More Than Math!

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How Catechists Teach Differently Than Any Other Kind of Teacher

Jared Dees

When I first started out as a religious educator, I used to be envious of the math teachers. What they did to teach math seemed so simple and straightforward compared to what I was trying to do in religion. There’s no mystery in math.

You probably remember your math classes growing up. The basic format has been essentially the same for decades. Class begins with a review of homework. Next, the teacher introduces a new formula or strategy for solving a certain kind of math problem. Then, example problems are solved on the board for students. Finally, students are given some time to solve some practice problems while the teacher is there to observe and help when needed.

After reviewing homework, therefore, the format of the class is basically:

1. Present.

2. Provide examples.

3. Practice.

If you think about it, veteran teachers of other subjects repeat this three-step structure in their classes, too. The science teacher presents a new theory, then provides examples of scientists who have proven that theory. Afterward, students are given the opportunity to practice proving that theory with their own experiments.

Or think of history classes. The history teacher presents a way of understanding a certain era, then provides examples from this time period to show that this understanding of history makes sense. Finally, students practice showing their memory of the important people and events by relating them to the presented way of understanding history.

So, what about religious educators? How is our role different?

The beginning of class can be relatively the same. We present a Church teaching to the students, pulling from the Catechism, Scripture, or a textbook.

Then we provide examples of people from Scripture and the lives of the saints to show how we can live out this teaching. Through these stories, we help students see how each teaching applies to their daily lives.

These two sources are very similar to the approach of other teachers who pull from primary source texts and stories of people from history. It’s the third source that makes us unique.

So what is the third source of examples we provide to the students? Us! As a catechist, you are also a disciple of Jesus Christ. You are learning and living what you teach; therefore, you have stories to tell about your own life. You share how what you are presenting is more than an abstract idea: It is something you are striving to live yourself.

You are, therefore, a witness. When you share about your intimate relationship with Jesus Christ in the context of the teachings you present, your students will be able to relate to you and through that connection find their own relationship with Christ.

The math teacher does not have a relationship with the Pythagorean theorem, no matter how much she might love talking about it. The science teacher may love showing students how photosynthesis works, but he can never be a plant experiencing it for himself. The religious educator, though, loves and is loved back by the content of his or her teaching.

How do religious education students practice what they have learned differently than with other subjects? By sharing your example of living what you teach, the students also will apply what they are learning to the way they live.

The Holy Spirit is with you, helping you teach, speaking through you, and touching the hearts of the students you serve.

We want them to meditate on Scripture and the Tradition of the Church by asking themselves, “What does this say to me, today, for my life?” We want them to pray as a response to what they have learned. We want them to contemplate the ways they can redirect their lives toward a new way of thinking and living.

All these differences are made possible by the influence of the Holy Spirit who is with us in every class. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus said to his disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The Holy Spirit is with you, helping you teach, speaking through you, and touching the hearts of the students you serve. Be open with them about your relationship with God as you teach. Be Christ’s witness. That’s what sets you apart from every other kind of teacher on earth.


Jared Dees, MA, MEd, is the creator of and author of three books, including 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator.

The article was originally published in Catechist magazine, October 2017


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