He is Risen Indeed!

Last year around this time, I emailed our pastors. I love Lent and Holy Week, and I think that as a teacher I really do help my students to live these out. We pray the Stations of the Cross and go to Adoration weekly. We read the passion account from John. We learn some beautiful chants. We pray, fast and give to charity. But then when Easter comes, it goes away just as fast.

I want to make this year different. I want to be just as intentional with my celebration of Easter as I am with my observance of Lent. I want each of the 40 days of the Easter season to feel joyful and triumphant. Death, where is your sting? Where is your victory? Jesus is alive!

I’m not entirely sure how to do this, but I am sure that I want to start. Here are my initial plans and ideas, but I would love insight from readers as well. First of all, on Tuesday morning after Easter (we get Easter Monday off) I am going to gather some students to help me decorate the school with Easter banners and decor. When students walk in the door, I want them to immediately feel that something is different. I also want to adapt one of my favorite class activities- an outdoor Bible scavenger hunt into an Easter version, using only the New Testament and of course, plastic Easter eggs.

Some other ideas I am toying with include: Divine Mercy Sunday party, renewing our Baptismal promises in class, activities with the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary and making our own “Resurrection Stations” to retell the stories of the resurrected Christ in a similar fashion to the Stations of the Cross. We will also start studying Acts of the Apostles in my 7th grade class. For prayer each day we will sing one of the great Easter hymns.

Stay tuned for some additional reflection about how our class tries to transform our school this Easter. I am excited to see how God blesses us in this endeavor.

The Third Sorrow: The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple

Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”

And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart
Luke 2:41-51

When I was in college, my niece was about three years old, and one of the cutest kids you will ever meet. She had a great imagination and loved to play. When she would get mad, she would find herself a quiet place to calm down and play until she was ready to interact with people again. One day, i remember my sister coming into my parents’ kitchen, completely frantic. My three year old niece was missing! We searched for what seemed like hours, and were getting ready to start calling others to help when we found her: she was peacefully sleeping underneath my sister’s bed!

One of my biggest heartaches in teaching has been the students I have “lost”. These are the students who for one reason or another leave my class throughout the year, or worse yet, stay in class but are never really “there”. A few years ago I had a really challenging student who I loved, but was so desperately angry that nothing I said could have any impact. I spend so much time and energy wondering what I could have done differently, and often times am left feeling empty, anxious, and like a failure.

A verse from First Corinthians has helped me with these feelings of anxiety and failure. Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6) There’s something freeing about knowing that I am only a small step in the teaching equation. I plant, the students water, but God causes the growth. And sometimes seeds can lie dormant for many years before flourishing into beautiful plants. My students are cared for by a God who sees the lost from a long way off and is moved by compassion. (Luke 15:20) All I have to do, like Mary, is be faithful to my role in God’s plan.

My prayer today is for all the students we’ve “lost” along the way. I pray that they would find the things that ignite their passions and lead them to Christ. I pray for the teachers who feel discouraged and anxious, desperately looking for the answers to the problems they face in their classrooms. I pray that we would trust like Mary, and keep our students in our hearts, trusting that God will cause the growth.

Questions for reflection:
What in my life is causing me great anxiety right now? How is God present in this situation?
Who are some students I have “lost” during my years of teaching? Pause to offer a prayer for these students.
How is God calling me to trust more in my work and personal life? What is God asking me to surrender so that he can cause growth?

Faith for snowy days

Yesterday I experienced a first. The weather was so bad that our bishop displeased the Sunday obligation for everyone in our entire diocese, asking us to pray at home, especially the luminous mysteries in honor of world marriage day. As I stayed inside for yet another day with a toddler who desperately wants to play in the snow except for the actual touching the snow part, I was thinking of ways families can use snow days to increase their faith and come together as a family. Here are five fun and easy ideas for a faith filled snow day.

1. Build LEGO Bible scenes. For Holy Week the last few years, my friend Kelly has posted pictures on facebook of the events of the last week of Jesus’s life as her sons imagine them in legos. I love seeing their creativity, and I love the way God can work through our talents. While we are strictly a Duplo family currently, I think it would be lot of fun to read the mass readings for the day and then try to build the scene from Legos.

