Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Precept upon Precept, Line upon Line

Whom will he teach knowledge,
and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
those taken from the breast?
for it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little.
--Isaiah 28:9-10

This year I'm teaching 7th grade Sunday school. I like it; there's less pressure than teaching confirmation year, and less focus on ticking the sacramental boxes. Most weeks I have less than 30 kids in class, and there are usually three other adults to help monitor.

In November I was gone for a weekend at a wedding, and the next week one of the other adults said, "The sub who was here, did anyone tell you about her class? She was just so..."

I waited eagerly to see how someone else's teaching style would compare with mine.

" amazing! She played this game and got the kids moving. They had to cross to the other side of the room if the answer to the question was yes, and they were things like, 'Have you ever been bullied?' 'Do you want to be confirmed?' The kids had to think, and they were really involved. It was so fun."

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not a fun teacher. I cannot think of games. I can talk engagingly, for the kind of people who like that sort of teaching, but crafts and games don't arise naturally to the top of my head. My 6th-grade son loves his class this year, and I asked him why. He said that they start every class with an ice-breaker, and it's a lot of fun. (His teacher is also fantastic, so that helps.)

I came across this passage from Isaiah during Advent, and felt like it summed up my experience teaching religion class at the parish level. Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line. This year in particular I have moved away from the text of our books. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's too wordy. I have tried to make my classes less like "school" and more like a chance for kids to encounter truth and interact with it. Even so, I feel like my attempts to engage seem to them like precept upon precept, line upon line. Someone with a game beats someone with an idea every time.

To that end, I've been trying to shake myself up. Last class we played Eucharistic hangman. This week, we're getting a rare chance to tour the sacristy (since our Sunday morning class overlaps the mass schedule), as part of thinking about the sacrament of holy orders. I'm hoping that ability to see and touch vestments, to get a feel for the work of a priest, will spark an interest in vocations, or at least make someone see that the idea of a religious vocation is not preposterous. Will that linger and take root when my words have dried up and drifted away? I hope so.

And I keep reminding myself that the word of God is living and effective, that the Spirit takes our efforts and grows them beyond our ken, that it doesn't matter if I ever see a return from this work. And that I'm not locked into my preferred style, that there are a wealth of resources to help me find games, activities, whatever will break through to my kids.

And I've been asking the intercession of St. Bernadette, who was no great shakes at her catechism but was a great saint anyway. I think she knows these kids better than I do. I hope I'm more flexible and understanding than her teachers.


Brandon said...

It's always a difficult balance with teaching. On the one hand, no one benefits from a boring class (including the teacher!), and it always seems like you're being outcompeted by much more fun things. On the other, students' sense of being entertained doesn't always have much to do with how much they are actually learning.

Sometimes you do something that stamps things in, though. I think I've mentioned before to you my one real success when I was helping out with confirmation classes: a short discussion of saints, and then they had to pick out saints from a set of cards with saints' biographies, and then Saint Musical Chairs, where if they got out they had to state their saint and say something, anything, about them. That ended up working really, really well (students would mention specific saints from it, and the most common comment on the exit interviews about what they had learned was that they hadn't understood before just how many saints there are, and how different they all were), and in all honesty I don't have much of an idea of why that worked better than any number of other things that were tried, or even if it would work with a class with a different make-up. All I know is that it just happened to have the right blend of fun and learning for them. Such is teaching.

MrsDarwin said...

Today we discussed Holy Orders, and instead of delving into any theology, we used a parish survey our priest is trying to get everyone to fill out, listing ten things you'd like him to focus on. I had groups fill it out with whatever they wanted to put down. Then I collected the sheets, shuffled them, distributed them again, and told the kids that now they had to think as our priest, getting this feedback and trying to figure out how to incorporate it into everything else he had to do. There was a growing realization of the role of the priest as servant, as well as the priority of the mass. Then we took a tour of the sacristy and got to see vestments up close and watch the servers unvesting after mass. My kids behaved in an exemplary manner, and worked hard and collaboratively. I hope this one sticks with them.

Banshee said...

Games and icebreakers always failed hard with my generation of CCD and parochial school students. Nobody enjoyed them.

But I think a lot of today's kids never get to play much with other kids (except organized athletics), and are used to icebreakers having some kind of dismal social justice point.

So I suspect that they are a better target audience for simple socialization activities, and for remembering the point of such activities if it is unexpectedly benign and fun.