A Very Good Start!

Last night was my first class of the R.E. year and I couldn’t be more delighted with how things turned out! Here are the highlights:

  • I arrived to discover that there is no period 1 class (5:30 – 6:45 pm) taking place in my room which means that I can get there nice and early each week and set my room up without rushing!
  • I have a very large room this year…no desks…just tables and chairs. This made it very easy for me to re-arrange the furniture, create a “horseshoe” with chairs, set up a little prayer center in the middle, and have all of my supplies in place with plenty of time to spare.
  • I greeted each of the kids with a handshake as they entered and asked them their names. They were very polite and sociable.
  • They had a palpable sense of curiousity about the setting – no desks, chairs in a semi-circle, Bible, candle, and holy water in their midst, lights slightly dimmed, quiet music playing in the background – that seemed to foster a sense of quiet (either that or they were afraid of me!)
  • Our introductions went very nicely…in addition to introducing themselves and sharing a thought or two about their interests (sports, musical instruments, etc.), I had them share the name of the person they most trust in the world (the theme of the class was “We TRUST in the goodness of God). They did this without much hesitation, most naming one of their parents or one of their classmates (which was very nice), while one said “me” referring to himself.
  • We had a nice opening prayer in which I read to them their “classroom covenant” (which states the rights and responsibilities of each young person participating in this class) and then had them come forward prayerfully to sign the covenant, bless themselves with holy water, and return to their seats. At that point I prayerfully presented their textbooks to them, calling them forward one at a time by name and saying “May you find God in all things” as I handed them their Finding God textbooks.
  • Following the prayer, I invited them to leaf through their books just to get an idea of what lies ahead.
  • I introduced the notion of trust and played to them a recording of a song by Linkin Park (“From the Inside”) that summarizes the difficulty that young people have when it comes to trusting, especially after being hurt. They were a bit blown away that their catechist knew who Linkin Park was and actually played one of their songs in class! I told them that they probably won’t hear that song in church on Sunday…they laughed!
  • From there, I assigned them a couple of articles from chapter 1 that deal with the concept of faith (trust) in God. Half the group read one article (silently) while the other half read the other article. Then, I paired them up and had them interview one another about what they read.
  • We gathered once again as a large group and summarized the key points in the articles, namely, that we are called to place our faith in God whose goodness can be trusted.
  • I introduced them to the concept of “sacred space” – they each could find a place in the room to call their own – a space that they will use for prayer and reflective reading. Most chose to sit under one of the many tables! They really got a kick out of this.
  • As they sat in their sacred space, I invited them to listen to the song On Eagle’s Wings which is, of course, a song about complete trust in the goodness of God (the antithesis to the Linkin Park song). I also gave them the lyrics to reflect on as they listened. I never expected anyone to sing along, yet a couple of the girls started to sing on the refrain (I heard one say out loud, “I love this song!”). During the next refrain, a number of the boys chimed in but in a sarcastic manner. I paused the song and said, “if you want to sing along, you’ll do so prayerfully. If you’re making fun of the song, don’t sing…just listen.” I resumed the song and the sarcastic singing was gone. Interestingly enough, however, those couple of girls kept right on signing and I can’t be sure but I believe a few other voices joined in!
  • When the song was over, I invited them to sit quietly and ask God for the grace they need to trust him. They were nice and quiet for a couple of minutes.
  • It was time to go so I invited them back into the semi-circle and had them collect the books and supplies. I told them that they had done very well for the first class and that I looked forward to working witht them this year.
  • They left with a great deal of energy and, believe it or not, when they were down the hallway, I heard a few of them break into the refrain of “On Eagle’s Wings!” Not that this singing was even close to being reverent, but I had to laugh to myself that I “got in their heads” which is no easy task!

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for being with me last night and for guiding and inspiring me and my students to encounter you!

About Joe Paprocki 2649 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

10 Comments on A Very Good Start!

  1. Dear Joe,
    Thanks for sharing your journey! How awesome to hear what your plan was and what actually happened and how you handled the sarcastic singing. This is just such a gift to share with catechists!!! Thanks so much for being so visible and helpful and open to sharing the gifts God has given you!!! In Christ, man na

  2. el-e-e, thanks for your kind words. I do think the kids were convinced that I mean business and have a plan and I think that communicating those 2 things can go a long way in setting the tone.

  3. Thanks, man na, for your feedback and affirmation. It’s important that I share the real struggles and challenges that arise in class lest I paint too rosy a picture of how things are going. If I simply said that the kids spontaneously joined in singing On Eagles Wings, that would sound just way too idyllic! The sacrastic singing was real and not totally unexpected. At the same time, it wasn’t done with malice…it just needed to be addressed. These are the things we experience along the way and I’m glad to share them with folks so that we can work together to become more and more effective!

  4. I enjoyed reading about your first day. We begin tomorrow and I too have a room with just long tables and chairs that can be reshaped in many ways. Very fortunate because the classroom setting is such a turn off to the older kids.

    We have to be careful differentiating between kids goofing a little and when they are disrespectful. I love to have fun too and it can be part of a teaching moment while lack of respect can ruin a class if not dealt with quickly. I learned that the hard way.

    Thanks for sharing the good and otherwise.

  5. Brad, good luck with your first class…I hope you get off to a great start as I’m sure you will. Good point about making a distinction between a little goofing and disrespect. Like you said, a quick measured response is what’s needed.

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