Good Advice from a Mentor Priest
In the fall, the 8th grade religious education classes were meeting for the first time in formal preparation for their Confirmation at my parish. I had the privilege of being one of the catechists responsible for catechizing these young teens. There were a total of 17 students for whom I was responsible and the task before me seemed daunting, especially going into to this experience as a new college graduate, but I wanted to be a part of my parish’s religious education program. I had many questions, so I decided to speak with one of my closest mentors, and it so happens, the priest who recruited me for this position in the first place.
When we got together, I explained that I was not certain where to begin. I had never taught before and this group included private and public school kids, honors students and below grade level students, and all levels of interest in the faith. Father smiled and right then and there told me, “I knew I picked the right person for this task.” At this point I gave a blank stare back to Father as this was not the answer that I was expecting. Father went on to say, “Your desire to bring the Word of Jesus to the students is strong, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here asking where to begin.” Father then said, “Teach from the back of the room to the front and rely on the Word.” My blank stare continued, but at this point I was extremely interested to find out what he meant. Father explained that I should start by getting to know my students and their interests outside of class and to “assign homework, but don’t collect the homework. Rather make it a point to review the content of the homework with the entire class. The students who are ready for a deeper understanding will go the extra mile, while those who are not will still benefit from your reviewing of the key concepts.” Father advised me to not only find out their interests but also to show them that I was actually interested, even if I wasn’t. This resulted in my attending many events and activities that I would otherwise not have partaken; but the students saw me and my interest in them. Finally, Father said, “Teach the Word, and Jesus will ensure that each student receives exactly what he or she needs. Text books are useful, but nothing is better than the Word itself.”