As much as I love teaching my religious education class, I enjoy sharing the responsibility with a co-catechist. Knowing that there are some Sundays when someone else is leading the class gives me some breathing room during the week. I’ve taught with veteran catechists and with first-timers. I’ve taught with parents of students in the class and with high-school and college students. Everyone has been a little different, but they all have provided opportunities for me to learn from them and even take a day off, on occasion.
There are many advantages to team-teaching. With two people working as a team, the students have a consistent experience, which parents appreciate. If one of us is out, the structure of the class is the same. The children do the same thing when they arrive in class, the expectations and rules are the same, and prayer time happens at the same time. The routine remains unchanged.
At the beginning of the year, my co-catechist and I spend some time together getting to know each other. We talk about our expectations, teaching styles, and ideas for the year. When my co-catechist has a child in the class, I also like to address what it will be like for both of them when the parent becomes the teacher. We also talk about how we’ll work together. Will one of us lead the entire class for that lesson with the other in a support position? Will we teach different parts of the lesson? This year, my co-catechist and I do a little of both, depending on the lesson and what we each have going on that week.
Since I’m now always the veteran of the team, I ask my co-catechist how he or she feels about me chiming in during class with extra information. Talking about this beforehand minimizes hurt feelings or resentment. During class, we have quick side conversations while the children are working on an activity, to share what we think is working or not working and, if necessary, switch tactics.
We also talk about how we’ll handle behavior issues so we are consistent from week to week. Finally, we review the calendar and syllabus together, noting which days one of us will be out of class. In the past, when my co-catechist has been a college student, knowing vacation and exam schedules early in the semester was helpful.
With younger grades, bathroom breaks, nose bleeds, and even lost teeth are not uncommon. I’ve even had a couple of behavior meltdowns that required some one-to-one quiet time away from the group. For example, a few years ago, one of the boys was having a hard time coping when his mother left. My co-catechist—an 11th-grader named Jack (who was also one of my former first-grade students)—noticed the boy was wearing a Washington Nationals shirt. Jack bent down and said, “I love the Nationals too. Who’s your favorite player?” The boy quickly calmed down.
In cases when my co-catechist and I haven’t taught together before, we do a lot of strategizing over e-mail. I will share my lesson plans, resources, and ideas for activities; my co-catechist can build off them or not. Plus, if something has not worked before, I can share that experience. I like to work at least two weeks ahead so we have time to talk through ideas and request resources from our religious education department if we need them.
I encourage my co-catechist to find a style that works for him or her and not just do it my way. Different teaching styles help everyone learn in new ways. I co-taught with a university student a few years ago, and she had the students break into small groups to work on pantomimes. I was skeptical. I had never tried that, because the thought of wrangling several groups of six-year-olds to stay on task was too daunting. In fact, it worked beautifully. I’ve since used that technique with great success.
DREs often find it difficult to find catechists to fill all the teaching spots, much less two, for every class. But it is a great way to recruit and mentor new catechists. It is great way to share the joy of being a catechist with others.
For help in recruiting and encouraging catechists, read Cultivating Your Catechists by Jayne Ragasa-Mondoy.