Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What to do after a Difficult Week Teaching Religious Education

What to do after a difficult week teaching religious education
Have you had a terribly difficult week teaching religious education?  My (Lisa's) last class before Spring Break was just awful.  Was it them?  Was it me?  Was it a full moon?  Whatever it was, I was thankful for the break.  But before walking back into my classroom of third graders, I knew I needed to take action to improve the situation.

Teaching religious education to children can be difficult as well as extremely rewarding.  Jesus is the heart of all catechesis, so usually when I'm struggling while preparing or teaching the faith to children, I offer it up in prayer.

But this time, I knew I needed to go a little deeper than my usual prayers before walking back into the classroom.  I turned to 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator by Jared Dees of TheReligionTeacher.com for a mini retreat during Spring Break.  The book consists of short focused chapters ending in an exercise and scripture reading with questions to examine the topic deeper.

The first chapter, Day 1 is titled "Recall Your Calling as a Religious Educator." Opening the book to that chapter title after my last classroom experience was difficult.  I didn't feel called to be a religious educator at that moment, I felt defeated.  But when I hit the exercise portion of the chapter, Jared asked all the right questions to get me excited about teaching the faith again.

In the exercise, you are asked to create a "Big Why" list, so that when teaching is difficult, you can turn to this list to focus and remember your calling.  To create your list, you are to ask yourself:
  • If I had to choose just one lesson about God that my students need to hear the most, what would it be?
  • What is one belief my students struggle with the most?
  • What is one spiritual practice my students could benefit from the most?
  • If I could help my students make one change in their lives, what would it be?
  • What aspect of the faith are kids missing the most in their lives?
  • What are the biggest problems adult Catholics experience in the Church?
I sat in the carpool line (where I do all my serious reading) writing on my yellow pad of paper answering these as fast as I could.  What surprised me the most is that I knew my answers so quickly. And how some of those answers have changed after teaching third graders over the last four years and as I've experienced my own kids nearing their teen years.

Looking over my answers I realized these were my calling.  God placed the answers in my heart to help guide me in the classroom. In the midst of what I might feel is chaos at times in class, my calling is to help the kids know and love God.  And while every week might not feel like a home run, I need to trust God and allow the Holy Spirit to work through me to share His message with each student, as they need to hear it.

In the midst of teaching I'd forgotten what drives me to volunteer every year as a catechist, what I hope to pass on to the students I have the pleasure to spend time with each week.  Working through this small but powerful book is helping me become a better disciple, servant, leader and teacher.

What do you do when you have a difficult week teaching religious education?
Lisa Jones



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