Tonight’s class was not a good class, but honestly I suspected it would be challenging. Classes last for one hour. Normally, I take control from the very beginning and can maintain it throughout that hour. Tonight however, we had every student go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. While I love this sacrament and profess it’s importance to my class every year, when it is all said and done, it has the impact of a field trip on the class.
We basically spent the first half hour doing an Examination of Conscience, me trying to ease some students’ fears at the realization of what was going to be happening and then going upstairs to the Church for the actual sacrament. When we returned to the classroom, somehow it all fell apart.
We were supposed to review the story of Abraham, Issac, Jacob and Joseph. To tie it into what we already learned, I reminded them of the story of Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel and the story of Noah and the Great Flood. That’s as far as we got. The questions started like if this was the first time they had ever heard this story (we only covered it two weeks ago) and it digressed from there. Questions like:
Why was it Adam & Eve’s fault? The snake made them do it.
What does God look like?
Does God have hands?
God killed everyone on earth?
Why did he pick Noah?
God killed? That’s mean! Didn’t he commit a sin?
What if there were other good people on earth? How could God kill them all?
What if God does it again?
What if he doesn’t keep his promise?
What if …
What if …
What if …
I’m always torn with how far to let questions go. I see myself heading into the spiral, but the questions show some amount of interest and curiosity on the students’ parts that I don’t want to discourage. The problem with allowing it to continue is that I can’t cover the material I’m supposed to cover. In tonight’s case, I was able to cover none of the material I needed to. Additionally, 90% of tonight’s questions came from the same student and were becoming slightly argumentative. I couldn’t really tell if they were sincere questions or an attempt to take control of the direction of the class. In any case, I probably allowed this to go on too long before the light bulb in my head went off … “These are all good questions. Why don’t you stay after class and we can discuss it further?”
The student of course could not stay tonight, so I immediately offered staying after next week’s class as an alternative. But by that time, the damage was done. There was 5 minutes left to class and I needed to close up the impromptu Q&A discussion with some very specific points to ensure that everyone left the class with an accurate understanding.
By the time I left class, I was completely exhausted, totally frustrated and had nothing accomplished from my lesson plan to show for it. Did I do the right thing by allowing the questions to continue? Should I have covered the material and just left Q&A for after class time for those that wanted the information? I’m sure I would have gotten no takers and would have lost an opportunity there. All I know is that next week I now have two weeks of material to cover in a one hour time span. I also have an new appreciation for what school teachers face on field trip days.
What do you other catechists do in situations like the one I encountered tonight? When do you cut off the Q&A and focus on your lessons and when do you let your lessons slip to help satisfy your students’ thirst for understanding? I’d love your thoughts since I suspect this will happen again. In the meantime, I need a stiff drink to recuperate. Time for some hot chocolate!!
Thanks and until next time, keep sharing the faith.