2. Do a color and pray rosary. In my earlier post about ways to pray the rosary, I mentioned that this is one I have used with my class and their third grade peace partners. We’ve also used stickers before too, which students really enjoyed. Because my old copy of the coloring sheet is getting a little ratty looking, I may use my next snow day to create my own. With littler children, you could break up the rosary throughout the day and pray one decade at a time.

3. Listen to religious podcasts for kids. I really enjoy Shining Light Dolls new podcast “Saint Stories for Kids” which is available on many podcast platforms. Shining Light Dolls also has some beautiful picture books and toys for Catholic kids.

Catholic Schools Week

A few years ago at a staff meeting, one of the teachers at our school had a pretty brilliant idea- what if the 8th grade class did all the planning for the assemblies and activities of Catholic Schools Week? It would be a great leadership opportunity for them and would also take a huge burden off the other teachers during a crazy time of year. All of these things are true, but anyone who works with 13 and 14 year olds can tell you- supervision is still required. And so it fell to me, the 8th grade religion teacher, to oversee the planning , prep and execution of all the Catholic Schools Week activities for our school.

So for the past six or seven years, (I will admit, I’ve lost count) I’ve been the teacher in charge of Catholic Schools Week. While it is certainly a lot of work, it’s also been a lot of fun. Each year the students surprise and amaze me with their creativity and passion for the project. Even some of the most reserved students have been willing to get up in front of the whole school and sing or dance or yell, or whatever the job may require that year. I also think it’s made our celebrations of the week better and more fun.

So throughout the next few weeks I will be sharing some ideas of ways to celebrate the awesome gift of Catholic Schools at your school and Parish during Catholic Schools Week, which this year will run from January 27 to February 2nd. If you’re a complete newbie to CSW, don’t worry- I’ve got you covered. You can also ready more about it on the (National Catholic Educational Association) NCEA website.

Also, during Catholic Schools Week, check in for some posts from guest bloggers about why they choose to teach at a Catholic School.

MaryJo

This last weekend, I sang at a dear friend’s memorial service.  As I reflect on what MaryJo meant to me and to so many others who gathered this weekend, I wanted to take this time to share the story of a woman who truly dedicated her life to loving God by serving others.  She is a shining example of faith that works.

MaryJo got a degree in special education and then traveled west to be part of the Pacific Alliance for Catholic Education (PACE) where she served for two years in the Portland Community.  She was the very first person I met when I arrived in Portland one year later to begin my two years of service in the Yakima Community.  From the very first moments of knowing her, I was struck by her smile and amazing laugh.  As I got to know her, MaryJo never ceased to amaze me with the things she could do and teach others to do too.

MaryJo taught me how to use public transit to travel around Portland that first summer, because I didn’t have a car.  When everyone else headed home at the end of the summer session to catch a few weeks with family before the school  year started, neither MaryJo nor I had the money to go.  So MaryJo decided to take me on tours of Portland, sampling all the finer things, like every single type of fast food North Portland had to offer.  It was pretty gross.  She took me hiking (I’m not a real outdoorsy person), convincing me with the line “wear shoes you don’t mind getting a little damp” to describe a hike that took us through chest high water up the middle of the river. (I was about 4 inches taller than her.)

The next summer MaryJo and I were in a similar situation.  All our friends had gone home to visit family and we were still in the Northwest.  Somehow she convinced me that going camping for over a week in Idaho and the Glacier National Park was a great idea.  I still don’t love camping, but I am so grateful for our roadtrip together.  We had only a few rules- no showers, (we were young) no normal pit stops, and lots of loud singing was highly encouraged.  So we stopped at the Viking Burger Bar in the middle of nowhere, camped at a site right of I-90 (with a tree! the lady told us proudly) took pictures in George Washington, home of the Martha Inn, and generally had the silliest drive ever.

MaryJo taught me to face my fears with joy and humor.  Because of her I tackled things I would have never imagined I could- crossing rope bridges only strong enough to hold one, camping in the snow, relocating to the Northwest, and of course, eating food no one should eat.  She never stopped loving, serving and smiling.

