I believe I’ve been paid the ultimate compliment from an 8th grade student who wrote those words on his evaluation: “flippin’ sweet class, Dude!”
That’s a first for me! 🙂
I’d like to borrow his language to describe how things went last night: it was “flippin sweet!” It was one of those times when everything went according to plan and, in fact, exceeded my expectations. This was the last class that I will be teaching them (I’m out of town next week, and the week after is Mass/pizza party) so I put a lot of effort into making this a special night. Here’s how things unfolded:
- I was so thankful that all 10 students were present!
- We did our opening prayer ritual and I told them that the phrase we’ve been saying (“This is the day the Lord has made…let us rejoice and be glad!”) is an Easter prayer and that it felt good to be saying it now that it’s Easter season.
- We listened to our song of the week, Dear God, by XTC, which is a very cynical and negative expression of blaming God for all things bad. They listened intently, looking at the lyrics that I printed out for them. I explained that this is how too many people end up feeling when things go bad for them and that with all the difficulties we face in this world, it is not hard to understand. However, we have spent this year focusing on how God is present to us even (and especially) when things are difficult. We have faith and trust…not fear, doubt, and blame.
- I then introduced my “Last Lecture” which I did for the first time last year. This year, however, I altered the slides on the Powerpoint so that the script is visible and I had the kids take turns reading (even though it was my “lecture!”) This made a big difference because last year it was me doing all the talking and trying to keep their attention. This worked much better. The focus of the presentation is about making sure that Jesus is our “horizon.” In all, this “last lecture” took about 30 minutes.
- I presented each of them with a signed copy of my book A Well-Built Faith and they were genuinely tickled that I had authored a book and was giving them a copy (Throughout the year, I don’t tell them about my books or my national consultant role…I keep a low profile out of respect for my fellow catechists who witness to their faith in no less profound but perhaps less public ways. I don’t even tell them about this blog!)
- I then had them complete an evaluation of me and of this year’s classes. I am very humbled to have received such wonderful affirmation from them. Here are the results. I admit to being hesitant to share these results with you because I don’t want to appear to be boasting. It just so happens that I had a very good class of kids this year and we got along quite well, so the results and comments are very positive. I am most grateful for the comments they made about prayer (sacred space)…as you know, this is one of my priorities and it is affirming to see that it has had an impact on them.
- We then experienced sacred space one last time. This reflection lasted about 15 minutes and the kids were probably more quiet than at any time this year. I think they were feeling the significance of this experience coming to a close.
- We took a group picture (wish I could show it to you but I must repect my students’ privacy) of which I’m having copies made to give to each of them. We took one pic that was “normal” and another that was silly!
- We gathered together to pray the Lord’s Prayer and to bless ourselves with holy water on the way out.
In all, it was a very good experience. God is good. Deo gratias!
“all 10 students were present!”
A fine affirmation.
I am in awe at what went on in your last class. I wish I could have that same experience. Thanks for some inspiring ideas.
8th graders are great. I miss being their catechist especially along with preparation for Confirmation. This year I was more focused on my transition as the new DRE at a bilingual parish, however I was able to substitute for our Hispano middle school class on two weekends. They were all practically candidates for First Eucharist. Now we’ll see if they show up for First Communion on Sunday, May 2.
Victor, I remember you sharing your thoughts about subbing for those classes and how much you enjoyed it!
Your “Last Lecture” completely inspired me. I set out to do something like this for my eighth graders a few weeks ago and it turned out great! I talked about JFK Jr. and Randy Pausch (and now feel compelled to pray for their souls–maybe I was being led this way?). Anyway, I talked about having Jesus as your horizon and I used images that were similar to the ones you used. The big difference was at the end–I couldn’t give my kids a copy of my book (and believe me, I understand how generous that was of you!), so I had to get a little creative. My conclusion went in a bit of a different direction. Taking a cure from your presentation, we talked about seeing God in all things and all people. We talked about all that we had done that this year–a blanket drive for a homeless shelter, several food collections, new prayers, new learning experiences… I asked them how it felt when they did things for other people and they all agreed that it made them feel good. I told them that when you make Jesus your horizon, you don’t have to differentiate between having a “good time,” or “feeling good” and serving God. That serving God–whether it’s by helping others, participating at Mass, praying, reading the Bible–can make you just as happy–truly happy–as going to a party or spending time with your friends. I told them that when we think of going to Mass or praying as a chore–and I pointed out that sometimes adults feel this way–we can lose sight of Jesus as our horizon. And as an example, I told them that we would be ending our class today with a pizza party. I explained that of course, serving God isn’t always fun, and it’s hard work a lot of the time, but when you decide that going to Mass, praying and helping others can help you in your life, you make a decision to keep Jesus as your horizon. Because I’m Irish, I ended with the Irish blessing–the kids loved it, and they applauded! I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a “thank goodness it’s over” kind of applause, but a genuine thanks. And even though no one told me it was” flippin’ sweet,” I’m pretty sure I got a message across, which is all I can ever ask for. Thanks SO MUCH for the inspiration. Sending the kids off is always bittersweet, but I feel really good about our last class this year. Thanks, Joe!
Wow, Connie, that is just superb! What a wonderful way to end your class and I have no doubt that the applause was a sincere expression of gratitude from the kids….they know when they’re being “fed” good stuff! Thanks for sharing.
I keep going back to this post, but it gave me so much food for thought, and I have to ask you yet another question. I’ve read your other posts and I see how you use popular music effectively. I brought up the subject several times over the years, and recently mentioned the particular song you used here. My DRE was extremely uncomfortable with the idea. Parents would be on the phone with her for weeks if kids came home saying they heard this or that song at their R.E. class, she said. I understand her point of view, but I see how you present it to your kids and it seems to really make a statement. I know this is what junior high kids are listening to–and I know many parents understand that. But some parents can argue that not all kids are listening to this music, and they’d rather their kids not be introduced to these songs in a church setting. So what I’m wondering is, do you talk to parents beforehand about the use of popular music? Do you have a parent meeting? Do you send them a letter? Is it even an issue for your kids’ parents? Just wondering. Thanks, Joe!
Connie, I’d have to say that this hasn’t been an issue at all. I’m confident that the songs I choose have no profanity in them and that I make it very clear where/how each song stands in relation to our Catholic teaching. The songs sometimes stand in clear juxtaposition to our faith and I make that very clear. Other times, the songs echo our very teaching. I do not talk to the parents ahead of time about the songs I use and neither does the DRE. We are both willing to handle any calls that might come, confident that we will be able to defend my pedagogy and engage parents in a discussion about how faith and culture MUST come into dialogue with one another. This hasn’t been an issue yet but that doesn’t mean that it never will be. If it becomes an issue, you can be sure that I will update you and my readers on it. Thanks for asking.
Thanks for your response, Joe. That really helps. I’m going to keep patiently and prayerfully plugging away on this with my DRE, showing as clearly and specifically as I can how each song stands, as you so beautifully stated, “in clear juxtaposition to our faith.” Thanks again and God bless!