They Say It Takes a Village

Theology and ministry seem to be the perfect areas for some village building.

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Lauren E. Bjork

It is a common axiom of parenting that “it takes a village to raise a child.” I have heard and read this often, as a parent of young children. Now, you may be saying, ‘Sure, this may be true, but I thought this was a blog post on teaching and theology.’ And, here is where I would like to propose the idea that students and teachers need the village too.

Teachers need each other. Having worked in multiple schools, in a variety of different capacities, I can say without a doubt that teachers thrive in community, where they are not individual islands, but rather interconnected adults working effectively towards the same goals. Students need to see the example of adults living, loving, and working together in a way that does not demand that they do everything the same way, or are unwilling to challenge one another. Rather, I think our children today need to see adults respectfully debating, disagreeing, and challenging one another to be the very best version of themselves, in a way that, especially for teachers, allows for the teacher to be of service to the student. Students and teachers both benefit from the experience of living community. Committing ourselves to living and working in solidarity and love is hard, yes, but worth it.

Theology lends itself as a perfect setting for the village of teachers to come alive and thrive in education. If we are truly practicing what we teach, then the village is a natural living out of the building of the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God on earth is not a place of perfection or even a place where we all agree, but rather it is a place where we commit to one another, rely on each other, and get busy in the work of living out faithfulness and justice.

In thinking about the village in education, I am beginning to be convinced more and more that perhaps, this is exactly what our schools need. Could the village of adults working together in service and love help combat bullying among our students? Could the message of Jesus to love one another really come alive to students if they see it embodied in their teachers? Or, perhaps the village could stand as examples of positive self-talk and body image? Even further, could the village help combat violence in our schools and greater communities? Remembering the reality that we belong to one another might be part of the necessary discussion on school violence, a nightmare that students and teachers are facing far too often. Ultimately, I think that the community built among adults is essential when trying to foster community among students. And, for theology teachers and campus ministers, this is truly the message that we teach: to develop relationships with God, with ourselves, and with others that are rooted in great love.

Of course, this applies to all educators. And yet, I do not think this is the common experience of many teachers today. Theology and ministry seem to be the perfect areas for some intentional village building, because, it is a subject and setting that in its nature calls for the development of both formation and education, ministry and academic understanding. We need to be living examples of what we teach, that is, the Body of Christ. Relying on each other is NOT a sign of weakness, but rather a response to our call to belong to one another in humility and solidarity.

How do you do “village building” in your school?

Lauren Bjork teaches theology to grades 7 and 8 at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, MA. She also serves as a Director of Religious Education at her local parish in the Diocese of Worcester.

Every Week is Catholic Schools Week

the vocational call of Catholic school teachers

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by Lindsey Hughes

Since I have been able to call myself a teacher, I have been a Catholic school teacher.

And, since I have been able to call myself a teacher, I have been criticized for the type of teacher that I have chosen to be.

Whether it is a family member who chides me for working in a Catholic school, when I could be teaching history (as I intended as an undergrad) in public school “and making so much more money”, or a well-meaning friend who comes to the conclusion that I am “lucky” to teach the “easy” kids, there seems to an underlying belief that teaching in a Catholic school is some lukewarm version of the righteous struggle that the “rest” of the teachers in the world are undertaking. I would like to dispute this mild interpretation of what we, as Catholic school  educators, do on a regular basis.

Additionally, I would like to validate my belief (and likely, that of countless other educators) that the choice to work in a Catholic school is one of vocation. Author and minister Frederick Buechner, in discussing vocation, states that, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” It has become increasingly clear to me that Catholic schools (and those who teach in them) are meeting the “deep hungers” of our communities, often in ways that are not evident at first glance.

So, to anyone that may need a reminder, I want to definitively state that all teaching is a radical action. As a teacher, you are rejecting the general belief of so many in society that our youth are lost or misguided. You provide a place of hospitality and safety – really, of normalcy – that is not found in some of our students’ homes, neighborhoods, and families. Lest you forget that what you are doing is making a difference – I beg you to believe differently. It does. You do.

