CCD evenings are tubulent and fast-paced.
At 4:30 the first round of students trample through the double doors. Sweet-cheeked, eager faces; some talking to themselves, others seeking to make eye-contact with the first adult they see and lasso you into all the many details of their day.
The hour passes so fast and they are gone.
At 6:30 the second round of students come through the double doors. At year’s beginning their eyes dart suspect down the hallway. They are mute for the most part. At year’s end they fill the hallway talking loudly, jostling, laughing, comfortable, even smiling.
The hour passes so fast and they are gone.
The teachers arrive in the office with funny stories, character stories, moments of wonder, points of observance, and questions of how to deal with disrespect, talkativeness, and doubt…but, more often than not, sighs of disrespect.
I’ve seen some moody disrespect in my day. In my own household I have two teenagers and two young adults. Moody disrespect? Psh! There’s more challenging stuff to worry about.
Oh, boy! Yeah, hold onto your erasers; I hear the ripple of disagreement rippling already.
I have only to think of my own teenage years to know how disrespectful I could be, and sometimes was, and how grateful I was to the adults in my life who were not offended by the problem that was, in fact, my problem and no one else’s. Those adults probably remembered their own teenage years and knew I’d outgrow it. They were right; God luv ’em.
My own limited classroom experience is that the more attention the disrespectful attitude is given the more the attitude is amplified. Many times the disrespect is not disrespect at all, it’s discomfort, boredom, lack of understanding, or a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad kind of day. We’ve all had days like those. Maturity teaches us how to manage those days and how to act properly despite those days. These young people don’t have those skills or the experience. They learn them through watching us.
I’m not saying children should never be addressed about their attitude and their responses in classes but this should be done one-on-one, maybe after class, never in front of peers. Scripture tells us how:
“If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
There is a caveat to add here. In this verse, Scripture is speaking of a “brother”, someone close to you, a spiritual brother, a friend, a relative, a peer. I don’t see where a teacher/student relationship fits the second half of this verse. How do you treat a Gentile or a tax collector? I’m thinking of Jesus being a teacher, a rabbi, to his followers but his followers were grown men and women, not children. These would be adults who had full knowledge of what they were doing and how they were acting. One does not treat children the same.
We must hande children differently, even in this age that portrays children as being far wiser and superior to adults…which might be part of the problem. So we need to let the first part be our guide.
The teacher first addresses the child gently and charitably one-on-one, not before peers who will snicker, make faces, and be encouraged by the misbehavior of another. There is a mystery of discipline that happens out of earshot and behind a closed hallway door. If the child does not respond properly after a charitable approach from the teacher, then the teacher should address the D.R.E. to intervene. Sometimes my teachers have consulted with the other teacher at that grade level and sometimes that teacher has been able to assist. For the most part, a non-hostile, charitable approach is ALWAYS better. Too many adults take the attitudes of these teenagers too personally when, in fact, these teenagers are confronting so much in their daily lives that they lack the skills to approach higher authority any other way. They are often a product of their environments and if their homes and public schools were visited we would be more sympathetic to their plight and not view silent disrespect as an offense.
Something our church religious education program has installed is a discipline form. The parent reads and signs it upon registration. The students have it read to them the first day of class and they all sign a form. These forms are filed in their student folder in the office. If a child is sent to the office for misbehavior or disrespect they read the discipline form which they signed aloud to the teacher and D.R.E.. If need be they are asked to explain what they have done wrong in light of reading this reminder. Students should apologize to the teacher for being disrespectful and disrupting the class.
I’ve never had a student sent more than twice to the office but the third time would be a charm. Parents would be called. A child needs to understand that one hour religion classes have no time frame for silliness and disruption and certainly no adult or fellow student should ever be treated with disrespect.
Peers usually have more influence than adults over teenagers. Sometimes it helps to do skits in the classroom where proper and improper behavior are acted out. A teenager might see ways he/she could act differently towards a situation if it is shown by his peers in a non-confrontational approach.
Concerning the younger people, they are learning how to act by observing the actions of others. Sadly, the examples out there are often not very good ones. It has also been my limited experience that what drives one teacher bananas does not bother another teacher in the least. So personalities can play a delicate balance in the relationships between students and teachers. Suffice to say, it is prudent to never label a child as “bad” or “difficult”. The next teacher may find him/her energetic rather than difficult and sad rather than bad. A person’s own experiences can cloud their prespections as well as enlighten them.
As Aretha Franklin recently said: “You should never define a person by one thing and ignore all the other wonderful things about them.”
The final point would be for all catechist to remember that a smile outshines all social ills and personal faults. How these children see us during this one hour in the framing of a whole week can define their whole year as well as their image of the Church and the people who serve. And it can keep defining the Church from this year into the next and the next. A reminder of “What Would Jesus Do?” should stand as a constant reminder of “What Would _____ Do?”
And that includes us as catechists.