Happy Catechetical Sunday, everyone! To the dismay of the football fans behind me (“kickoff is in 20 minutes!”), our Mass (not at my usual parish) included a special blessing for all catechists today. I hope your year is off to a great start.
Stand around in the breezeway after the bell rings on a Wednesday evening and you’ll overhear something like this:
“I can’t believe these kids don’t already know this stuff.”
And often, it’s true. It can feel like a room full of blank slates at the beginning of the year, whether you’re teaching 45-year-olds or third graders. I think sometimes we experience frustration because we expect to be preaching to the choir. I mean, we’re all Catholic, they’re coming to class, they should at least know what happened on Easter Sunday, right?
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Kids sometimes forget, or “forget,” what they’ve been taught before. I am generally in the school of “if they didn’t learn it, you didn’t teach it,” but I also know that students will not always volunteer that they did the coloring worksheet about Noah’s Ark last year with Mrs. McTeacher if they think it will make their class time less difficult. “The Sacra-whats? No clue,” says the child who scored an 87 on last year’s Sacraments test. And then she’s free to tune you out for the next 30 minutes while you write a list on the board and remind everyone that they should be writing these things down, because there will be a quiz.
So that probably explains…25% of it.
But, as you’ve probably realized by now, you didn’t sign up to be a guest speaker at the SuperCatholicFanClub. You volunteered to teach CCD. And while there are parishes where those two job descriptions may be one and the same, I think it’s better to understand that working with kids is more akin to mission territory.
Yes, we should figure out what the kids’ prior knowledge about their faith actually entails, but we shouldn’t take it personally or get upset when we learn that their religious education consists entirely of the year they had to take CCD to receive First Communion back in 2006. This is a touchy subject and I don’t want to disparage the role of parents as their children’s primary educators in the faith, but I also think we can’t let frustration over kids’ lack of knowledge about their faith get in the way of our showing them why faith is such a beautiful gift. If we end up chiding them – “I can’t believe you guys don’t know this stuff by now” – we’re wasting our precious and limited class time.
It’s important to go into teaching with goals for the kids: Student Will Be Able To (explain what we celebrate on All Saints’ Day/list the gifts of the Holy Spirit/recite the “Our Father” from memory). That kind of goal is something we have control over – we can write our lesson plans to meet a certain objective, we can measure how well we’ve succeeded, we can come back to the drawing board. But your lasting legacy as their catechist may not be the child’s ability to list the Ten Commandments. It’s going to be your prayers for them, whether they know you’ll say hello to them at Mass (which may be Christmas and Easter), the fact that they know you’re someone they can turn to when they have questions or are in a bad situation.
Don’t be discouraged. Remember that even so great a teacher as St. Paul had to write back to his students all over the Roman empire. (“Remember what I said about ritual prostitution?”)
Meet the kids where they are, do your best to teach them what they need to know, and understand that you may not see the fruits of your efforts right away.
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).
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