Friday, June 25, 2010

Respect to the Teachers

I spent this past week teaching 1st and 2nd graders at St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church in Grove, OK. Every day this week after the morning pump-up with the whole group of 1-8th graders I would take my 1&2nd graders to the room down the hall, sit with them at the table built for them and attempt to teach them something about the faith.

Everyday I would try to cover the Luminous Mystery of the Rosary for that day of the week, something about prayer and something about the Our Father. The lessons were basically set for each day as well as materials like coloring sheets provided so I can't say that my class prep has too difficult. In fact, I think I was quite well taken care of in that respect.

My only real challenge, and it was a mighty one, was to get something across to these kids. After 5 days of trying I'm not sure I succeeded. What I did do though is develop a massive respect for teachers of young children. Five days about killed me. I can't imagine doing that for 30-40 years like some do. Tons of respect.

The thing that made it most difficult was the different maturity levels of the kids in the class. Some were clearly just out of kindergarten while some could done well in the 3/4th grade class. If I taught at a level that worked for some of the kids I would lose the others. Someone would ask a good question and while I responded to them the other kids would spontaneously start describing their puppy or where their family went for dinner last night or the circumstances of their grandmother's death last month, all with equal seriousness. (Deceased relatives and pets should go in the same run-on sentence. That's weird...)

It was frustrating , not because I couldn't really get anything taught but because they weren't doing it on purpose. If they were older kids that knew better but kept interrupting out of disrespect that would be one thing but they were legitimately sharing with me things they thought were important and had no concept that they were doing anything wrong. To a first grader, the colors of FruitLoops is as important as who was with Jesus at the Transfiguration.

I still think education is an easy major in college, but I guess that makes up for the rest of your life. Basically, if you're a teacher of young children, God bless you for doing that job so I don't have to. I don't have the intuition or the multi-tasking mind to be able to handle it for too long.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Little Lads and Lasses Love Learning

...at least that's what I pray for every morning.

Since last time I've finished training, had an immersion week and am in the beginning of a 'normal' week, the second of 8 weeks of the program. The immersion week was the first one after training. All four teams were in Stillwater along with some people that had previously been Totus Tuus teachers. The 'returners' and previous staffers were the leaders that planned everything and basically held the hand of the new people through our first real Totus Tuus experience. Stillwater, even with serving 2 parishes is small enough to be handled by one, 4-person team. 16 people was overkill but it made the immersion process very low stress. We could observe and learn from example in stead of trial and error. By the end of the week we were teaching classes on our own.

Notes on teaching in Stillwater: It was weird to be in a place that feels so much like home but not really able to be 'home'. Obviously I wouldn't be going to the Lodge and I spent maybe 2 hours over at St. John's total for the whole week. (Normally I would exceed that several times over in any given normal day.) Also, I had to keep remembering that in parishes for the rest of the summer I won't know the priests/youth directors/parish customs etc as well as I do in Stillwater. I'll have to be more careful about asking before I don things or presuming things will work a certain way.

About the children: The style of the program is grades 1-8 in the morning and high school at night. I wasn't worried about teaching high school since they're old enough to mostly keep up with my style of explanation. It's the little kids that terrified me. I was really not looking forward to teaching a class of 1st and 2nd graders. That is totally out of my element. My general comfort at the idea of teaching increased with that group's age. I was wrong.

The 7/8th graders were obnoxious and generally hard to get things across to because they wouldn't stay focused unless you happened to hit upon a topic that were interested in that day. They weren't on the whole bad, but weren't as good as I hoped. 3/4th grade was a pleasant surprise. They were a bit hard to keep focused but sometimes they had some pretty good answers. 5/6th grade was awesome! Everyone loved these kids. A bunch of little theologians. They had trouble sitting still and quieting down if you let them get going, but they also had some of the most profound and deep answers to some pretty intense questions. They ruined my lesson a couple times by spouting out the 'thesis' of the lesson in the first 30 seconds of the class when I had planned on taking 20 minutes to work around to it. The total surprise was the 1st/2nd graders. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to keep their interest at all and would have to just resort to coloring to fill time. However, when I started talking about St. Francis while sitting in our little circle on the floor they all stopped talking and sat quiet and still and listened for 15 minutes. I hadn't even planned to talking that long, but since I had their attention I just kept going. It was great!

The high school program runs Sunday through Thursday night and grade school Monday through Friday daytime so after cleanup of Friday we were free until the before the Saturday evening mass at our next parish. I took my team to dinner at Joe's as none of them had ever been and we relaxed with some reading at a coffee shop later that night. Saturday morning I had breakfast with a friend at IHOP and then headed out for St. Benedict's in Broken Arrow, OK with my team after lunch.

At St. Benedict's there are only 3 teams instead of 4 and about 4 times as many kids. This is no time for figuring things out anymore. Each of us teaches 4 classes per day among other responsibilities like choosing kids to read and serve during mass, leading pump-up at the beginning of the day or managing lunch and recess. Sunday night I gave a 20 min talk to the High School kids on "What is Prayer" and today I taught 5th-8th grade classes various topics. Not too much adventure, but I'm still not quite as good as I need to be at managing a classroom by myself. I'm not worried though. They'll be plenty of time to improve my skills as the summer continues.

