Tag Archives: sacraments

Back to the Wednesday night follies

For the ninth straight year, I am back teaching 5th grade religion classes at our parish church. Protestant churches would probably call it Sunday School, but since we are Catholic, it is called CCD and the classes are held on Wednesday evenings. These classes are for the children who attend public and other private schools other than our parish school.

As I have detailed in the past, my experience teaching CCD has had its ups and downs. We have had some really great classes, and we’ve had some that caused me to almost dread showing up on Wednesday evenings. Just two classes into the 2013-14 year, my co-teacher and I are cautiously optimistic that we have a pretty good group. So far they have been polite and respectful, while still participating in the class discussions.

Having a group that is reasonably well behaved and cooperative is better for more than just our sanity. If we have a class that will work with us and work with each other without descending into anarchy, we can make the class much more interesting, for both the students and teachers, through interactive activities and more interesting discussions.

That having been said, we also realize that our students are ten and eleven years old, and our class comes at the end of a long day in school. In adult terms, their CCD class is overtime for them. We don’t expect perfection; we just don’t need it to be a constant struggle.

Here’s hoping the rest of the years goes as well as the first couple of weeks have.

Talking God and religion with fifth graders

For eight months of the year, for the past seven years, I have spent nearly every Wednesday evening in the company of about two dozen 10 and 11 year-olds. I volunteered to teach the fifth grade CCD class at our church. This is a religious education program for the kids who do not go to a parochial school. In a Protestant church, it would probably be called “Sunday school,” except we have the classes on Wednesday evenings.

Mrs. Poolman is not at all certain why I continue to do this. I’m not really sure myself. I am a practicing Catholic, but I’m not a particularly devout or religious person. I do get some sense of satisfaction from filling a definite need in the parish. While I don’t think I’m a particularly good teacher, I do show up with some reliability and fill the space. Our CCD coordinator, Paula, is not overwhelmed with people knocking her doors down to teach a class.

I think I’m also providing a service to the students. It is been clear over the years, that for many of my students those Wednesday night CCD classes are the major source of their education / indoctrination in matters of God, religion, morals, ethics, values and life. My big question is: “How much of this is actually sticking with the kids?” I don’t have an answer to that. I suspect the answer is “very little.” We don’t have much time. Nor do we have the repetition to drive it home. Those 45-50 minutes a week are easily lost in the midst of busy lives of school, sports, school activities, dance, friends, and so on. I try not to dwell too long on that depressing note

Mostly, I think I like the kids and the discussions we have. The curriculum for this grade is to cover the sacraments.  It leaves us lots of time to talk about all kinds of subjects. Once they get comfortable in the class, fifth graders are not at all shy about asking questions and offering their opinions. I have a co-teacher, Sherry. Between the two of us, we try to get the kids engaged and maybe thinking about things that they haven’t thought of before.

By this point in the year, we have gotten to know the students fairly well, and they have gotten to know us. We know who is quick to raise their hand and those who we to be coaxed into participating in a discussion.

During our class this week, we covered the Sacrament of Matrimony. While this sounds innocent, it actually is fairly tricky. The Catholic Church teaches that a wedding vow is permanent, and divorce is not an option. (The issue of annulment is much too involved for this age group.) This fun part is to teach the kids that this is what they should seek to achieve in their adult lives, without appearing to criticize their divorced parents, cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles, etc.

The other interesting issue is we are never quite sure how much our students of this age have learned about sex from their parents, school, friends, TV and so on. If we were dealing with 13 year olds, we could be fairly certain they have at least been exposed to “Birds and Bees 101.” But for ten and eleven year-olds, we aren’t as certain. It makes it difficult to answer a question about a pregnant bride, which is one query we received last night. To make life very interesting, it just takes one student to ask, “What do you mean that they had sex before they were married? What does that mean?” Then we have opened a can of worms, and they are crawling all over the place.

We are fairly certain one girl was trying to “work us” last night with this exchange.

Her: I see all the pictures of the brides here are wearing white dresses. Why do brides always seem to wear white?  

Me: It’s a tradition, but you can wear whatever color you like.

Her: Even black?

Me: Yes, even black.

Her: But why do they usually wear white?

