I’m disappointed and discouraged this morning. I hate to admit that I am being bested by a group of ten and eleven year-olds, but it is happening.
I teach a 5th grade religion class (CCD) on Wednesday nights at our church. Classroom “crowd control” has been an issue with this particular group of students since we began last September. Early on, I had to miss one class, and they brought the substitute teacher to tears.
Last night was a rowdy and difficult class. My helper was hung up in traffic due to a traffic accident on one of the nearby bridges. She did not arrive until class was nearly over, so I had the class to myself. Initially, I was not concerned. We had only nine or ten students and the lesson was one that, in the past, has been interesting and engaging for the students (and me.) I was overly optimistic.
Problems began before we really got started. I had to remove one student from the class, when, after two direct warnings about his behavior, he walked across the room to hassle another student during our opening prayer! His removal made an impression on the class that lasted for about ten minutes. The rest of the class session was a struggle against a tide of side-talk, cutting up and a lack of focus or attention span.
I have to accept partial blame for this problem. If I had better classroom management skills, I would probably do a better job controlling the mayhem. However, I’m not a professional teacher, and I can only use the skills I possess. In my defense, I have been teaching 5th grade CCD for six years, and this is the first class with whom I’ve had a problem anywhere close to this.
The sad part is that this makes the class sessions considerably less interesting and compelling for the students. I’m sure that, when asked, many would say that their CCD classes are boring and they get nothing out of them. I understand. The kind of questioning, open-discussion format that works well with religion classes does not work when the class cannot or will not focus on and participate in the group discussion.
It’s really too bad, because the last night’s lesson, as well as the last couple of weeks, contained lots of interesting questions for thought and discussion. Here are some of the points we tried to discuss last week and last night.
–The first commandment warns us to not worship false gods. Here in the 21st century, what are some of the false gods that some people worship? (ie: money, celebrities, fame, drugs, alcohol, etc.)
–What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain?
–Why do Catholics celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday rather than Saturday?
–What are Catholics’ obligations to honor the Sabbath?
–Why do most Protestant religions count the commandments differently than Catholics?
–Why would God make it a commandment to honor your parents?
–Regarding the commandment “Thou shall not kill”, what about war, self defense, accidents, negligence, mental illness, etc?
–What is adultery? Does it also apply to boyfriends and girlfriends?
–What does it mean to “bear false witness? Does it mean any lie?
–Who are the “neighbors” it refers to?
–What does “covet” mean? What is the difference between admiring something that your friend owns, and coveting it?
–What is our conscience?
— How do we know what is right?
–What is the difference between a mortal sin and a venial sin?
We got through all those, but it was a struggle. And I suspect very little of it “stuck” with the kids.
I really hate to lecture or just read from the text book. I much prefer to ask questions; get the students to think and brainstorm; and try to guide them to their own answers. Unfortunately, this really isn’t working well with this particular group. Starting next week, I am going to have to reconsider my approach. We have just a few weeks left in the season. If it means reverting to a more boring lecture-read-written exercises format, in order to get through the year, then that’s what we’ll have to do.