Floundering First-time Catechist

This year I volunteered for the first time to be a catechist at the parish I had just joined. I’d been thinking for a while that as soon as I settled someplace long enough to join a parish, I wanted to get involved in some ministry, and being a catechist seemed like the natural fit for me. My parents were catechists, I enjoy talking to people about the faith, and I’m young enough to remember what it was like to be the student.

When a kid is taking religious education for the first time, regardless of age, they are put in a class with their peers one night a week. However, they are also required to take an Intro class on Sundays to make sure they are getting caught up and understand everything - and eventually to prep them for Reconciliation (and Communion in their second year). I was assigned to teach the older first-time kids. Depending on who shows up, there’s about 6-9 kids ranging from grades 5-8.

Unfortunately, I feel like I am really struggling. Unlike the regular grade levels, I have no book from which to teach (I use the Catechism), no existing lessons plans, and a very basic guideline on what to cover. I find I have a hard time coming up with enough material each week to fill 90 minutes. It is challenging to teach basic stuff to kids who are too old to be taught like little children. I was prepared for disinterest, but they honestly look like they’re being tortured. I’ve tried some activities, but the kids just don’t seem to know enough or care enough for them to be worthwhile.

It’s not that I am unqualified in the knowledge sense - I’m confident in my knowledge and understanding of the faith, but I’m starting to realize I’m really not a good teacher. I’m beginning to feel that not only am I being ineffective, but that I may be doing them a disservice. I can’t very well quit in the middle of the year ( the DRE would have to take over, and he is overworked as it is), but sacramental preparation is coming up and I really can’t come up short on that - it is too important. I would be very appreciative if anyone could provide me some help - be it your prayers and encouragement, or lesson ideas/plans. Anything would help.

Thanks!
Kevin

Am also a first year Catechist. The DRE drafted me into the service ( how can you say no to a catholic sister). Luckily i was paired up with a more experienced instructor. In the beginning we used a textbook, but to certain limitations with it. We have been teaching straight from the NAB. One of the advantages has been that a Catholic bible is more readily available to the different ethnic parents at our parish. Also it easier to tie with the daily readings posted in the bulletin.

One of the thoughts that came to mind when reading your post is that the students may be overloaded with information. If that that is the case then you should go quality over quantity. It is better that students learn one or three key things per class than trying to have them remember a hundred. Those things should be presented in a way that they can utilize in their growing lives as Catholics rather than remaining obscure knowledge.

GBU

first of all you are blessed to have heard and answered this call

I have been searching, reviewing, testing, listening to catechist, candidate and parent feedback on resources for this group for 10 years. The best resource we have found that the catechists find most helpful is Our Catholic Faith by Wm. Sadlier publs. which is marketed as a “catch up catechism” for middle grades. the companion for high school is One Faith One Lord. We use them primarily because them come in both an English and bi-lingual edition which is becoming more important for our population. It is especially good for first time catechists like yourself because it shows what you need to cover, in what order. No it is not complete presentation of doctrine, nor should it be. Neither is it, by itself, adequate preparation for sacraments of initiation but as a first year if initial formation, corresponding to the “inquiry” period of RCIA, it is the best I have seen. It is a workbook with a catechist guide, and a companion booklet with prayers and practices.

My next suggestion would be Journey of Faith, nested “handouts” from Liguori intended for RCIA but also useful for your purpose. We used them for years before the updated version of OCF was available last year. It also comes in English and Spanish, and in versions for children, youth and adults, which makes it very adaptable for RCIA and family programs that involve a mix of generations. it also has a catechist guide, and a companion guide linked to the Sunday readings. The objection from catechists and parents is that for some reason the “handout” system does not seem to work well here, not sure why. But some catechists esp. for RCIA prefer them.

a third choice, especially if your group includes some unbaptized children who will be in RCIA eventually, is a lectionary based resource. Most publishers have them, and they are either reproducible teaching=activity sheets based on the Sunday gospel, or nested “weekly” handouts such as Pflaum’s series. Theirs comes with a booklet of basics–elements of the creed, prayers and practices, basics of the faith which is new this year and supplies the basis for a more systematic catechesis than relying on the readings alone.

what we are testing as a follow-up for the second year for sacramental prep for the middle grades is the Reconciliation-Eucharist book for grades 4-8 from Harcourt (now part of Our Sunday Visitor) the blue book. will report when I get some catechist feedback and test this year’s classes to see how well it works for this purpose.

even if for budget reasons you can’t get books for every child, your DRE may order a catechist guide for you from Sadier which may give you the guidance you need to make your own lesson plans.

also check with her, with the publisher of the RE text used in your program’s other classes, and with your diocesan office of catechesis for on-line resources, that can be downloaded and reproduced, including power points.

if by the end of this year you get them all to be attending Mass regularly you have succeeded. spend time forming relationships with their parents to this end.

The Church should develop a closed website for catechists of all parishes. Share ideas of what works and what doesn’t.

Grades 5 thru 8 in one class, and they’ve never had religious education before?

Am I understanding correctly - from what you explained?

I’m a sponsor in RCIA and we also use the Journey of Faith handouts. They are interesting and catch the key.

liguori.org/productdetails.cfm?sku=89025

It sounds like you have a hard class, especially for a first time catechist. First thing I would do is figure out exactly what I wanted to cover for the year. You have to remember that there is no way you can cover everything. I also reach a class for kids with no prior catechisis and that is a hard thing to remember. If you want some thoughts on what to cover let me know and I might be able to help.

Another thing to remember is that we all learn differently, some through reading or writing or hearing or art. Try to incorporate various learning styles in your class. Also along those lines, saying things once and expecting them to learn it will never work. :wink: Find a number of different ways to cover the same thing. And then make sure to review it later. I went through all my lessons and made up questions covering the highlights. Then each week we review some of them and occasionally will play something like jeopardy and cover most of them.

Feel free to throw out some more specifics and I may have some ideas based on what I’m doing as I imagine we are covering similar topics. :thumbsup:

also ask your DRE about catechist formation classes, especially for sacramental, offered in the parish or diocese. ask her also for the diocesan guidelines on what should be taught for your group this year. keep in contact with her, ask for evaluation, ask for resources to test their learning at intervals.

First, well done for stepping forward. You’re halfway there!

Some dioceses have guides on their websites. I live in the Diocese of Raleigh and we have a new K-8 curriculum here:

dioceseofraleigh.org/how/cfe/

Regarding the “teaching part”, I had the same thoughts 3 years ago. And while I have never changed my mind regarding helping the students to learn about their faith (points of our Faith, concepts, practices) I came to realize (through a lot of prayer) that I had to also help the students learn about small ways of developing an interior life. How to pray, how to maintain a presence of God throughout the day, frequent and sincere confession, etc. These are “helps” that the Church has…and they go beyond book knowledge (which is critical but not sufficient).

Most of all, I have been focusing on helping the students learn about the Holy Mass…that it’s very different from a “service”. All students, irrespective of age, can learn about the Mass and why it’s so different and so helpful.

So a portion of many of my classes reinforce aspects of the Holy Mass. When they finish our class they realize the meaning and power of the Mass. I’ve found that my own love of the Mass seems to energize the other parts of the class and the students are more responsive overall because I am not talking about myself or concepts, but the sacrifice of the Mass. They realize it’s different.

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