Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Drop Everything and Teach

I just spent the sweetest hour of the year. Since mid-October, I have taught religious education class to fourth-graders: one hour a week, plus maybe 90 minutes of preparation a week, Wednesdays after school, for 22 weeks. Today, we had our final session, with the kids exhibiting for their visiting parents. Take my advice: teach religious education to Catholic children. You will not regret it.

Oh, you’ll sometimes resent the inconvenience, the intrusion on your regular schedule, as I did. And you’ll wonder, as I did, whether the whole thing isn’t a drop in the desert. Children raised in Catholic families are thirsty for religious education, but they get so little of it, on average. Parents are too busy, too otherwise committed. The majority of my 15 fourth-graders had not been to confession since their first time in second grade, and they seldom go to Mass, with a couple of exceptions. I know that’s not a news flash, but I promise you: If you teach children about Jesus and the Church, and you do it with faith and love, and a modest sense of humor, they will eat out of your hand. And some day some kid might come up to you and say, “You know, Mr. Bull, that class . . . ”

The most impressive day of the school year was the day my kids went to confession. You would think that if a child could pick one day to be absent, to get “sick,” to play hooky, that would be the day. Beforehand, my fourth-graders were nervous as a hive of bees. They asked again and again about it—Is this the day, Mr. Bull? What do I do? What do I say? What’s the act of contrition again? But when the day came and we filed into the chapel of the old convent behind our church, every child showed. Every single one. And afterwards—well, you know how you feel after confession? Put that feeling in a child’s heart and you’re talking kingdom of God.

Today, with a big show-and-tell in the lower church, was special. Five children brought me a gift or card. Most introduced me to a parent. More than half brought in his or her “saint project”—a page or poster about a saint he or she had chosen, complete with pictures, a timeline, important facts, and “Why I Love This Saint.”

But the best moment was the Angelus. We learned the Angelus in class this year. I set the alarm on my iPhone to ring “Bell Tower” at 4 pm every Wednesday, and whatever we were doing in class at the moment, we dropped it, stood, faced the Crucifix, and recited the Angelus. “The angel of God declared unto Mary . . . ” I gave the children cheat sheets, but within the past two weeks I weaned them off. Today, after the third grade had put on a play, I began ringing a bell and the children convened around me at the front of the lower church in front of pews full of parents and children.

And they even got the toughest line right:
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. 

Then everyone had to say good-bye a second time, and I returned to my office across the street and read the notes and cards. One girl wrote:

Dear Mr. Bull,
Thank you for teaching me so much! I really enjoyed being in your class and having fun with you. I enjoyed every minute! Love,——

As Thomas More, in the film “A Man for All Seasons,” says to Richard Rich, who has better things to do: “Be a teacher.”

You won’t regret it.

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