Me: It symbolizes purity or innocence.

Her: Innocent of what?

Sherry (jumping in to help out): It symbolizes that she is a virgin.

Her: A virgin? What’s a virgin?

Sherry: You know the answer to that.

Her: No, really (laughing). I don’t know. What is a virgin?

Sherry: Ask your parents.

We have just a few more weeks of class remaining for this year. This has been a good group. I’ll miss them when we break for the summer. Then I’ll take my chances with a fresh class in the fall.

A busy day full of kids

We have had a busy week with little time for updates.

I spent most of Wednesday with children. Some of the experiences were pleasant, and others less so.

I was asked to work a career fair at a local elementary school. I don’t mind doing career fairs, but I had some concerns about doing one at an elementary school. I accepted because it was a close-by school and the wife of one of our faculty is a teacher there. I figured that fourth and fifth graders are old enough to grasp the concepts. I should have listened to the little voice that was telling me it was a mistake.

They had the various presenters set up in a noisy cafeteria. Every ten minutes a new class would come by and sit at my table for a short presentation. It turns out the entire fifth grade was off on a field trip that day. (Great planning there!) I think I spoke with one fourth grade class. More than half of the roughly 12 classes that came to my table were kindergarten or pre-k. As much as I love little kids, it is ridiculous to try to conduct a meaningful presentation on careers in science with a group of four, five and six year olds. It was a total waste of time and energy.

I sent the school a follow-up email. I was polite, but I shared my negative impressions with them.

Later that evening, we had our last CCD class of the year. A handful of parents and younger siblings also joined the party. I got the kids juiced up on chocolate chip cookies and ice cream sandwiches and then we had a “quiz bowl.” They drew random questions out of a bowl, with subjects including anything we had covered throughout the year. I had three teams – two of all-girls and one of the guys. It started off slow. None of the three teams were able to answer either of the first two questions. Then it started picking up.

I was a little surprised that the guy-team absolutely skunked the two girl-teams. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The guys were very competitive, while the girls were all a-twitter over it being the last class. They were having entirely too much fun giggling and cutting up.

I did get in one subtle “dig” at the parents who were present. One of my constant aggravations each year is the lack of any reinforcement many of my students get at home. For too many of my students, the only exposure they get to their faith is the 45-50 minute CCD classes once a week.

One way I know this is when we talk about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which should be received frequently, and is required at least once a year. In our discussions, I can tell that most of the class received the sacrament once, when they were six or seven years old and not since then.

So the question was; “What three sacraments can be received only once?” (The correct answer is “Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders.) One of the girl teams had the first two sacraments correct, but included the Sacrament of Reconciliation in as the third choice. So I commented:

“No, I’m sorry. I realize that many of you may have been to confession only once, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”

I know it was a cheap shot, but it felt good anyway.

“Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

Making a point…maybe

It’s been busy the past few days.

We had a great CCD class last Wednesday, the kind that gives you a reason to come back again.

The primary topic of the class was the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. We started by talking about the concept and process of forgiveness in general terms – in everyday life as well as in confession.

I pulled the names of two volunteers out of a hat and we set up a role-playing game. I gave Makayla and Lindsey their assignments. Makayla was angry at Lindsey for something she had done. They got together with a couple of classmates and came up with a story. According to Makayla, Lindsey stole her diary and sold it to a TV station which put all her personal information on the air. (We are nothing if not dramatic.)

We set up an “Oprah Winfrey Show” to resolve their differences. They really got into their roles and played it up great. The rest of the class was highly engaged, perhaps a little too much so.

Initially Lindsey denied everything, but eventually owned up to the deed, said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness. Makayla forgave her but asked for Lindsey to reveal some of her own personal information to make them even.

We used this little melodrama to demonstrate the four-step process of forgiveness.

1.) The offender admits to the act.

2.) The offender expresses sorrow and asks for forgiveness.

3.) The injured party forgives.

4.) The offender offers some reparation to atone for the injury they caused.

I was a little surprised how well my two actresses got into their roles. They were really great, from their ad libbed lines to their body language. They were very funny and it was a bunch of fun.

And maybe, just maybe, some of those 5th graders may actually absorb and remember some of it. I’m not taking bets, but I can always dream.