What Challenge(s) Are YOU Facing This Year?

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Overcoming Obstacles (Benjamin Lehman via Compfight)

 One of the things that I take pride in about my blog is the fact that I always try to give an honest account of how my sessions go: the good, the bad, and the ugly! So, it’s no accident that my post yesterday included an honest self-assessment of my Monday evening session with a focus on a couple of the challenges that I face (trying to do too much; dealing with a child exhibiting immature behavior).

Believing that the truth will set us free (and that misery loves company!), I invite you to share a few thoughts about the challenge(s) or obstacles that you are facing this year so far as a catechist. Just offer a few sentences or a paragraph at the most describing a difficulty that you are encountering so far this year as a catechist. (Just type it in below in the box under “Leave a Reply”)  Of course, feel free to offer encouragement and advice to one another as the comments come in.

About Joe Paprocki 2739 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.

34 Comments on What Challenge(s) Are YOU Facing This Year?

  1. My challenge is I always seem to be doing lesson plans last minute since I have too much to do as a DRE/Youth Minister/in charge of Sacraments. This means I never actually run through my lessons.
    I figured this out the other night when I did a powerpoint and never ran through it. I was teaching the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I pushed forward too soon, gave away answers, didn’t know my material well enough.
    I went through it in my head a few times, but I need to make sure I rehearse things out loud next time!
    This was confirmed because I had 3 groups cycle through… my the second group, it went great! So that really confirmed I should have ran through it once or twice out loud. I feel stupid doing that, but it really works!

    • Jenn, you are so right that it can be difficult to find the time to plan and prepare thoroughly. The run-through is so important, especially when using a PPT or any other audio visual aid. You are juggling quite a bit there so be gentle with yourself!

  2. Hi, Joe.

    This is my 3rd year teaching and my first as a 5th grade teacher. It seems the main challenge for me this school year is getting a certain group of students to calm down. They are all friends outside of our religious education program. We just changed to a new room as the room I was in the first 2 weeks. I think moving them farther apart in the new room may work, but not sure if you have any other advice.


    • Hi John. You may need to go the “assigned seating” route. They will moan and groan about it and it makes you the “bad guy” but do it in such a way that you communicate that you are saving them from themselves! You are ON to them and need to do this for their own good and the good of the group.

  3. Joe, Thanks for this opportunity to share our thoughts. This is my 4th year teaching 5th grade PSR, and my biggest challenge every year is responding when a child tells me that their family “never” goes to Mass, or that they are “too busy” or they “forgot”. I pray for those children and their families, but past that, I want to respond in a way which will not come off as judgemental, but still encourages them to attend Mass. Any thoughts or suggestions as to how I can respond in a loving, supportive way without ignoring the precepts of our faith would be most welcome. Thanks! Donna

    • Hi Donna. The key is to always be inviting while at the same time expressing just how central the Eucharist is to our faith life. The more you can integrate liturgical actions in your catechetical setting (make your sessions feel more like Mass than class!) the more you will be instilling in them a desire to worship sacramentally. It’s a challenge and an uphill battle when the parents aren’t supportive but we need to invite and awaken in them a recognition of their responsibility without berating them.

  4. I’m finding that some of the parents are my biggest obstacle. They are not working with their child(ren) at home, making sure required reading/homework is done. Many use excuses that everyone is so busy (who isn’t?) and a few just don’t seem to care. Try as I might, I find it difficult to light a spark in a child whose parents show no interest in religious education.

    • Hi Lisa. That is indeed a challenge. All you can do is continue to invite the parents to embrace their responsibility to form their children in faith. It helps to be understanding of their situations even though sometimes it wounds like they are just making excuses. They need to know that you are partnering with them and are there to support them and be a resource to them. Hang in there!

  5. As a DRE and a catechist, I have problems in my RCIA class with teens taking their committment seriously. After having celebrated the Rite of Acceptance, the next Sunday one family didn’t show up for Mass and dismissal. Another the second week wanted to go to play soccer rather than come to Mass and dismissal. I had to have a talk with the two families and they are back to dismissal. I told the kids and their parents that whatever they chose to do was the most important to them. The one who wanted to play soccer, did choose to come to Mass which I told him was a great choice.

