Our Lady of the Wayside technology teacher wears many hats
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It is common for teachers in Catholic schools to take on extra activities and classes outside of their concentration, but even given that, Chris Bremner, middle school teacher at Our Lady of the Wayside School in Arlington Heights, stands out for "wearing many hats."
Since becoming a full-time member of the staff in 2009, Bremner, 50, of Arlington Heights has taught sixth- and eighth-grade religion, the various sciences, led homeroom, is the technology coordinator and works with students who participate in the robotics club and science fair.
In her many roles, one teaching mantra remains the same: she emphasizes thinking over memorization.
As the bell rings at 1:14 p.m. for sixth period religion, Bremner begins class without wasting any time. She explains to her sixth-graders what is due before the end of the school year on June 9, and she dives right into the day's task: creating psalms.
As students learned in a previous class, most of the Psalms were written by King David and King Solomon. It is their turn to do the same.
"My main goal is to give them the opportunities and let them figure things out for themselves," Bremner said. "Whatever I give the students, it's usually a challenge because they have to think about things, problem solve, develop their analytical thinking and writing skills."
"She actually helps us understand the projects," sixth-grader Claire Allen said. "Sometimes some teachers don't explain it well."
"Most teachers dive into the topic and speed through it, but Mrs. Bremner takes her time and teaches us fully what the topic is," classmate Anthony Pretto said.
While she does not consider herself an "easy" teacher, for example giving essays rather than matching tests to her students despite their pleas, she says her students are excited with themselves when they get through the challenges.
Bremner has a long history with the school. She and her husband are parishioners, and all four of their children graduated from it.
She previously taught in Bannockburn School District 106 for seven years, but teaching in a Catholic environment is something special for her because she shares a "central bond" with everyone.
"It's so nice being in this environment where you can share your faith and see these kids grow into their faith," she said.
As someone who wears many hats, Bremner is never in one spot long. For most of the day, Bremner is seen "going wherever the technology is needed." Teachers sign up students to work in a computer lab, while other times they check out iPads and computers and integrate the technology into lessons.
"We've gone from just one lab to a couple hundred iPads and laptops. We're going 1-to-1 completely next year with the middle school, so it's just growing leaps and bounds," she said.
In recent years, she has been able to combine her passions -- science and technology -- with the robotics club. A former student approached her about starting the group for his Eagle Scout project, and Bremner jumped on board.
Everything is student-designed, made and presented. Members attended the state competition this school year after only three years of the club's existence.
Through her various roles, she's become a known leader at the school, so much so that she was selected as a 2017 Heart of the School award winner for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The award honors teachers who show leadership through mentoring, inspiring others and setting a clear vision. She was one of 18 heart award winners from the 217 archdiocesan schools.
"I've always made myself available. I'm here early, I stay late, I don't mind coming in weekends, I've coached a million teams and I don't shy away from doing extra with the kids," she said.
"I think she's become this secret integral part of everything that we do," Principal David Wood said. "The 'Heart' part of the award's name is so essential because she does a lot behind the scenes, and those behind the scene things are so essential."
The way she challenges her students in and out of the classroom affects them academically, but her colleagues note she has influenced them professionally and personally as well.
"She helps me and guides me," fellow sixth-grade religion teacher Trisha Stapleton said. "She has so many positive strengths that you want to learn and gain from her."
Middle school math and science teacher Caitlin Quest, in her second year at the school, said Bremner left her all of her previous science materials, is available to answer questions and "has been a good support system for that content area."
She is one of the few who will teach all of the students that go through the school because of her versatility, and as the school year comes to a close, Bremner has a hard time saying goodbye to students when they graduate because of the bond that forms.
"Students come in as strangers at the beginning of the year, but after being with someone every day you get to really know them," she said. "Someone just sent a quote and it said by the end of the year, students are a piece of your heart, not a name on a list, and it's so true."