Speaking as a member of the Nerd/Ma’am community, I will hazard a guess that many of us wonder if we have what it takes to connect with These Kids Today.
I hand out a survey at the beginning of the year to get to know my students, and when I look at the responses to the “what do you like to do for fun?” question, about half of them say “texting.” Texting? This is something you do other than when you need to bug your husband about coming home for dinner? Whatever happened to rotary dialing?
“So people ask me all the time – Ignatius, what does it take to be a great youth pastor? And the answer’s always the same. XBox 360. A copy of Rock Band. Book deal! and there’s something else…yes. A moderately priced haircut.”
Bono is one of those subjects I have no opinion about. But I do cringe at the memory of my own desperate attempt to be “relevant” to a group of less-than-engaged students by playing a U2 song for them to discuss. I blame Christopher West. I thought it would be a great idea – I’m hip, they’re hip, we’re all bonding over some great music and getting to the heart of some real issues, you know?
Of course, they hated U2, or hadn’t heard of U2, or associated U2 with their parents. “Epic fail,” as the kids say. Or were saying five years ago, I don’t know. It’s hard to keep up.
I think it’s important to keep somewhat current with pop culture so that you have some clue what your students are talking about. (I call this pedagogical technique “rationalizing the Entertainment Weekly subscription.”) But there are two problems with the idea that we can make ourselves over to be More Awesome in order to really connect with the teens:
1. Teens aren’t really more monolithic in their interests and opinions than any other segment of society. Okay, peer pressure, whatever, and I could Google for studies to support my thesis here, but the point is – don’t assume that every kid in a desk listens to Lady Gaga, plays XBox, or watches Gossip Girl. They are individuals. Get to know them on an individual level. Don’t say things like “you guys don’t understand what real music is” or “get off my lawn.”*
2. Faking coolness will always backfire. Be genuine – genuinely concerned about each of your students, and not pretending to be an expert on (INSERT SUPPOSED FAD HERE) for the sake of working the crowd.
My favorite part of the above video, passed along by Mary’s Aggies, is when the ordinary mom lady figures out that she might be just fine at working with “the teens,” even without an entourage. She’s right. There’s not a stock personality or haircut that’s required to work with young people. Just be yourself.
Recommended Resource: Peter Kreeft’s Yes or No? Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Christianity. I sat in on a class taught by a fabulous teacher who used this as the text. It’s a series of dialogues between “Sal the Seeker” and “Chris the Christian” on various topics related to faith and apologetics. It’s kind of corny, but that’s okay, because the content is good and you can use it in the classroom with the shared understanding – okay, people don’t really talk this way, but let’s look at what they’re saying.
Catechist Chat will be an ongoing series of posts for teachers in religious education programs. It is based on my personal experience and not on any statistical evidence of the effectiveness of my advice. Suscribe to my feed to follow along, and Caveat lector, which is Latin for “your mileage may vary.”
Click here to read other entries in the series, and be sure to follow Catechist Chat on Facebook! You can also sign up for my email list, and I’ll send you resources, including non-PDF versions of the activities I post (which means you can edit them in Microsoft Word to customize them for your own students).
*It probably goes without saying that if These Kids Today are actually on your lawn, you can tell them to get off your lawn.