teaching has become a family affair as the entire Smith family helped set up a summer basketball camp at their parish, St. Mark's, after their father helped run a similar camp at DeMatha. The whole family continues to be involved in the camp.
Back in the classroom, Smith said the biggest challenge is motivating his students "to continuously keep them engaged." The teacher said he must now "compete with everything that distracts them," more so than when he first began teaching over 20 years ago.
But Smith acknowledged he is fortunate to have students who are self-motivated, as the character of the DeMatha student has not changed. In his role as director of admissions, Smith said the high school looks at a prospective student's complete application and tries to accept students who are well-rounded, diverse and looking to succeed.
In return, DeMatha Catholic High School offers students a wide variety of academic, athletic and extra-curricular opportunities. "Inevitably the relationships you can develop with students in a Catholic school - the discussions we will be able to have - you wouldn't be able to have in a public school," Smith said.
After all these years, Smith said he still came to learn even more about his alma mater and workplace. The new position in admissions "further solidified this is a one-of-a-kind of place."