    • Hi Peggy. RCIA for teens is quite the challenge but you are doing the right thing by having families involved. You are initiating the whole family into a new way of life and that is no easy task. Helping them to rearrange priorities is a struggle but that is a part of conversion. Keep at it…sounds like you’re making progress!

  6. I am a Catholic high school teacher, teaching sophomores and seniors. I worked as a Catechist for many years and then as Religious Education Coordinator for a grade school religious ed program. In my capacity as a Catechist and coordinator, I always heard from Catholic school teachers how much more their students knew. I have to say that I do not necessarily find that the case now that I teach in a Catholic high school. Many our our students feel that theology is merely an opinion class and very unnecessary for life. I find it hard sometimes to strike a balance of head and heart knowledge. I worry often that with the advancement of technology, while it brings many good things I also see that they are even more uncomfortable with silence, prayer, and reaching outside of their selves to the needs of others.

    • Hi Sue. How interesting (and frustrating) that young people today see theology as only an opinion. They do not live in a world of absolutes which is where previous generations came from. It’s wonderful to hear that you are seeking to touch their hearts and help them to experience silence and prayer. It is foreign to them but once they get a taste of it, they realize what they’ve been missing.

  7. Hello! I teach religious education to a small group of 5th graders…6 in particular. Last year was my first year, so I definitely feel a bit more comfortable teaching this year, however, I seem to struggle with discipline. I explain to my students at the beginning of the year that I have a zero tolerance of disrepect, (and had them all sign your Classroom Covenant), but I guess I’m unsure of how to follow through with correction.

    • Hi Lindsay. Discipline is often a daunting problem for catechists. we don’t want to be the “bad guy” but at the same time, we want order and attention. It’s always good to be firm and consistent. Correct students firmly and remind them that you will not have your time of the time of the others wasted and that God deserves our attention. Think like a coach…they don’t hesitate to correct their players. Do the same with your students.

  8. I felt your pain in dealing with immaturity. Due to restrictions to having classes only on Wednesday rather than Sunday, we now confirm in 8th and 9th grade. I used a survey last week to see what the 16 students really know and was disappointed in the behavior about just doing the survey, but learned that two of the students do not know the Lord’s Prayer or Hail Mary and most do not know the two divisions of the Bible. Confirmation is April 10. My prayer this week is for the children. Because none of them are of age to drive, I have to understand that parents have to take them to Mass and bring them to religion classes. Without the support of a strong Catholic home environment, it is difficult. Sometimes when looking arund the room when I am talking, I can tell that I’m speaking a foreign language. I’m using 6th grade material, much of which I’ve copied from you. I’m only asking for the grace to get to April 10. I appreciate your daily messages and suggestions and I’ve read and enjoyed all your books. Thank you, thank you.

    • Hi Monica and thanks for sharing your story. It can be disconcerting to find out that older kids are lacking so much of what we would expect them to have by way of knowledge of their faith and it doesn’t help when families are not supportive. Even so, you can make a huge difference in their lives by continuously inviting them to deepen their relationship with Jesus. They may not know all of their faith before April but if they know Jesus, they will be on the road to a lifelong journey of faith.

  9. I must say that is nice to know I am not the only one that faces challenges in class. I too tend to do too much with not enough time. This past week we had a safe environment program scheduled for part of our class time which went longer than anticipated. Not a bad thing however, since it is a very important topic and it went over because kids had questions. As a result, I rushed through our class work in order to get to the more enticing activity of building boats, “arks”, to float in a pan of water. Unfortunately, the deeper meaning of the lesson was probably lost but, they had fun. Will definately have to review the purpose of the lesson next week. I do like your ideas mentioned for the difficult behavior. Thanks

    • Hi Beth, it’s good to know that you’re not along when it comes to facing obstacles! You’re in good company. We never do seem to have enough time already so it’s even more difficult when other events take more time away and we end up rushing. Sounds like you accomplished something, however, by engaging them with the ark activity and you can always revisit it to make sure the deeper meaning is explored. Keep up the great work!