I get about 5 hours of sleep a night which works just fine for me. If it weren't for all the prayer it wouldn't work though. We start at 7:30am with morning prayer followed by a rosary, mass at noon, evening prayer followed by a chaplet of Divine Mercy. At the end of the high school program we close with night prayer. (morning prayer, evening prayer and night prayer as part of the Liturgy of the Hours) When you talk to God that many times a day I guess he tends to help you out a lot. I'm honestly surprised at what we get done in a day with how much little rest we get.

Speaking of rest, I still need to plan my lessons for tomorrow and get some rest before that alarm goes off at 6:30. There were some epic quotes from the children last week that I really want to share but I've already gone on too long tonight. Since I got the basics out of the way this time I'll give more interesting/funny details on my next post.

"Protect us Lord as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ and asleep rest in his peace. Amen"

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Packing, Dining, Traveling, Training - The First Weeks of Summer

I returned from Italy, slept a bit and then proceeded to cram in as much socialization as I could while at the same time packing all my worldly posessions and getting ready for a summer of teaching Totus Tuus.

The socialization is was mostly successful at (as I usually am). I saw and spent at least some QT with almost everyone I wanted to. Obviously I would have liked to give more time to everyone. Those who I was least able to spend enough time with will be the first getting letters this summer.

All of my things did make it out of the Lodge before the lease expired, but there is an asterisk on that. Due to poor time management I wasb't able to contribute nearly as much as I ought to have to the cleanup of the house. Also, I conned Dave into taking a huge pile of stuff to good will for me. I owe you both a lot for that.

I skipped off for training for Totus Tuus on thursday morning the 27th. Totus Tuus is a Catholic catechetical program that travels to parishes around the state teaching Catholicism to kids grades 1st - 12th. I'll be doing this from now until the end of July with our only break being the week of the 4th of July. I'll basically be busy teaching kids, planning lessons, playing games, making announcements and bonding with the church communities from 7am til 11pm 6 days a week. This is definitely something outside of what i'm used to.

I've learned a lot about myself so far. Briefly(because I'm getting up in 4.5 hours): I'm really uncomfortable not being a leader. As someone who has never taught the program before I have to do lots of sitting and waiting for others to fill me in. It's not that I'm insulted by not being in charge, I'm just not used to it. For the last couple years I've gotten used to being 'in-the-know' on things and so it's really weird to be out of that position for so long (11 days so far). Again, I'm not jealous or insulted at my lack of responsibility, it's certainly appropriate that i'm not in charge, it's just weird that's all.

There's many other surprising things going on but I'll save those for another day. I still haven't quite refined my thought on them yet.

In other news, my mom is finally back from Italy! Welcome home. I'll see you in July!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Duomo, Shround and Dinner - Italy, Day 8 to End

Due to lack of internet in Italy, lack of time in Stillwater and training in Tulsa I never finished telling you about the last few days in Italy. In the mean time other things to write about have come to mind, things I want to get written while they're still fresh in my mind. In light of that I'll cover days 8 to the End in a summary.

Leaving Assisi was sad. It was a beautiful place, and a place I feel we didn't get to fully experience. As we were waiting at the bus-stop at the bottom of the hill I realized I didn't have my camera in my pocket. Unfortunately there wasn't enough time to run back up to where we had been staying to look for it. If we missed the bus, we would miss our train to Milan. I decided to trust that the nuns we were staying with would get it back to me.

We took a nice train to Milan. I looked out the window shortly into the ride and saw the most perfect city on a lush hillside with a castle overlooking it. Tall trees filled in between the buildings. Quite beautiful. After this, I decided to sleep the rest of the way to avoid seeing anything that would spoil my good memory of the Italian countryside.

The Cathedral in Milan is ridiculous. St. Peter's is the largest church in Christendom and this is the most ornate in Christendom. I'm pretty sure the outside is actually a holographic projection because it seems impossible otherwise. (google images: Doumo Milan) Milan, despite being a fairly large city is much quieter and cleaner than Rome. Awesome. I was afraid of what a big city would feel like after being in Assisi.

The next day we visited the Shroud of Turin, the burial cloth of Jesus. Yes, there are theories refuting it's age, but also some pretty good reasons to believe it as well. I haven't the strength to worry about it. It was amazing to see and had it been toward the beginning of the trip it would've been more special, but honestly at this point I was nearly burned out on holy and awesome. There is unfortunately only so much a soul can absorb in a short time period.

In the afternoon we took a bus to to top of a nearby mountain to get a view of the Alps. Whoa... Simply whoa. Dave and I leaned against a wall that looked out over the valley to the mountains and marveled mused on life for a good 30 minutes. It was very humbling in the way nature often is. We had an adventure when the last bus run for the day failed to show up to take us off the mountain. We ended up getting rides down the mountain in the cars of strangers and then running to the train station to catch the last train of the day back to Milan (the shroud of Turin being in Turin) There's much more to this story, but you'll have to ask me in person. It's too long for right now.

One the last day we visited some smaller churches, my favorite being the one with the remains of St. Ambrose, the man whose preaching converted St. Augustine, which is you know anything about him is pretty impressive. The day ended with a 3 course meal at a fancy restaurant, the only real, high class meal we had the whole time. It was delicious. Thank you Fr. Stuart.

The travels from there back to Oklahoma were mostly uneventful. Back in Stillwater I began to joyful task of packing up and moving out of the Lodge. It was a good trip. I'll probably never see so many holy things as long as I live.