Thursday, December 11, 2014

I may not be smarter than a fifth grader.

I've been asking myself that question a lot lately as I've been growing into my role as a catechist, handing on our precious Faith to young and impressionable fifth grade minds. For those of you who don't know, one of the ways I decided to get involved with my community upon the move to Cedar Falls is to teach religious education (referred to as RE from here on out) and the class that the Holy Spirit chose is a lively and usually disinterested fifth grade class. I mean it when I say, truly blessed am I!

Believe it or not, this 12-person class has stretched and challenged me in ways that I had never experienced after 3 years as a missionary with college students. In fact, at first I absolutely detested this role. Every week I dreaded coming to class, not knowing what to expect or even if any of the students cared. And then class would happen. And it would completely tank. And I would leave. And never. want. to. come. back. This happened for a solid month or more until I finally (yes finally!) realized that in no way is it appropriate to quit just because it's tough. Looking back I laugh at myself because these are often lessons children learn. Yet here I am... But shoot, if I become a mother someday, I can't just give my children back and say, "I'm not ready yet!" Which, ultimately, was my biggest challenge in regards to teaching this class.

Not including a short stint of teaching RE while in high school, I really have little to no experience teaching, let alone trying to teach and relate to such young students. Shoot, I've been blessed to work and go spiritually deep with 20-something college students who desire a challenge, and desire to have God in their lives. The transition to 10- and 11-year-olds who are in my class only because their parents tell them to go has been, let's just say, a challenge.

It's funny how things change over time, and also how some things stay the same. For example, I no longer want to quit teaching RE (praise God), but I still get pretty stressed trying to put together a lesson plan/activity for the hour I have to spend with them on Wednesday nights. I realized a couple reasons why I get stressed out about this:

  1. I love the Catholic Faith. So much so that I want everyone to know it (hence, missionary).
  2. I am a recovering perfectionist (i.e. I loathe making mistakes.)
  3. I have no formal teaching as to being a teacher whatsoever.
  4. I only have one hour with these students each week.
When I get anxious trying to plan for these munchkins I do 3 things: 
  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Ask for the Holy Spirit's help.
  3. Remember that I have no idea what I'm doing. And that's okay.
It makes so much sense when I sit back and think about it--which, admittedly, I've been doing a lot of! No wonder I get stressed out about teaching RE. It comes down to the basic fact that I really want the students to learn the Faith but have not a clue how to teach. Such an interesting dichotomy if you ask me (which you didn't). 

I wish I could use this post and tell you story after story from the year thus far, but there are far too many good ones. An overarching theme is this: Kelsey has great (or what she thinks is great) idea, activity, or craft. Kids take it to a whole different level or get bored, and end up making Kelsey laugh, unintentionally. Every. single. time. I'm laughing just thinking about some of them.

One example is class from a few weeks ago. I thought it would be great to give the kids a tour of the chapel and explain a few important things to them. Some of these include: why we genuflect, what the tabernacle is, and most importantly that Jesus is always present in the Eucharist. We end up having a little discussion near the end about the Eucharist and confession (presuming that fifth graders have already received these two sacraments, which in this diocese, they have). At the very end of the class one of the Hispanic boys raises his hand and tells me that he hasn't received his first reconciliation, and then the other six Hispanic children raise their hands and say they haven't either. Or their First Holy Communion. I laugh out loud this time, because I have been teaching the class this entire year with the presumption that they definitely know what the Eucharist is and I'm just helping drive the point home. It all makes sense that in our class on the Eucharist over half the class had no idea what I was talking about.

I respond, "Well you know what, Christopher? You guys are going to be extra prepared when you do!" I receive blank, disinterested stares in return, and dismiss the class a few minutes early. That is just one example.

Well last night ended up being the best class yet, and that's the real reason for this post in the first place.

I love Advent, and of course Christmas. But of liturgical seasons, Advent steals my heart every year. There is just something about the quiet stillness and anticipation that get me. I also have a fondness of Christmas lights and the way they light up the night, which by this time of year always begins much sooner than I'd like. I mean seriously, sunset at 4:36 pm tonight? I digress.

So when it comes to teaching RE during Advent, it just doesn't feel right not to talk about this wonderful season. There are just so many things to tell and show and do to prepare our hearts for Jesus, that of course I am going to keep my three classes during the season Advent-related.

So after an imprudence in not preparing well ahead of time for class this week, it came down to my short amount of time after work to try to throw something together and hopefully the Holy Spirit would show up and do the rest.

I am excited to report that that is exactly what happened! As under-prepared as I was for this class, the Holy Spirit took care of everything. It was amazing, and reminded me that He is still with me and working through me, even if the audience is comprised of 10- and 11-year-olds who have no choice but to come to class (versus a bible study of college students who don't have anybody forcing them to do anything. It's amazing the difference!). Truly, I have not felt more "myself" than I did last night with these kiddos.

Right before class (and I really mean 6:13 when class starts at 6:15) the Holy Spirit led me to Isaiah chapter 9, verses 1-7. We ended up reading through it, I talked a little, told them about the passage, and a few students even asked questions. Any teachers will relate when I say that it's the best feeling when a young student asks a clarifying question. It tells me that not only are they trying to follow along, but that they actually care to know more information! Gosh it just affirms me so much.

I had scrambled and bought a copy of O Come O Come Emmanuel (my favorite Advent song) by Matt Maher right before class and put it on my iPod so we could listen to it together, and talk about the song. I, however, made a bit of a mistake and didn't actually preview the entire song before choosing it. I just figured, "Hey, standard version of classic song. Great." So I had printed out lyrics to the classic song of O Come O Come Emmanuel, and when we started listening to it and got halfway through I realized that this actually might be a more "modern" version of the song...and the lyrics might be different.

And I was right. God bless Matt for his rendition, however. After listening to it a few times I am a big fan. But the class was looking around like, "hey, where are these words?" And since it was my first time listening to the whole thing (big oops right here), we were able to talk about how the different lyrics are still just as important as the originals, and how they fit perfectly with what we had read in Isaiah 9! Unintentional and AWESOME. And then we talked about how Jesus helps us when we are in trouble, and how He is the light of the world. Truly, it was a divinely inspired class and even though they may likely forget everything, they learned the word Emmanuel and who Emmanuel is! What a blessing to help shape little minds. A challenge, but also rewarding.

Afterwards the kids all left in a jolly mood and I am looking forward to our little Christmas party next week! If you have any fun ideas, activities or snacks please share them with me! I want this to be fun for all!

May you have a blessed Advent!