  10. Hi. This is my sixth year teaching the seoond grade sacrament class. Every year before has ranged in class size from 27 – 45. This year I’m at 10 which is great; however, my greatest challenge is that so many of the children know none of their prayers and I’ll be lucky if I can check off all of them before they make the First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion. I send home the required prayers (Glory Be, Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Act of Contrition)at the beginning of the year and throughout the year with updated information of completion for each child. Some children cannot read so that adds another challenge. I have a prayer listener that works individually with each child, but still we haven’t had 100% completion. We pray as a group at the beginning and end of the session. I’ve tried repetition, but I cannot seem to get the parents involved during the other 6 days of the week. Any suggestions??

    • Hi Christina…thank goodness you have 10 students instead of 45!!! It sounds like you are doing all the right things to help the children to learn their prayers, especially by praying the prayers together in class and having someone listen to them as they try to recite them. Keep at it! It’s early in the year and the children will eventually begin to take the words to heart and recall them from memory!

  11. Hi Joe,
    I recently changed parish and am now teaching 27 kids vs 15 or so kids at my old parish. This is my 5th year of teaching, but my first time teaching 6th grade. No matter what…I always feel like I get so much more and learn so much more than what I put in it. My biggest struggle is to get the kids more engaged and participate more in class. It might just be we just started the school year and most of the kids don’t know each other yet, for the most part… they tend to be shy and quiet. I just want to make sure that I connect with the kids and make the class meaningful and fun at the same time. I just don’t want them to think that they have to go to faith formation class because their parent makes them but because they want to. I am always praying that please…please…God…let me make a difference in these kids lives that they may come to know You better. Hope He is listening, because so for I am not feeling it. 🙂

    • Hi Jenny. That’s a big class and it is even more difficult when the kids don’t know eachother and are shy. You might consider doing some group work or working in pairs the first month or so of the program to help them to get to know one another and break the ice. In the meantime, if they are quiet, enjoy it! 🙂

  12. Hi Joe, the challenges that I am facing this year as a Catechist is that I will be helping 3 classes (kinder, 4th grade after communion, and 4th grade communion). It’s not so much a challenge, because I really enjoy helping out, it brings a smile to my face knowing that these children come to CCD to learn about the good news of Christ. God bless. 🙂

  13. I received the following email from a catechetical leader identified only as “pnd2654″…please send along your prayers:

    We have a family who had a sibling commit suicide, and the family cannot come to grips. The children are somewhat hyper anyway and are really acting out. They need more than our catechists can give them. They have already pulled out, but one of the teachers is going to try to stay in touch. Prayers are needed, and I hope that they get counseling.

    • Pnd2654, thanks for sharing this…it is so sad. Be assured of the prayers being sent your way by the Catechist’s Journey community.

  14. Dear catechists,

    Sometimes we may find ourselfs at a dead end road when it comes to teaching children about our catholic faith, now in days we are call to be strong in FAITH, and never to give up. Please dont feel alone in this since many of us feel that with the children misbehaving, not knowing the basic prayers, not going to mass, and lack of parents participation we may be wasting our time. I felt this way for quite sometime but I found a very nice mom after two years of her daughters 1st communion, giving me the best boost to continued teaching the little that I know about my catholic faith, the child now in days is a lector, enjoys going to mass receiving the Body of Christ, and been a good child to her parents. I remember the gospel day and night when I found myself asking, “why I do this?” and it comes to my mind that God, himself left 99 sheeps and went after one, how inspiring can this be. So after a long year of battling against all odds we may find ourselfs teaching and maybe all alone 1 sheep found his/her way. For me this is Gods greatest gift to me, I did IT!I’ll pray for you, and I so we can continue teaching our catholic faith with the mercy, courage, patiences, and love of God, FAITH strong and like a friend of mine says; we meet at the Eucharist. A.M.D.G.

