Thanks to everyone for sharing such great advice for catechists of intermediate age children. Now, we move on to the next group which is catechists of junior high and high school youth (grades 7 through12). Let’s hear from the army of intrepid catechists out there who labor in the vineyard with these unique creatures we call pre-adolescents and adolescents! What advice, wisdom, and strategies do you have to offer? Just type in your comments below…I’ll be sharing the best wisdom in my Getting Started as a Catechist (for Catechists of Jr. High/High School Youth) Webinar on Tuesday, August 30, 2011.
Since I have many years of experience teaching 8th grade and high school, permit me to toss out the first pitch: working with this age group is both very challenging and very rewarding. It’s important to give these kids space to be kids which means being tolerant to a degree with various less-than-ideal behaviors. Yes, you can and should call them on it but don’t make a big deal out of it…in many cases, they literally cannot help themselves. Their brains just haven’t developed yet to the point of being fully mature. At the same time, their brains need to be challenged to grow into that next step, so it is crucial to have high expectations and to treat them like young adults…avoid babying this age group. Be authentic…they can spot a phony a mile a way. Don’t try to be their friend. Be a mentor and a coach. You don’t need to become like them…they need to become like you!
I am always in awe dealing with this group. I teach, and have for about 6 years, in our Confirmation program. I follow my kids through their 2 year program – so I have primarily 8th and 9th grades, with a few older kids in the mix. These students are interesting because they still genuinely (for the most part) desire to know God and do what is right, but they are desperately trying to fit in, be accepted, and be cool. That being said, I have no real advice, except like you said, Joe, to lead them with love and strength. Each group I’ve had have been dramatically different so there really is no set way to deal with them – each class I’ve encountered responds differently to various teaching methods and activities. So, be flexible and be alert for what works – but be honest with the Truth of the faith, and help them to be strong Catholics in today’s world.
I have been teaching this age group for about 30 years. I agree that you cannot baby them. They are struggling with choices and want answers and guidance even if they don’t directly ask. Sometimes it seems that their questions are trying to trick you but what we they are looking for is to see if you are for real. I allow them to ask any question of any kind and answer honestly. I give them the facts of what is right and wrong and end it by telling them the final decision is theirs. It gives them power. I tell them if I don’t know an answer but will try to find an answer or we work together to find an answer. Never criticize another faith because there maybe someone in their family of that faith. Sharing some personal struggles and challenges I have faced and how my faith and prayer saw me through it lets them know that we all are struggling at times. Honesty and being up front is the best with this age group. As Joe said, “They can spot a phony.”
I’m going into my 4th year of working with 7th graders. One thing that seems to help the kids engaged and make the lessons more memorable is to teach through the use of competitive games. I break my class of 12-14 kids into two teams and use formats like Pyramid, Family Feud, Password, etc. to instill vocabulary and concepts from current or recent lessons. Pyramid categories like “What’s on a name?” (get your partner to say these 7 titles attributed to Jesus) reinforce terms, keep the energy level high, encourage peer-to-peer contact in the context of a recent lesson, and put the catechist in a pretty good position of control (who commands more attention than a good game show host?). If you have a little bit of performer in you and you don’t mind putting in 1-2 hours to create the materials (I use markers and newsprint – you can use chalk, PowerPoint, store-bought or downloaded game formats….), this can really work well.
I am starting my sixth year of teaching 7th graders and last year I was surprised to realize how much my students enjoyed a bit of quiet time to encounter God. With their heavy schedules of school, sports, choir, and other extra curriculars, some of these children are constantly on the run. Towards the end of class, I tried to incorporate a guided reflection into most of our lessons and when I missed a week, the children were asking where their reflection was. I am very grateful that our text from Loyola Press offers some guided reflections and also have used some that Joe has provided in this blog.
The first days of school, my students create a Prayer Journal. They create a cover of what reminds them of Jesus, God, prayer, etc. on white paper. They then glue it on top of a notebook and then cover it with clear contact paper that I supply. Each day when they enter the room, quiet music is playing and on the Active Board is a summary of the Saint of the Day (I usually copy & paste from a website.). At the end of the summary, they are asked how they can apply that saint’s action into their own lives. They are permitted to write about something else if there is a need in their lives or illness. They seem to like this quiet time before beginning classes.
Peace be with You!
for the past ten years i have been sharing catholic life education with children aged 12-15. in our public schools here in our city. i am from the philippines. sometime in june i came across this website while i was browsing and am so happy reading your blogs, comments. been reading everything you write and i found some of your writings very encouraging and i am always inspired to read. I give glory to God…Jesus’ witnessing to that Great Love of God for us…and my own life’s witnessing gives the children clear understanding on why God wants to share His Life of Love to all of us. God Bless us…Mama Mary loves us