When I began teaching religious education classes, I decided that I would institute only one rule consisting of a single word: respect. This simple word sets the tone for the class.
First, I make sure that all the students know the meaning of the word. It would not make any difference if no one knew what the word respect means. I explain to the class that when we respect someone or something, we treat that person or thing as something that is important and valuable, and we should act in an appropriate manner. I then apply this meaning to four specific areas: God, the catechetical team, one another, and the property around them. Everyone in the room—the young people, any visitors, and me as the catechist—is called to show respect in these four areas:
- Respect God. I remind the children that our time together always involves God’s presence. This part comes first, because God should come first in all our lives.
- Respect the Catechetical Team. I explain that the catechists deserve respect. This includes me, the priest leading our program, and any visitors we may have during the course of the year.
- Respect One Another. My students come from several schools, and they do not necessarily know each other when the year starts, so I have to make sure they respect one another. Without previous school or playground ties to hold the group together, they need to be reminded that they are a small Christian community. This can be a challenge. For example, I had a class that was doing an activity that involved breaking into groups of different sizes, and at one point a boy called out for “groups of one.” This is not exactly how groups work; we needed some practice in coming together as a community.
- Respect Property. Children are naturally curious about their surroundings, but that does not give them license to open drawers or leave behind a mess after class. They are also expected to respect their own property by not defacing their books or the supplies we give them.
Overall this one-word rule works, and I’ve been using it for years now. Sure, I still get students who can be more challenging, but this rule reminds me not to lose my temper when the kids get disruptive. I have to set the tone for the class by showing respect too.
The rule of respect doesn’t erase all discipline issues, but it does give us a positive place from which to start each week. Most of the young people understand that if we practice respect, class goes smoothly, and they learn that it’s also a good rule for life.
HI Denise! I love your story about the boy shouting out “groups of one!” I think it can be very difficult when kids come together from different schools. Often, there are rivalries, ethnic differences, socio-economic differences, and so on, that make it difficult for the young people to get along. I like your approach of a “one word rule: RESPECT” and the fact that you unpack that so they understand what it means to respect others and who and what they are called to respect. You’re right, it doesn’t remove all discipline issues, but it creates a foundation for building a true Christian community.
Thanks, Joe. For our next step in building Christian community, I’m trying to be more conscious about using students’ names. That not only acknowledges the young people as individuals, but it hopefully helps remind them of each others’ names as they continue to come together as a group.
Good idea, Denise. I think that using students’ names is a way of blessing them! It communicates to them that you are truly recognizing them and “letting your gaze fall favorably upon them.”