My poor Dad.
I sat down for dinner, and he turned to me. “My last column in the magazine…you got me into so much trouble.” I looked at him quizzically. “You know that joke you told me.” No, I didn’t. “You remember,” he said, attempting to jog my memory.
Those who can…do.
Those who can’t…teach.
Those who can’t teach…teach teachers.
Teachers are a tough crowd.
At a meeting long ago, I waited for the teacher up front to get rolling. He was digging for pencils and trying to find his notes. The person next to me, rolled into her rant. “I can’t believe he didn’t come with pencils…sharpened pencils! What a waste of time…blah, blah, blah.” I asked, but I didn’t have to. Yes, she was a classroom teacher.
Teaching teachers is not for sissies. For more than ten years, I flew around the country teaching other teachers the principals of elementary math instruction. Teaching teachers…it kept me humble…or as humble as I am capable of being.
Thus…with all the humility I can possibly muster…It’s NOT that hard! Teaching RCIA is not that hard. Really!
The BASICS are basic:
- Welcome everyone. Remember to tell them how freakin’ excited you are that they are here tonight.
- Pray. Start the evening in prayer, showing how important Jesus is in the class and in your individual lives.
- Get their names. Of course, this means that you are so freakin’ excited that they are here that you are going to get in touch with them over the next week to get to know who they are, where they are, and what they care about. Learn their names!
- Ask them. Why are they here? Are they freakin’ excited about Jesus or are they just trying to make their spouse happy by joining the church? Either answer is great! It just helps to know.
- Tell them upfront what the seven sacraments are and that next week you will help them fill out the enrollment form…because…now…
- The most important thing for the first class is to share questions about Jesus and the Catholic Church that they hope to answer in the weeks (not years) ahead.
After that…it’s still not that hard. For one thing…you have a fully outlined curriculum, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And, after the first week, you will know the individuals in your class. Just pick the 10 essential topics of the Catechism, refer to student/participant questions and go from there.
It was absolutely inconceivable to me, after trying for months, reaching out to RCIA authorities in order to find the fountain of inspiration for RCIA, to learn that there was no fountain. In the most important job of the Church, evangelizing new believers, lambs of the flock of Christ…the manner of reaching and shepherding these lambs home was left up to chance. A compass with no needle. A sign with no arrow.
Most disconcerting was the fact that the Catholic Church, as evidenced by its Catechism of the Catholic Church leaves very little up to chance concerning the Catholic faith. It’s all spelled out. Every scintilla. Except when it comes to RCIA.
In the case of RCIA, it’s all up for grabs. Whoever shows up to teach the class, given their best effort, is left to pick and choose the goals and materials. It’s not that they are doomed to failure. It’s just that they are not guaranteed success, either.
Again, needing humility, I beg to put forward my own life experience in teaching as a vision of what is possible for RCIA.
For more than ten years, during summer breaks, I traveled around the United States to teach classes on mathematics. I was one of a cadre of over one hundred teachers from all parts of the U.S….all of us leaving our home states during the summer on a mission to change math instruction. Our parent instructor (our “Vatican pope” of math) resided in California. The math “Vatican” gave all instructors a set of lesson plans in a three-ring binder which included a list of materials required for the lessons.
We instructors learned from each other. In our first years, we traveled to observe and work with experienced leaders from California. In succeeding years, we broke off to teach in teams. And finally, secure in our abilities, we went solo. Every year, all the instructors came together at a national meeting where we discussed our individual challenges and confirmed the essentials of and improvements to the workshop.
For better or for worse, a workshop in Oregon could be expected to mirror another in Florida, each taught by two different people. If an instructor in Virginia had devised a more effective way of demonstrating a lesson on fractions, you could know with certainty that in less than a year this would be shared to all of our instructors across the U.S.
We were all on the same track, bound by our shared mission, but we were not mindless robots. Quite the converse. We devised a way of building and maintaining an effective curriculum across fifty states that was fluid, yet held in place by a core curriculum and the very real experiences of workshop leaders and our students.
Of course…I am a teacher…a tough nut to crack.
Still…if a little ol’ California company founded in a basement can lead a national revolution in math instruction, it boggles the mind to think of what the Vatican could do in the wisdom of its leadership and those who love and serve the Church around the world.
Teachers teaching teachers…challenging, yes…but not impossible.
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