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Some Advice to meet the challenges of Faith Formation and RE Teaching

Gary Abrahamian, Post-Primary Diocesan Adviser offers some advice below for challenges R.E. teachers encounter in faith formation and R.E. teaching.

Gary Abrahamian, Post-Primary Diocesan Adviser

Faith formation & R.E. teaching can be challenging at times especially with non-exam senior cycle classes and as the year ends perhaps you might take a moment to reflect on the piece below.

Imagine you are in front of a large class of senior cycle students teaching a lesson on Lent. You are well prepared for this topic.

You have prepared a high quality PowerPoint, fun opening exercise that is connected to the theme, you created a dynamic, ritual prayer experience, and you are armed with multiple strategies to engage the students including the use of a cool video clip, small group reflection questions, and a bit of teaching from you.

You are proud of the lesson you have created. You delve into the topic with great enthusiasm and gusto! You pour all your energy into the session.

Then, it happens.

You look out at the faces staring back at you. All they do is stare. They are not engaged. They are not excited.

At the end of the lesson, you are exhausted! You planned well and you thought that for sure the students would get into the topic.

Yet, for all your planning and energy, you feel like you failed. You begin to wonder if you’re any good at this. Then you start to think that you should quit.

The reality is that, for all the energy you put into any lesson, there are times that you don’t connect with your intended audience.

There’s a reason for that. Here are 3 reasons your students are not ready to be engaged in your R.E. lessons:

1. Their parents do not engage them in faith conversations or prayer at home. Most parents rarely have a conversation around faith at home or initiate a family prayer. For many, faith is something that happens in church and church alone. Since parents are the primary influencers, the parish needs to give them tools that will help parents. Until faith is a regular part of family life, it will often be difficult to engage your audience.

2. They are not interested in learning about the faith. This is a readiness issue. Sherry Weddell, in her book Forming Intentional Disciples, suggests that learning about faith comes after two things happen in people’s lives: 1) they have developed trusting and open relationship with other members, and 2) they have had some sort of conversion where they have experienced God in their life in a real and genuine way. These two things lead people to engage in conversations and topics of faith. Growing an Engaged Church suggests, “Belonging leads to believing.” If that is the case, which I believe it is, you and I need to spend some serious time building community. The other statement I believe to be true is, “Faith seeks understanding.” A conversion experience leads to faith. Faith leads to the desire to learn more and understand.

3. They’re tired. Many teenagers are heavily scheduled with exam classes, tests, sports and extra-curricular activities. But they also spend long hours at night on social network sites and increasingly arrive in school exhausted. Finding a way to bring people out of their hectic world into a more peaceful place of prayer and focus is essential if you are to successfully engage them.

Question to ponder over the summer:

What changes can you make that might help students become more engaged in the R.E. lessons & faith formation classes you develop?