You sign up to teach fifth grade, only to find out that you’re having as many conversations and answering as many questions with parents as you are with kids. It can be intimidating, to say the least.
The assumptions of many parents, it seems, fall into a few categories. First, they assume that you know a lot more than they do about the Catholic faith. They think you are an expert. That’s why you’re a catechist, isn’t it? Never mind that this is probably untrue. Never mind that you are just helping out, that you probably aren’t a professional, and that you have as many questions as they do.
On the other side of things, what assumptions are you making? Do you find yourself a bit shocked or disgusted or just speechless at what these kids don’t (or do) know? Or maybe you find yourself disgusted that kids don’t know what you think they should.
You’re probably nodding and shaking your head at this point. The fact is, whatever reason you have for being a catechist, parents are part of the equation. What if you looked at your role as a catechist as a partnership with parents? Here are some ways to make that happen in your classroom.
COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE
They’re bringing their children to you. They’re entrusting you with their greatest treasure. Presumably, these parents have enrolled their children in your class because they care about their children and about their Catholic faith.
They may not know their faith-but that’s something you can address. They are, after all, coming to class.
In my years as a catechist and in the work I’ve done as a parish employee, I’ve found one truth to be universal: You can never communicate too much.
Try sending a weekly email with a summary of your lesson. You can send the entire lesson, but that’s more easily ignored. Last summer, during our Confirmation Boot Camp, I sent daily emails with a summary of what we covered that day. I also invited parents to ask their children the answers to certain things—for example, “Today we learned that Jesus had a middle name: See if your student remembers it!” I heard from a number of parents that they enjoyed this. I think the emails helped them see that a) they didn’t know what they didn’t know and b) it can be fun to learn about Catholicism.
Are you a Facebook junkie? Chances are at least half the parents are, too. It’s easy to set up a Facebook page, and this gives you a “hub” that’s not email. Just maybe you’ll find some parents of their Catholic faith in a setting that’s not always Catholic.
Send letters home, call if you have to, and never hesitate to put yourself in front of parents. Share the resources you used, provide additional information they can use, and offer ideas for further conversation. Give them activities and support as best you can.
INVITE PARENTS INTO YOUR CLASSROOM
If your class is anything like mine, you can always use an extra set of hands. Sometimes that means more work for you, but it doesn’t have to. I’ve had parents just come and sit in the back of my classroom. The impact of parents in the classroom is one I don’t ever discount. It shows their children that this is important. It also lends you support and a viewpoint you wouldn’t otherwise have.
I didn’t fully appreciate this idea until a mom came up to me at a parish event. “I so miss my son being in your class,” she said. “I learned so much!” She only actually came to one or two classes, but she was very involved with helping her son with the “trivia” I sent home each week. As it turns out, it ignited a flame in her and she’s kept learning, all because of an invitation to join her son’s fifth-grade class.
ASK AND OFFER
Sometimes parents want to help: they just don’t know how specifically they’re needed or what exactly to do. Parents can’t say “yes” until you ask them for help, for their opinions, for a snack. Offer them the chance to be involved and the opportunity to learn more.
You are partners with the parents of your students. There is no reason you can’t both be on the same team.
Sarah Reinhard writes online at SnoringScholar.com.
This article was originally published in RTJ’s creative catechist February/March 2014.
Image Credit: shutterstock_512533513.jpg