It’s midyear, and I’m facing a personal slump. I don’t want to be a quitter and inconvenience the DRE or the children by giving up my class. Yet I’m feeling pretty insecure about facing my class when I may be having my own faith crisis. This is only my first year teaching middle school students. What would you do? —LORI G.
Daniel Thomas responds …
Your question is important, and I’m glad you’ve asked it. There may be two different things going on at once, or they may be related. Let’s deal with the idea of a teaching slump first and then with the more personal question of what’s happening in your faith life.
First, slumps are a normal part of teaching, and midyear is often a time when they happen. The beginning-of-the-year enthusiasm has come up against reality. Even good catechists are faced with not meeting all the expectations they had when the year began.
TeachHub.com has some good ways of dealing with slumps that also apply well to catechists. Here are some examples:
✱ Put things in perspective. Don’t focus only on what is negative about your experience, but look at the good things that have happened.
✱ Take a “field trip.” Once I took my class on a “field trip” to the parish church and spent time with them explaining the various things there that they may not have known or had questions about. I’m sure there are other
creative “field trips” (e.g., stations of the cross, statues around the property, and so on) at your own location.
✱ Build in “stress busters” for yourself and your students. Prayer often brings peace and calm. For yourself: Schedule quiet private prayer times or attend Mass in the days before class (even if you don’t feel like it). For your students: Lead a guided meditation to begin class. I did this with my high school students, and throughout the year they asked to do it again. Ask your DRE for suggestions.
✱ Recommit and refocus. Ask yourself why you wanted to be a catechist in the first place. Reflect on that in relationship to where you are now.
A second significant issue might be a faith crisis in your life. Know that you are not alone, and reaching out to others is the right thing to do. Your concern about how your decisions affect others is noble. Make an appointment to discuss your situation with your DRE or your parish priest. It is valuable to talk to others about what you are experiencing. Perhaps something from your personal life—outside of this ministry—is causing discouragement or distraction. Let others know.
In the meantime, be assured that the process of growing in faith is difficult at times. It nearly always involves a dying of the old self and a rising of the new. As we catechize, we come to know ourselves and our faith more deeply. That can raise new questions and challenges in our lives and those of our students.
Again, reaching out is key. In addition to speaking with your DRE or priest, you might also benefit from talking with a spiritual director, another catechist, or a close Catholic friend. Sorting things out needs time, reflection, and prayer in order to make a good decision. Remember, even certain saints once struggled with faith. You have my prayers.
Daniel Thomas served in catechetical leadership for more than 30 years and remains involved in the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL). He and his wife, Eileen, are the parents of two adult sons.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, January 2017.
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