Gabrielle D’Virgilio, a 2014 graduate of Hillsdale College, got her first job teaching fifth grade at a new charter classical school near Tampa, Florida, Classical Preparatory School. With a passion for liberal arts and classical education received from Hillsdale, Gabrielle is able to bring the classical ideals of goodness, beauty and truth to a public education setting not normally hospitable to such ideas.
What was your college experience like at Hillsdale?
Life at Hillsdale is such a unique world. I could talk forever about my college experience, but the most important thing you can know about Hillsdale is how much the leadership, faculty, and staff of the college care about the heart, mind, and soul of each of their students. It is a college where the professors know each student by name and invite them over to their homes for a meal with their family; where its president sits down for lunch regularly with his students in their main cafeteria to discuss, “What is THE good?” It is a college that constantly strives, in every way, whether sports, fraternities, organizations, or classes, for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty—although we admittedly don’t always do so perfectly, we desire and search for the Higher things constantly. This atmosphere and philosophy pervades every aspect of campus and can’t help but capture the hearts of its students. I would not have the heart and mind that I do, nor would I be the person that I am without the influence of every professor and fellow student I had the privilege to learn under and from throughout my four years at Hillsdale College. It is a place where all striving to learn the true meaning and purpose of life and of mankind, and do so with diligence, humility, and perseverance. It is because of these things and so much more that I could never put into words why I could not be more proud and honored to call Hillsdale College my Alma Mater.
Why did you decide to go into teaching?
Like I told my students, the idea of being a teacher has always appealed to me; however, what I was interested in when I was little (i.e. being the boss, writing on the board, sticking it to “the man” that is public, government funded education) changed hugely after my education at Hillsdale. Minoring in Classical Education and learning from professors who truly loved it and everything it stood for, I started to see my reasoning for going into education shift. I was told that if you don’t first and foremost love learning, the life of the mind, and the life-long pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty, there is no reason to go into teaching.
Secondly, I must love people and care about the formation of their minds, hearts, and souls. I was asked to really reflect on my intentions and search my heart to see if they were in the right place while completing my apprenticeship at Hillsdale Academy. I completed this apprenticeship in my last semester of my collegiate career, a timing for which I am grateful. I could tell that my mind and heart had been molded and shaped to seek out the higher things in all that I do, and my love for other human beings (even those who are difficult) had been truly engrained within me—especially through my experience in my fraternity, Kappa Kappa Gamma. I wanted to make the world a better place through teaching others to believe in the dignity of man and to love/grapple with the difficult journey to wisdom and knowledge. It is because of these acquired desires attained through my family and through Hillsdale that I went into education. I am so grateful I did.
What is it like as a Christian teaching classical education in a public school setting?
I’ve gotten this question often once people learn that I, as a Christian, am teaching at a classical charter school: “How can you have a classical education without Christianity?” I have asked myself that question a lot, and what I have found is that it is impossible. I am a firm believer that all Truth is the Triune God’s Truth; therefore, every bit of Truth that I teach my students is the Truth of Christianity. The beauty of learning about classical education through Hillsdale College is that they made me realize that Christianity fulfills this old type of education specifically.
There is a prevalent school of thought that believes the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers came so close to Christian truth without Christ himself. If they had known of him, surely they would know that this is the God-child who is meant to fulfill all knowledge, earthly and otherwise. I tend to agree with this thought. Although our human reasoning can only take us so far until revelation has to step in, we were created with a mind to seek Him in knowledge and a Heart to seek after His own; therefore, as a Christian educator in a charter school, I come to each and every lesson with that belief. Everything I teach my kids is meant to mold and shape them—to make them better, more virtuous human beings. This is not just any Truth I am teaching them, but God’s perfect and satisfying Truth, and THAT is what makes teaching so satisfying. I know I am doing them good. I know I want what is truly good for them, and I know, with the right intentions and heart, nothing can lead me astray—not even the most secular, anti-Christian setting (which I am not currently in, thankfully).\
How are you able to teach public school children without your faith going beyond public school rules and etiquette?
It is difficult to stay within the confines of public school standards when it comes to sharing my faith; however, it is not impossible. The first and most obvious way to share my faith with my kids is by living the example of a Christian life. I do this by loving those kids who struggle to accept it, pour my heart into those who don’t deserve it, and talk about the dignity of man and the beauty of Truth as much as I possibly can. Another way is by simple presenting the argument from a Christian perspective, and following up with this proposal: “At our school, we believe there is an ultimate, objective Truth that is ours to obtain. I will not sit here and tell you what that Truth is; however, I will say that it is our duty as men to seek out every avenue that tells us ‘This is THE truth,’ and to see if it complies with that which is Good, and True, and Beautiful. This is not a simple endeavor, but it is a worthwhile one, and I hope that I can instill the curiosity in you to try and find it for the rest of your lives.”
Do you have any suggestions for other Christian young people who aspire to go into education?
DO IT! Jump into education no matter how difficult and hopeless it may seem. It is SO incredibly necessary. All I can say is we need to be and are called to be the light and salt of the earth. We need to show the way to Him and benefit people through our love and faith in Him, and what better way than being in a classroom with malleable minds and hearts for seven hours a day, 180 days a year?
I feel convicted to tell you (although we all know this in essence) that you will never do this perfectly. Your kids need to know you are imperfect so they can relate to you. The other reason I say this is because you will not always succeed in your pursuit of changing lives. You are not the sole person responsible for raising this particular child in the way he or she ought to go. True education is a partnership between you, as the teacher, the leadership of the school, and (most importantly) the parents. This, however, does not mean you aren’t important and vital in the life of a given child. Even if you feel incapable at the thought of having to mold young minds and hearts, if you have the love of learning and of people and rely on the strength of the Lord, you can and will make it through.
Not only will you simply “make it through,” but you will do so excellently and will learn so much about yourself, your purpose in life, and how you can make the world a better place by the simple act of influencing kids each and every day. If you are sure of yourself and most importantly, sure in the strength of Christ, you can, in even the most hostile environments, change at least one heart and mind; and even one changed soul is worth every effort in the world.