Like many (most?) catechists, I share a learning space – a classroom – with a Catholic school teacher. I realize the tensions that can arise from one group using a room that “belongs” to another group. I was a Catholic school teacher for 9 years and recall my room being used by numerous groups for after-school activities, so I know this experience from both sides of the fence. I’d like to offer a few thoughts.
First, catechists and Catholic school teachers, along with all of their students, must realize that the room belongs to the parish, not to any one group, teacher, or catechist. We are all stewards of that room for various periods of time. This means that we are to care for and preserve that room while occupying it, so that it can be used by the entire community (present and future) in whatever way best serves the Gospel.
I know that during my years of teaching in a Catholic school, I took pride in “my” classroom, decorated it, and kept it neat. I also realized that from year to year, I could be (and was) moved from one room to another depending on scheduling. This reminded me that no one space “belonged” to me.
We catechists must realize, at the same time, that there is indeed personal property in these rooms. Catholic school teachers have materials and resources on their desks and on shelves that belong to them. Students have belongings tucked away in their desks. While we have every right to use the learning space, we need to pay particular attention to and respect the personal belongings in these spaces.
Given that reality, however, Catholic school teachers should give serious thought to what they do leave out. Space in many parishes is at a premium. Extra-curriculars, parish groups, adult faith formation, and religious education classes are all in need of gathering space at the parish and in many cases, classrooms are the only available spaces. Common sense dictates that personal belongings should be kept in secure spaces. Many high power executives leave their offices each day with absolutely NOTHING left on their desks for security reasons. (i remember once seeing Cardinal Bernardin’s desk after he had left for the day…nothing but mahogany and a desk blotter!) There is no reason that Catholic school teachers couldn’t also secure their possessions and papers in storage containers next to their desks at the end of the day to keep them from being moved or tampered with by various groups that will be using that space after school.
We all need to realize that the days of the “publics” being a minority in the Catholic environment are long gone. Statistics reveal that there are currently approximately 1.6 million students in Catholic elementary schools and approximately 3.4 million public school elementary students receiving religious education in Catholic parishes. In other words, there are twice as many public school students using Catholic properties for religious education than there are Catholic school students.
Granted, the Catholic school students and teachers spend their entire school day there 5 days a week while the public school students come in once a week. However, the public school students, as baptized members of the faith community, have equal stewardship of that space. What does or should that mean in practical terms? It means that there is no reason that catechists should not have designated storage space in their assigned rooms. Some parishes already do this, designating certain shelves or cabinets as RE storage space.
In many parishes, catechists are foreced to trapse up and down the corridors and stairs of school buildings each week carrying their “bins” of supplies and resources (often weighing well over 25 pounds if carrying textbooks) to and from their assigned rooms. At the end of their sessions, these bins are collected and stored by the DRE in the RE office. I see no reason why, as equal stewards of the learning space, catechists cannot store these bins in the classroom, clearly marked as property of the RE program.
As catechists, we need to be sure that desks, tables, and chairs are returned to their original positions and that chalkboards are wiped clean. By the same token, Catholic school teachers should wipe chalk boards (or at least sections of the boards) clean at the end of their day so that they can be used by catechists and others who use the room.
From my own personal experience this year, I’ve been guilty on several occasions of not getting the desk configuration right when I tried to put the room back together after my sessions. The school teacher was justifiably irritated by this and notified the DRE who then notified me. I left a note of apology along with my phone number and e-mail on the teacher’s desk so that she could notify me directly if there were problems instead of burdening the DRE. By the same token, however, I have not once in 3 months been able to use the chalkboards in the room because they are filled with information (and one of the boards is innaccessible because of a table full of supplies and resources in front of it). I think it would be proper for the chalkboards to be cleaned at the end of each school day so that catechists (I’m not the only catechist who needs to use that room) can have full access to the parish learning space.
The bottom line is that we all, catechists, Catholic school teachers, and students (RE and Catholic school), need to enter and leave our learning spaces with a proper sense of stewardship which teaches us that we own nothing but are given responsibility to care for the resources God gives us so that all people may benefit from them.