Back to School Is a Time Well-Served by Thoughtful Planning – By Mary Regina Morrell

Raising six sons has always been an exercise in amazement. How, I continue to ask myself, can six children from one home with the same two parents be so incredibly different? Even now, as adults, each of them has an approach to life that is uniquely theirs … and sometimes it makes me crazy!

Nowhere was this uniqueness more evident than in their approach to school, which ranged from total disinterest and irritation to an almost obsessive adherence to Henry Ford’s maxim: “Before everything else, getting ready is the secret to success.”

Even today at family gatherings, we still laugh at the habit of son number two, who would get completely dressed for school before bedtime so he wouldn’t waste any time in the morning looking for his clothes. His penchant for planning has served him well into adulthood, a time when he learned the value of an iron.

Planning begins with knowing the goal. For my son, a good day at school started with a peaceful, smooth-sailing morning before catching the bus.

For catechists the goal this year is … well, maybe that’s something catechists need to determine for themselves. But setting the goal, or goals, is certainly a good way to begin planning for the new school year, keeping in mind that every step taken to reach the goal must be taken with the heart and mind of Christ. There are young minds and spirits at stake in every student we teach.

Here are a few thoughts to help prepare you for a new school year:

Reflect on your ministry—As a catechist, you are called to support families through informing and forming children as young disciples of Christ. Consider what that means for you as the catechist. How may you grow in your ministry to best serve the Church and her families in bringing them to an encounter with Jesus? A host of enrichment materials is available at http://www.bemydisciples.com/teachers.

Discover joy—Jesus was undoubtedly a man of joy, and that joy of the Spirit was charismatic. Your students should have that same experience with you leading them on their faith journey. Be joyful and confident in your faith. Teach as Jesus did, and remember the words of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (4:4).

Know your stuff—This is a two-fold process. First, carefully review your teaching materials, including any catechist/teacher guide in the books, before the school year begins and set your goal for the year. When you know what you are teaching, inspiration for lessons will appear in the most unexpected places. Secondly, evaluate your own knowledge of the Catholic faith and consider taking advantage of any parish or diocesan opportunities to deepen your knowledge. Also, check RCL Benziger’s inspiring essays for catechist formation with PDF downloads available.

Establish rules—Give this some thought before the school year starts. Classroom rules are essential to establishing a healthy and effective learning environment. Children need and feel safe in an environment with both limitations and expectations. If you like to keep it simple, one effective rule to post on a blackboard or whiteboard is RESPECT. That one word can open up a meaningful discussion with students on what type of behavior is expected and why. It is also advisable to discuss with the parish religious director or school principal to ensure your rules are in line with the broader school rules.

Stock up on stories—Children of all ages love stories. Jesus knew that, which is why he taught with parables—faith stories that are studied, reflected on, and shared more than 2,000 years after Christ’s Death and Resurrection. Brief stories from your life are easiest told because you experienced them, but all of creation is full of inspiration (remember Jesus’ example of the hen gathering her chicks under her wings?). And of course, there are always the saints. Take a look at RCL Benziger’s saints resource at http://saintsresource.com.

Pray—Prayer is essential for any ministry and for the growing spiritual life of each catechist, student, and family member involved in your parish program or Catholic school. When Jesus taught the Apostles to pray he gave them the “Our Father.” We are blessed that our Church has given us many other prayers to lift up our hearts and minds to God. In addition, our own spontaneous prayers, our conversations with God, are times of asking for guidance and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as we enter into this most important of ministries—faith formation. Most importantly, we have the Mass, the greatest prayer of our Catholic faith and the source of our life as Catholics. Our participation in the celebration of Mass strengthens us to go out into the world, share the Gospel, and be Christ to others.

Back to school is an exciting time of transition and opportunity, a time that is well-served through thoughtful planning. For those teaching the faith, it is the time that may best be thought of as “back to class,” because when it comes to forming disciples, school is always in session.

Additional resources:

Catholic Prayers and Practices for Young Disciples
USCCB Back to School Safety Tips
USCCB Catechists Prayer Cards

Mary Regina Morrell, Director, Wellspring Communications, is a syndicated Catholic columnist and author who has served the Church for more than 25 years. She is a former Associate Director of Religious Education for the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey; Associate Editor and Catechetical Consultant for RENEW International; and Managing Editor of The Monitor, Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. Find her at mary.wellspring@yahoo.com, Twitter @mreginam6, and her blogs: God Talk and Tea and My Mother’s Bread.