Jennifer Fitz has incorporated the fruits of her experience, energy, research and organizational skills within a compact, accessible and effective guide. It enables and encourages teachers and students to look forward with joy to each religious education experience. Fitz reminds catechists: 1) “This is the most important subject your students will ever study.” 2) “You can learn to teach and teach well…with God’s help and some hard work, you can touch the hearts and souls of students longing to know Jesus.”
Classroom Management for Catechists describes a workable “Rhythm and Routine” that address not only the normal circumstances within the religious education environment but assists the teacher in dealing with the unexpected, using sub-routines that activate when there’s a break in the rhythm. Fitz lists questions that assist the catechist to adapt the author’s approach to local conditions, pushing preparation beyond conventional boundaries, to meet overlooked needs. The title of Chapter 4–Turning the Young and the Restless into the Attentive and Instructed says it all. The author’s guidance makes after-school, weekend or summer programs the highpoint of the students’ week or year and obviates potential classroom problems that bore students and frustrate teachers.
As in any high-performance skill area, preparation determines success. Teachers’ planning requires their familiarity with curriculum content, coordination between teachers, and most importantly, a thorough understanding of the students’ abilities, needs and predisposition to learning. Since classroom time is so limited, Fitz suggests that meeting the student’s need to release pent-up energy include acting-out part of the lesson. For instance, marching around the room could underscore a lesson-specific theme such as the Israelites’ flight from Egypt. She would answer the need for quiet-time with an art project that illustrates the principles of the lesson. She would ask the well prepared students to work more independently while the teacher brings newcomers up to speed.
Effective preparation includes time invested in training students in the elements of discipline. Dividends pay-out in smoother running, more effective and enjoyable experiences for all. For example, “when everything goes nuts” it’s time for a circuit-breaker device such as the “Emergency Our Father.” Not only does the class stop to practice the Lord’s Prayer, but if the students were taught that the “EOF,” warns them the teacher “means business,” they are more likely to quiet down allowing the class to resume in a more orderly fashion.
The ultimate preparation for catechesis is life as a Catholic Christian. Jennifer Fitz says, the catechist should “want to show (the) students what holiness looks like…. Students can sense when you take your faith seriously. This matters. This is worth the sacrifice. A commitment to your faith—despite the difficulties, despite the setbacks, despite the times when life is scary or overwhelming or just plain boring—speaks for itself.” Another sign of Christian holiness is that in every way, the catechist shows love and respect toward the developing spirituality within students and the invaluable contributions of colleagues.
Classroom Management for Catechists is readily available, inexpensive and would make a wonderful gift for your favorite catechist, parish and diocesan Director of Religious Education, student-teacher or yourself.
Fitz, Jennifer. Classroom Management for Catechists. Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, 2013.
(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)