To illustrate my point further, let me provide you with two instances from my own experience. In the first, two juniors in my theology class were staying after school to work on an essay about C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I went to check on the step team’s practice (since I have recently become their moderator) and came back to these two boys looking at their iPads and phones. When I asked why they were not working on their essays, they told me they were looking at information from a recent fatal shooting in Boston. They proceeded to tell me how the young man who had lost his life had previously saved the life of an individual who fell on train tracks four years ago. Then, between themselves, they talked about others who had lost their lives recently to gang violence. As they talked back and forth about which gang these people were a part of, where they were from, and if they had seen them in their neighborhoods, it became increasingly clear – my students’ lives outside of our school are much different than what they experience in our small, Catholic school setting. So then, when we question why they hang around after school or constantly want to practice their three point shots for hours in the gym, we may want to consider what they may be avoiding, and treasure the fact that our schools have created a refuge from what they experience in so many other places.

In the other instance, a student for whom I was writing a college recommendation let me read some of his written reflections he had composed in his free time. Though I was aware that this student overcomes significant challenges just to get to school every day and have his work done for his challenging course load, this glimpse into his non-school life was quite eye-opening. He chronicled his days, explaining that after school he often goes to work until late in the evening, and once his shift is completed, makes the often-intimidating trek home to complete homework and study. What struck me most were the descriptions of the individuals he encounters on his commute home from work. Knowing who to avoid and what to say to these individuals in order to communicate his neutrality, it broke my heart to read how complicated it was for him to simply go home. It also gives me great insight into why when I taught him last year he often asked for extensions on assignments, and was late to school more than any of us would suggest. I feel so lucky to have been deemed trustworthy enough for him to share these challenging details with. I feel even luckier to have been able to brag to colleges about how great he is.

It doesn’t have to be as extreme as gang violence, it could be family issues, rigorous after school responsibilities, or the countless other struggles our students endure – regardless, I hope you can remember that the communities of acceptance, love, and yes, even safety, that we create in Catholic schools are making a difference. I believe that lives have been transformed because my exceptional colleagues and I have made a vocational choice.

If you, too, have made a similar choice, what difference does your school make in its community?  What lives have been transformed in the learning community in which you teach?”

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Lindsey Hughes currently teaches sophomore and junior theology at Saint Joseph Preparatory High School in Brighton, MA. Outside of the classroom she coaches girls’ soccer and co-ed track and field.

Hurry Up and Wait

Being an expectant church in the time of instant gratification

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By Julie Penndorf

Today’s world is a very different place for teens than it was for their parents and for many of their teachers (including me).  Our young people are expected to manage increasingly intense school work loads, while excelling in athletics and activities, and upholding an active social media life in addition to their real life. Their social existence hinges on the now; sometimes it seems it has to be even faster than that, or they run the risk of social suicide. And these are the kids who have supportive families and plenty of means.  So many students have to add difficult home lives, health problems or other issues to their already heavy burden.  In the last few years, I’ve dealt with multiple students with severe mental health issues that I did not see to this extent early in my teaching career.  Everything is now, now, now, and it is affecting them in ways that no generation before can give them any guidance because no one before has ever come of age in a time like today.

And yet, I juxtapose this current experience of our young people with our church, – a church which advocates waiting for so much of church life.  Experiences of waiting by far outweigh the experiences of gratification.  Though the liturgical calendar may say differently, most of us experience 6 weeks of Lent and just one day of Easter.  Something innate in our humanity calls us to dive deeply into the waiting – so much more so than the experience of joy.  Perhaps it is out of necessity, that good things come to those who wait, but I think it speaks more of our need to spend time in preparation, preparing our heads and hearts to be ready for the joys.   Joys are great, they are a beautiful blessing, but they can be incredibly draining.  The hype, the excitement, and all the stress around Christmas celebrations jump to mind here.  Most people are just barely hanging on through the month of December, and when Christmas finally comes, young and old alike tend to collapse from exhaustion at the end of it.  I’m grateful for a church that forces us into Advent beforehand, to slow down, to wait, and focus on what is important.

