Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why I Will Teach Religious Ed Again Next Year (Probably)

When the school year began in September, I wasn’t sure I wanted a third consecutive hitch as a religious education teacher, pouring a thimbleful of faith into fourth-graders one afternoon a week. After a long day at elementary school, the last thing nine- and ten-year-olds want is to listen to a volunteer teacher drill them on the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes.

Catholic culture as our grandparents knew it has dried up, and children get little or no catechesis anywhere else—seldom at home, never in the classroom—not my kids, anyway. They all attend public school. Few of my students even go to Sunday Mass, and their last confession typically was their first: before their first communion in second grade. Teaching CCD under these conditions can be like watering a desert.

Today, I gave my last class and immediately told the CCD director that I want to teach again in the fall. What changed my mind?

The same thing that changes my mind every year. (Admittedly, I have the same doubts every September, and probably will again this fall.) What changes my mind is the children’s faces.

For all of their boredom and fidgets and ADHD, fourth-graders are really interested in Jesus. You can see it in their faces. All they want is a teacher who looks at them as though Jesus matters, a teacher who will take their questions seriously, a teacher who gives them a thimbleful to drink because without it they may die of thirst.

How do I know this? I know it because the best classes of the year were the most “Catholic,” when I took the kids to Eucharistic Adoration, and when Father Chateau heard their confessions. Children want the undiluted faith, not watered-down moralisms preached out of a colorful child-friendly workbook. When we went to Adoration, each child knelt on both knees before the Blessed Sacrament and said a prayer, and I wish you could have seen the reverence with which they did so, and the extra seconds some children took so that the experience would be real and not perfunctory.

I wish you could have seen them seated in the small chapel at the convent waiting their turn for confession. Were they nervous? As heck. But they were serious about their preparations and serious about performing their penances. It didn’t hurt that Father Chateau is the most joyful priest I and probably they have ever encountered.

I saw the children’s thirst for faith once again today as I gave the class their final “exam,” a test so short and simple it truly deserves quotation marks. Two or three of them actually had studied for the exam, and several aced it. One boy, who sits as close to me as he can and exults every time he gets the right answer—demanding high fives and sometimes Tebowing in celebration—got an A+. A girl just behind him got an A, and only because of one wrong but extraordinarily creative answer.

The question was, Where did Jesus give us the Beatitudes? When I asked her why she answered, Beacon Hill, she said, It just sounded right. And she’s right: we could use more of Jesus on Beacon Hill, the seat of government in Massachusetts.

But most exciting to me today were two boys who usually sit on the periphery of the room, two boys who seemingly couldn’t concentrate if their lives depended on it. I was astonished at the attention that they brought to their tests, and more astonished by the results. They made errors—half the class still couldn’t name the four Gospel writers in order, though I had drilled this into their thick skulls since the autumn. But they got most things right, and they were proud of it. You could see it.

Some kids’ lives may be crashing around them. They may do terrible in grade school. They may get into trouble. But for one hour a week they have a chance to learn about Jesus, and for one hour a week I get to teach them about Jesus. You can see it in their faces, and I can feel it in my heart:

This is worth doing.

1 comment:

  1. and I bet you are a great teacher, W., engaged, enthusiastic and fun.


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