The Mid-Year Boost: how to reenergize your teaching in January

At this point you know your students well. You know their interests both in and out of class, you know the skills they struggle with and those they use to shine.

by Margaret Felice

We’ve had a short break for the holidays and are back to work! Here in New England it’s hard not to be dreaming of snow days, and all of us might be thinking about upcoming holidays are looking toward spring break. Here are a few ideas to help you do your best teaching during these long mid-year months.

Consider the benefits of the middle of the year

At this point you know your students well. You know their interests both in and out of class, you know the skills they struggle with and those they use to shine. There is a string of long weeks coming up, too: a perfect time for a long-term project or workshop.

If your classes are struggling with writing, maybe a week-long writing intensive would raise their confidence (and make your grading more pleasant for the rest of the year). You don’t need to abandon your curriculum to do this; pick a topic for them to explore in more detail and guide them through the steps of good writing.

You can also break up the winter slog with contemporary topics if they are not already a part of your curriculum. Make connections to Women’s History Month, or Black History Month, or current events – and give yourself the time to really dig in and make them more than a token.

You might even have time for some play! Plan a simulation (in Church History, my students have enjoyed imagining they were bishops at Vatican II, or representatives at the French Revolution) – the prep is labor-intensive but once it’s set up your students will be able to run with it. Letting them walk in another person’s shoes and consider themes from a personal perspective will be an unforgettable learning experience.

Be patient with yourself (and your students)

I write from the perspective of someone living in the northeast, where winters are dark, cold, and tough. Each year I become more patient with myself at this time of year, realizing that my energy levels in the winter are lower than they are during milder seasons. Sleep, nutrition, and quiet time become even more important during these dreary months.

No surprise, then, that my students might be dealing with the same doldrums. Depending on your school schedule, you might have a January mid-year exam routine. How can you help students through that stressful time? Are there nights when you can give no homework? Can you give them more precise guidance on how to study? Can you build in an extra few moments of quiet reflection during class to let them catch their breath? It’s tough to balance the value of slowing down with the pressures of tackling your curriculum, but with planning it can be done.

Find things to celebrate

Routines have been established at this point, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bust those up once in a while! Be creative about ways to make the time special. Adolescent brains love things that break from the norm!


Maybe there is a day of the week, or of the schedule cycle, when you can add in something different (playing hangman is a great 10-minute energizer, with the added benefit of being good for vocab acquisition). Point out notable days on the liturgical calendar, or bring an allergy-free treat on the day of a test or project.

Many of these ideas involve the dreaded “more work”, and I understand how daunting that can feel when we are swamped with everything else we have going on. But in my experience, energizing myself and my students has long-term benefits that far outweigh the burden of picking up a few bags of Jolly Ranchers or preparing character cards for a group project.

And hopefully this goes without saying, but however you decide to give your teaching a boost this season, find time for prayer and reflection so that you can listen for God’s wisdom and consider how your efforts have enriched your students’ lives.

Margaret Felice is an educator, writer, and musician. She teaches religion and music at Boston College High School and is an Assistant Director of the Liturgy Arts Group at Boston College.

She is the author of 2019: A Book of Grace-Filled Days (Loyola Press) and is writing two booklets on teen spirituality for Twenty-Third Publications which will be published in 2020.

Margaretfelice.com

Why I Left

So I made up my mind. . . that this had to be my last year there.

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by Anonymous

When I was about 10, my family went to a church picnic after mass one summer morning.  While there, the pastor came over to my three teenage brothers and I, and with great exuberance, asked, “Would you like to travel the world, meet amazing people, and serve God?” My older brothers, knowing where this was going, shuffled their feet, stared at their shoes and mumbled into their collars.  But I excitedly answered, “I want to do that!” To which this pastor responded, in a kind but disappointed voice, “I’m sorry, but you can’t do that.”

I think I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to prove this pastor wrong.  I studied hard, got theological degrees, and followed my vocation to teach high school theology and work in campus ministry.  I did this for many years, certain that this was God’s will for my life.  And I was good at it, even receiving the highest award in Catholic education given in the archdiocese in which I live.

However, in the last few years of my job, there was a change of leadership.  The lay person that hired me became a friend and mentor who I trusted implicitly.  Though he still held a leadership role in the school, a member of the religious order that “technically” ran the school (in basic ceremonial roles for the majority of my tenure) was given top billing.  This priest was familiar with my work, as he and I had been interacting for a few years.  But with his new leadership role, he took to micromanaging my job.

Bit by bit, he began to tear down my confidence: second guessing my choices, double checking my details, and generally causing me to go down the rabbit hole of self-doubt.  Like any good manipulator, his tactics worked.  I began to slip and make errors I had never made. I started to doubt my own abilities, never realizing why I was doing what I was doing. I was convinced that I was losing my touch and getting too old for my job.

It just took one moment to see everything with clarity; the moment he spoke to me in that demeaning way he spoke to our teenage students.  He reprimanded me for a comment I made among colleagues; a comment that I had made 3 months prior, at the end of the previous school year.  It was not a comment that I regret making, for I spoke a truth about our Church.  He then felt entitled to follow his reprimand with a personal attack that went right to the heart of everything I believe about myself.  In that moment, I was that 10 year old girl, being told that I couldn’t serve God.

So I made up my mind that day–at the very beginning of a new school year–that this had to be my last year there.  I knew I could never go to another school; I had too much love and devotion for my principal to do that.

In the #metoo movement, I have nothing dramatic to claim: just a few clerics thinking that they are inherently smarter, infinitely more worthy of authority, perhaps even more deserving of God’s grace and love than me.  In light of the most recent Church scandals, this is what terrifies me the most about the priesthood, and the future of the Church.  Until the church hierarchy can acknowledge that its seminaries helped to form this,  we’ll continue to perpetuate the formation of a group of people who see themselves as other, as better, and who treat women (not to mention anyone other than priests) as less-than.  Though I don’t know any women who have had dramatic experiences of sexual abuse by a priest, I know far too many who have been treated as utterly and completely inferior.  The damage done by the choices of a few priests who have done unspeakable actions has caused grave harm to the Church, but I wonder daily about the lesser harms, like those that happened to me and too many other women.
By the grace of God, a new ministerial job fell into my lap.  I left a job where I had been for the entirety of my adult life; a job that I had poured my heart and soul into as I felt that I was living out my vocation.  Even though I knew that the Lord had opened new doors for me, leaving was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.   I’m still working for the Church, but in a different role (and not for a school).  And I’m still trying to find, heal, and re-inspire that little girl who had always felt like God had a plan for her.

The author worked in Catholic high school for nearly two decades and is now engaged in a parish faith formation ministry. She would like to return to high school education someday.