  15. @Maggie
    When I get down for all the reasons you mentioned (behavior, not knowing basics of the faith, not going to Mass, lack of parent participation) I try to hold on to an image that I was given at a catechist training a few years ago—>you may be the ONLY person of faith that a child comes in contact with. Just be Christ as best you can. You plant the seed, water it as best you can and trust God with the rest.

    My biggest challenge this year: argggg, I shot myself in the foot as the year began with the parents. I teach 3rd grade, which is First Holy Communion in my parish. This year I added a “Mass Journal” (found it on a parish website) for the families to complete and return every other month as homework. On it they record where they went to Mass, the child records 1 word or idea that struck them during Mass and the parent writes 1 sentence of what they can take from Mass to their life this week. Well, I got emails from 3 parents which basically said that going to Mass is a “personal choice” (exact quote of all 3) and they won’t be doing the Mass Journal. They said a lot more, trust me. This is 3 parents of 24 (I teach 2 sessions) so surely the are just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, it is a personal choice, so just record your choice, take responsibility for your choice, share with your child about Mass when you do attend and don’t get all defensive…I would LIKE to say. Instead, I am going to say “I have decided to rescind the Mass Journal as a class assignment.” I was really depressed about this whole debacle and it killed my enthusiasm for a few weeks. I getting less depressed about it now, but (as I told my DRE) I sure wish I hadn’t opened this can of worms!!!

    • Hi Cindy and thanks for sharing your experience. Sorry this turned out to be such a frustrating experience for you. It is befuddling that parents would insist their child prepare for First Communion but then say that going to Mass is a personal choice. I’m glad you are getting past the frustration/depression of this experience. Requiring a Mass Journal is a nice idea but it really needs to be something that the parish catechetical leader and the pastor are fully supportive of and involved with. A catechist alone cannot be expected to take on that challenage of making sure that parents and families attend Mass…we can encourage and invite but beyond that, a more systematic approach requires a team effort. Thanks again for sharing.

      • Hi Joe, thanks for the comments 🙂 You are totally right. I rely on my DRE and her guidance. I did review the Mass Journal with her before putting it out. Then I shared with her the protesting emails and we discussed what to do. You again are right, that it has to be a larger effort parishwise–not having 1 teacher ask more than all the others. Our pastor spoke very boldly this year at the Back to School nights for both school and PREP talking to the parents about how the children recognize the hypocrisy (his word) of sending them to Catholic school or PREP and not going to Mass on Sunday. So I did have some hope that parents would take it to heart.

  16. Hello! My biggest challenge is to manage being the CRE for our medium size multicultural parish (Americans, Africans, Hispanics) and also being a catechist for several groups with children, youth, adults in English and Spanish when we do not have enough volunteers. This year I have prepared a calendar for the general CF classes, for First Communion preparation, and for Adult Formation classes in Spanish. But I am also the catechist for marriage prep in Spanish, for some classes of Adult Formation in Spanish, for youth 6-8 grade regular cf classes and for First Communion prep; and also for the continue formation of the catechists that work with me. How do I prioritize what needs to be done when the human and financial resources are limited?


    • Wow, Maria, you have a lot on your plate! Sounds to me like a long-range priority for you will be to recruit and train more catechists who can take over some of those individual programs that you are presently trying to staff yourself. I know that’s easier said than done but in the long run it will be more viable for you and for the parish. You can start now by inviting some people to assist you and then gradually groom them to take on more responsibility. I wish you the best in all your efforts.

  17. My biggest challenge is when I am asked a question that I do not know what the answer is. I am always thrown a little, I feel a bit uncomfortable but I am working on being OK with not having all the answers. My grade 7 class this year really think about what we discuss and have some great questions. Last evening we were discussing Pope Francis and how the Pope is elected. Well one of the girls ask why a woman could not be Pope. I did not have an answer so we all have homework this week to find an answer. I am trying to be more comfortable telling the class when I do not have an answer but I always ask or research the information so I can give them an answer next class. I guess it is about accepting that we all have things to learn about our Catholic faith because it is a life long journey and learning is a part of the growth.

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