But where do our young people fit in this church of waiting? How do we teach them to wait when everything else in their lives teaches them to hurry forward?  They are moving from/searching for/lusting after one moment of ‘joy’ to another – though those ‘joys’ are false and fleeting (instagram likes, twitter retweets,  etc).  So how do we find a place for this generation in a church that wants us to hurry up and wait, a church that likely won’t give them a place on snapchat to uphold their streaks?

My problem with this question that I’m posing is that I don’t really have an answer. I too, struggle with waiting, and am constantly in prayer for patience (for my students, my own kids, my spouse).  I try to teach my own students the same tricks that work for me to slow down.  But why should we bother to immerse ourselves in the waiting?  Why am I asking my students to slow down and wait instead of asking the church to hurry up?  This goes to the very heart of our faith, that no matter how much we want to hurry things along, we are waiting, waiting for an experience of God, waiting for death to bring us new life, waiting for the second coming.  Waiting has always been, and until the end of time, will always be, central to the Christian experience, because faith cannot be forced, it cannot be hurried. Even though the challenges to waiting faced by our young people are new, the need to allow the space for waiting is not.  “Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart.” – Psalm 27:14

Julie Penndorf is the Director of Campus Ministry and a Christian Ethics teacher at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, MD, where she has worked for the past 17 years.

Stressed

by Erin DaCosta

Every Friday, I invite my students to start class by spending ten minutes journaling.  I provide a prompt, and the rest is up to them.  The prompt is rarely related to class topics.  Rather, they are questions that invite them to reflect more deeply on their daily lives.  Several weeks ago, I gave my students the prompt, “What is on your heart and mind?  Share with me.”  The results broke my heart.  One entry in particular has stayed with me, and I want to share it with you today.

One student wrote:  “Many times I have to choose between spending time with my family and homework.  What is the point of all of this?  What is all of this stress for?  We live in a cycle of work, work, work, work, work, work…I feel like there is a problem in America’s schooling system.”

This student’s journal entry put into words what I have been witnessing in my students over the past few years:  they are incredibly, dangerously stressed and overworked.  They feel burdened by homework, quizzes, tests, and projects.  They are drowning in a world that bombards them with Snaps, likes, favorites, notifications, and more.  They are overcommitted, overinvolved, and overstimulated.

Do I add to this burden?  Do I, as their teacher, offer meaningful assignments that will aid their growth and development?  Does their homework supplement their in-class learning?  Should I do away with homework altogether?  How can I help them stop, breathe, and engage with the world around them?

These are the questions I grapple with on a daily basis.  I want to ensure that my students learn, that we cover enough curriculum, and that I offer structure and consistency.  Yet, I do not want my students to suffer.  And what I am seeing now is that they are struggling, immensely.  No student should have to choose between eating dinner with their family and doing homework.  No student should exist in a constant state of stress and anxiety.

My student closed her journal entry with a haiku, and I leave you with her words,

My generation
We need less stress, more support
Can we find a way?

I close by asking you this:  what stress do you see in your students?  How can we, as ministers and educators, appropriately respond?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Erin DaCosta teaches theology to sophomores, juniors, and seniors at Mount Alvernia High School in Newton, MA.  Previously, she served as a campus minister in a co-ed environment.

 

 

Now We Begin

“For Your Consideration” is a blog by and for Catholic high school religion teachers and campus ministers. It is coordinated by Boston College School of Theology and Ministry Continuing Education.

The idea for the blog emerged during a consultation with high school teachers and administrators in the Boston area in Spring 2017.  It began to take shape in Summer 2017 as we encountered many students and alumnae/i who were engaged in these high school ministries.

Catholic high school teachers and campus ministers have our admiration.  We hope this blog provides a space for conversation about how to make faith real to high school students and how to grow both as a teacher/minister and as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  We expect our guest bloggers will raise timely, helpful, practical topics that surface issues and propose ideas in support of capable ministry in a high school setting.