When to Leave Your Textbook Behind


In our first six weeks of school, we only finished two chapters in our religion textbook. Earlier in my teaching career, I would have worried that this slow pace might be a problem. When I first began teaching I was told, “When you reach Christmas, you must be halfway through the textbook.” Now, as a seasoned teacher, I know my textbook is not my entire curriculum. We have had many teachable moments recently when it made sense to leave the textbook behind.

The first of these moments was Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba and the United States. As we talked about the places he would visit, I pulled down our large wall map to show these locations. We also participated in a special service project launched by our school in honor of the Pope’s visit. We collected gently-used and new books to give to our sister school. When students dropped off books, we gave them a hearty thank you. We had hoped to gather 168 books for our sister school, but we collected 550!

When the Pope landed in Washington, D.C., we had to stop everything and watch him get off the plane. Luckily it was right before dismissal, but my own excitement must have transferred to my students—one of my students, while picking up his kindergarten sister, was cheering, “The Pope! The Pope! The Pope is in the U.S.A.!”

We also watched a video of the canonization Mass of Junípero Serra. I pointed out the reliquary behind the priest narrating the video. This reliquary contained a first-class relic of our newest saint, Junípero Serra. We are lucky to have a reliquary that holds a first-class relic of St. Rosalia in our classroom. This gave me an opportunity to teach my class about relics and explain the differences among first, second, and third-class relics.

The second teachable moment came at the beginning of October, which is traditionally the Month of the Rosary. I decided to leave the textbook behind again and teach the Rosary. I gave each of my students a twine rosary that I had made for them over the summer. Choosing their rosaries, trading, checking to make sure that each decade really had ten beads, and teaching my students how to pray a Rosary took an entire class period.

This year, I also decided to dedicate one religion class a week to reading the Sunday Scripture readings from our children’s Bible. This practice is very beneficial to my students. It helps them become more familiar with the Bible and makes the Bible more personal to them.

While the textbook is important—I’m definitely not encouraging my fellow catechists to throw it away—we must always remember to put it aside when teachable moments present themselves to our classes. After all, passing on the faith is both a science and an art. I rely on the textbook to apply the science of teaching, but I let the Holy Spirit inspire me to paint a more vibrant picture of our Catholic faith with teachable moments.

Speaking of becoming more familiar with the Bible, is your school or parish celebrating National Bible Week?

About Barb Gilman 50 Articles
Barb Gilman is a wife, mother, and third-grade Catholic school teacher. She is the winner of the 2014 NCEA Distinguished Teacher Award for the Plains States. Active on social media, @BarbinNebraska is the co-organizer of the #CatholicEdChat on Twitter.


    • Thank you, Frances, for the comment. I certainly didn’t want to use the word ‘old’ in describing my many years as an educator! Every year is so new and different, ‘seasoned’ seems to be the better word.

  1. I agree with you, Barb. As a Religious Ed catechist with only 75 minutes per week with my 3rd graders, I often feel overwhelmed with all the material in our text books we are to cover during our short time with the students. This year, I am choosing just certain topics from the text, and letting the Holy Spirit be my guide as I prepare my lesson plans and not worrying about covering everything in the book. The students are learning a lot about our Catholic faith and enjoying coming to RE on Wednesday evenings.

    • Sara, you rock! As well as the Holy Spirit as your guide. Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience as a catechist.

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