Being a catechist requires patience. Some years it’s patience with behavior issues, and other years it’s patience with a class that’s too quiet. Let me explain.
When discipline issues arise, there are a number of strategies for managing classroom behavior. But when young people are well-behaved yet non-participatory, we need different strategies, which we often don’t hear much about. The overreaching strategy to working with young people who don’t want to join in discussions or volunteer to read aloud or contribute to a small-group project is patience. My seventh graders this year are a quiet group, so I’ve been practicing patience and starting to see some cracks in the shell, so to speak.
No matter what kind of question I ask—whether it’s aimed to draw out personal experience stories or assess Catholic knowledge—my students this year have been reluctant to say anything. And we don’t fare much better in participation when I ask for a volunteer to read or act in a skit. But I can’t throw out all teaching techniques that call for participation just because the group is reluctant. So the day I had a two-person skit in my lesson plan, I encouraged two young people to be brave and take the read-aloud roles. I was delightedly surprised to see that the one read with some good emotion, understanding the context of the scene on the Beatitudes, and the other read clearly and loudly so all could understand his words. Sometimes young people just need the push of encouragement to participate. It helped that I had the patience to wait for the flicker in someone’s eye that he might want to participate instead of scrapping the activity when the first call for volunteers was greeted with silence.
A few weeks after the skit with this group, we were having a discussing on John the Baptist, and King Herod was mentioned. I made a sidebar comment about how this was a different Herod than the Herod who was king at the time of Jesus’ birth, not a “good dude.” I expected to move on, but one of the young people—in fact, one of the boys from the skit—stopped me and asked why I had said that about Herod, wondering what his story was. Of course, I took the indication of interest and paused to tell the story of the Massacre of the Infants. One of the other boys asked how Jesus got away. Good question! I continued to tell the story of Joseph’s dream and the Flight to Egypt. The biblical story got the young people thinking and asking questions, which I loved to see.
I think patience played a role in the young people finally starting to show interest by asking questions. I kept trying each week I met with this group to create a safe place for all to participate and feel comfortable sharing or asking questions. While we still have work to do in the sharing department, we are now on our way with questions, which indicate interest and are a great starting place for conversation. It takes some weeks or even months to build trust with a group of young people, but having patience to wait for the moment when trust starts to manifest in questions and discussions is worth it.
How has patience played a role in your classroom? How do you encourage a quiet group to participate in discussions?