Teaching From What I Experienced

By John Gutendorf '00

I struggled in school, so I had to work hard at reading, writing and math to get good grades. While things did not al­ways come easy to me, my Chaminade Julienne teachers allowed me to devel­op strategies and study habits that made me a better student and, years later, have helped me become a better teach­er. I consider myself lucky to have had teachers who — even before CJ had a Cuvilly (special needs) program — were willing to go above and beyond expecta­tions for their students. I truly appreciat­ed my CJ experience.

As I entered college, I felt ready for what­ever the professors would throw at me. I actually went to school thinking I would be a lawyer, but later switched gears to education. I was inspired to become a teacher because of the person­al impact that my teachers at CJ, and a few others that I met along the way, had on my life. Never in a million years did I think I would be back at CJ beyond visiting for class reunions and such, but God works in funny ways. I had just moved back from Washington D.C. after earning my master’s degree in special education. CJ had an opening for an intervention spe­cialist and my wife thought I should apply. Even though I was initially a bit re­luctant, I sent in the application. It ended up being the best decision I could have made moving forward in my career.

I feel truly blessed that I was able to work with and learn from probably the best intervention specialist ever, Judi MacLeod ‘88. To be part of this amazing program that she started — one that has helped so many kids not only have the opportunity to attend CJ but be success­ful — has made such an impact on my life, and was part of my ongoing educa­tion in the field of special education.

I will be honest, it was weird at first, being back and working with teachers I had when I was a student, including Dr. Dillon, Mr. Brooks, Ms. Ruffolo, and Mr. Fuchs. I was late to Mr. Fuchs’ class almost every day as a student, so I thought that might stop me from being hired, but Mr. Fuchs was willing to take a chance on me.
Cuvilly is unlike any program in any Catholic school. The scale and size of its impact is unmatched.

I think the coolest thing about the program is that it enables brothers and sisters to attend the same school — something that otherwise might not have been possible. If you have a sibling who has a learning disabil­ity or is on the autism spectrum, many private schools don’t have the ability, experience, or resources to serve these students effectively, but we do thanks to the kind of program that Judi champi­oned for more than two decades.
My faith has had some ups and downs recently. It was hard to lose a mentor like Judi the way we did, and then lose a student a month later with­out questioning my faith. But the other teachers in Cuvilly, Gretchen Wolfe and Jessi Herwig, helped all of us get through it and continue to believe that, even though we don’t al­ways understand God’s plan, God never gives us anything we can’t handle. It was a team effort with the entire Cuvilly team, students included, to keep the faith.

I think the biggest influence on my deci­sion to pursue this career path was my own struggles in school. Those challeng­es, and having the support to overcome them, have really shaped the person I am today. Cuvilly allows our students to achieve their goals and simultaneously shows the rest of the CJ community that everyone has something to offer and give no matter who they are. That mes­sage rings true for me personally and professionally. And having the privilege to work with Judi — and seeing what one person can do when given the opportu­nity — makes me want to continue this work for as long as I can.