It is time to return to the classroom! Are you ready?
I always find that it is a little bit difficult to get back into the swing of things. It’s hard to jump right back in and pick up the momentum where you left off the year before.
I know that I’ve personally made many repeated mistakes year after year during the first few days of class. I hope this list of no-no’s will help guide you away from the pitfalls so many of us fall into during the first weeks of school. Instead, make the start of this new year the best one yet!
The Top Ten Mistakes You Must Avoid During the First Weeks of Religious Education
Mistake #1: Not sharing why you became a teacher/catechist.
I firmly believe that one of the critical components to our success as religious educators is teaching with testimony. We have to share our stories. We have to connect with our students at deeper levels than simply head knowledge.
Why did you become a catechist or teacher in the first place? It was certainly a calling!
Spend some time at the beginning of this year sharing WHY you are here. I guarantee you will gain more respect from your students and their parents if you focus on your WHY.
Mistake #2: Teaching on the first day.
If you really want to get the students engaged right at the beginning of the year, then you must focus on your WHY on day one.
Remember that your students are excited to be there on that first day. They don’t know what to expect so they naturally have a curiosity about you and your course.
Cultivate that curiosity. Give them something to be excited about.
Rather than diving right into chapter 1 of your book, give an overview of your goals and why the students should stay excited about the upcoming year together.
The first day of school should be like a movie trailer. Whether a movie is good or not, that trailer gets everyone excited about learning more. Get students excited to learn more right from the start of the year.
Mistake #3: Only talking about what you will teach and how they will be graded. (In other words, just sharing your syllabus.)
Most teachers take some time during that first day to go over their syllabus. They answer very basic questions that kids want to know, but make it incredibly boring.
Most of us spend our time focusing on “what” and “how” questions rather than “why” questions. Sure it is important for us to answer:
- What are we learning about?
- What is this book about?
- How will we go about learning in class?
- How will we be graded?
But, just answering these questions and no others is a mistake. We have to go further and drill down to the WHY questions. They students also want to know (even if they don’t express it):
- Why are you here? (See mistake #1)
- Why does this matter to me and to my life?
- Why should I care?
- Why go to Church?
- Why pray?
- Why read the Bible?
Mistake #4: Explaining how a class will run (rules & procedures), but not why they are there.
I’m a big fan of rules and procedures. You can read about that more in these resources:
- Day 15: Update Your Classroom Procedures (from 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator)
- Classroom Procedures and the First Weeks of School
- 6 Classroom Management Strategies for the First Weeks of School
- 3 Ways to Effectively Get Students’ Attention
- Day 16: Update Your Classroom Rules (from 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator)
- Scripture-based Classroom Rules
However, I wish I had been more clear in those articles that rules and procedures are only step one. We have to establish and practice the procedures and instill the rules in the students’ behaviors, but if we really want them to follow them then we have to give them the WHY.
Look at your list of rules and procedures. Ask yourself why? Why are these important? Keep asking yourself WHY and you will find a message that you can share with the students that matters. You will be able to give them a reason to follow the rules.
Consider reading: Day 17: Articulate the Vision for Your Classroom (from 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator)
Mistake #5: Not praying.
I constantly forget to pray before class begins.
For most years, in fact, I didn’t have a really well thought out prayer to kick off the new year.
What an opportunity we have to kick off the new year with an engaging prayer experience!
We can send a message to the students that this class will be different. We’re going to pray and it is going to be memorable.
Here are some prayer ideas to get you started: Class Prayer Resources.
Mistake #6: Ignoring what the students want out of your class.
It is easy to focus on what we want as teachers and catechists rather than what the students want and feel.
It is so important to have an awareness of what our students want out of class. We can do this by taking some time to step back and think about what our students are feeling about the first days of school or the topic they are learning.
If you want to win over your students’ attention at the beginning of the year, then connect your course with their wants, needs, desires, and goals.
Now, I’m not advocating that we throw out our own goals and lesson objectives here. I’m just saying that we need to connect our goals and mission with the hopes and dreams that light the students up too. If we can find a congruence between the two of us, then we are much more likely to get them engaged in the process of learning about their faith.
Mistake #7: Forgetting the students’ names.
It is not easy to learn the students’ names. To learn those names and get them right from day one, makes a big impact. When someone remembers your name and calls you by name, it feels good. Everyone feels it, especially young kids in a classroom.
Here are a couple of resources to help you remember students’ names:
Mistake #8: Not smiling.
It’s simple, but it works. Smiling is contagious.
If you smile and are happy to be there, then the students are much more likely to be that way. If you look worried or tired, then they are going to feel that way too.
Smiling will improve your mood no matter what you are feeling at the time. It is like magic.
I mean it. Try it.
On your commute to work or to your parish, try smiling for no reason. Just do it. I garauntee happy feelings will start to surface just because of the smile on your face. It sounds silly but it works.
Smile in class even if you don’t feel like it.
Mistake #9: Not reaching out to parents.
You may think that your responsibility as a religious educator is only to teach the kids. It’s not. Your role extends beyond the children and into the entire family.
We may catechize the kids, but we have to evangelize the parents.
Constant communication. Start the year off right with a habit of communicating with parents regularly. For more ideas on parent communication, read:
Mistake #10: Teaching your lessons without a purpose.
Okay, day one is over. It’s your second or third class meeting and you are starting to teach real lessons. Don’t make the mistake of teaching anything without a goal.
Everything you decide to do in class should relate back to a goal, a lesson objective, to help you get your students to where you want them to go.
I’ve written about lesson objectives a lot. Here is some more info to get you started:
- Day 21: Draft or Edit Student Learning Objectives (from 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator)
- Three Passive Learning Objectives I Never Use
- SWBAT Verb Examples
- If You Can’t Change What They Think, Change What They Feel
Beyond lesson objectives, though, you need a vision.
Ultimately, at the end of this year, where do you want your students to be?
What is your vision for their lives at the end of the year?
Get More New School Year Ideas
Starting this month, we are offering the “Starting the New School Year Off Right” course for the second year in a row. Last year, we had dozens of participants in the weekly lessons. This year we are adding a community component so that you can get ideas and feedback from other religious educators as well as share your best ideas. You will also have the opportunity to work with me directly on your efforts to start the year off right.
To enroll, register as a member
Here’s what the course has to offer:
- A simple practice to get you fired about about your calling to catechesis
- How to go beyond textbooks and tests and give your students something to believe in
- What parents really want for their children.
- What to include in your new school year letter to parents
- 5 ways to make kids feel more welcome and accepted
- The #1 Mistake We Make on Day 1 (and What to do Instead)
To enroll in the course, register as a premium member of The Religion Teacher.
As a member, you will have access to this and many other course plus many other catechetical resources. You can download and share worksheets for the Sunday readings and dozens of videos about the sacraments, Scripture, and the saints.
I hope you have a great new year! I look forward to another year together here at The Religion Teacher.