After her time in PACE, MaryJo joined the PeaceCorps and taught in Nicaragua, then she moved on to Catholic Relief Services, where she worked in Laos and then Afghanistan.

At the time of her passing, MaryJo had taught students in four continents and was committed to helping the girls of Afghanistan have equal access to education.  She was only 33 years old when Jesus took her home.  If you want to help make her dreams of a school in Afghanistan a reality, please visit the webpage CRS set up for her here.

In paradisum deducant angeli,
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres
et perducant te
in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat
et cum Lazaro, quondam paupere,
aeternam habeas requiem.
May angels lead you into paradise,
martyrs receive you at your arrival
and bring you
to the holy city Jerusalem.
May the choir of angels receive you
and with Lazarus, once a pauper,
may you have eternal rest.

I hope your campsite in Heaven has a tree. 🙂  Save a pudgie pie for me.10399185_847815598669_7044679_n

A Pep Talk for Catholic Teachers

As I write this, my classroom is ready for another school year.  The desks are clean and ready for students, and everything is organized and pretty.  While on the outside, I am ready to go, on the inside I am nervous and feeling a little defeated.  Teachers throughout our state are striking for wages and less testing, and the Catholic Church is in turmoil.  In the grand scheme of these events, the ones that have me down seem petty: our diocese has refused to improve health insurance for maternity coverage and there is no sign of a raise anywhere in our future.

Why bother?  Why continue to commit to a way of living that requires constant sacrifice and insecurity?

Our pastor, Father Peter, often tells the students at our school his favorite quote from Pope Benedict XVI: “The world will offer you comfort.  But you are not made for comfort, you are made for greatness!”

As a Catholic school teacher, I am made for greatness.  I can have great love for my students.  I can have great teaching days and great lesson plans.  I can have a great community of parents, friends, teachers and students to work with and work for.  I can have a great impact on the lives of the students I teach.  So can you!  Here are some inspiring quotes to get you through those days when you long for comfort but instead recommit to greatness.

As teachers, you kindle in your students a thirst for truth and wisdom. You spark off in them a desire for beauty. You introduce them to their cultural heritage. You help them to discover the treasures of other cultures and peoples. What an awesome responsibility and privilege is yours in the teaching profession.” – Address of John Paul II to the Council, Staff, and Students of the Institute of Catholic Education, Melbourne, Australia, November 28, 1986, #2

“Teaching is a beautiful job; as it allows you to see the growth day by day of people entrusted to your care. It is a little like being parents, at least spiritually. It is a great responsibility. Teaching is a serious commitment, that only a mature and balanced person can undertake. A commitment of this type may inculcate apprehension, but remember that no teacher is ever alone, his or her work is shared with other colleagues and with all the education community to which they belong.  — Pope Francis Audience with Catholic Union of Teachers, March 16, 2015

“As Jesus taught us, all the Law and the Prophets can be summarized in two commandments: love the Lord God and love your neighbor. We can ask ourselves: who is a teacher’s neighbor? The neighbors are your students! It is with them that a teacher passes the day. They seek guidance, orientation, an answer — and first of all, good questions!” — Pope Francis Audience with Catholic Union of Teachers, March 16, 2015

To educate is an act of love, it is to give life. And love is demanding, it calls for the best resources, for a reawakening of the passion to begin this path patiently with young people. The educator in Catholic schools must be, first and foremost, competent and qualified but, at the same time, someone who is rich in humanity and capable of being with young people in a style of pedagogy that helps promote their human and spiritual growth. Youth are in need of quality teaching along with values that are not only articulated but witnessed to. Consistency is an indispensable factor in the education of young people! Consistency! We cannot grow and we cannot educate without consistency: consistency and witness! –Pope Francis February 13, 2015

I hope you have a great year!

 

Back to School Series: Retreats: Why? When? How?

I love retreats.  I love going on retreats, although it can be a little difficult in the rural area where I live and teach.  I love helping on retreats- especially in the planning and behind the scenes work.  But there is something truly special about exposing someone else to their first ever experience of a spiritual retreat, and that is what this post is about. Middle school is a great age to develop retreats for, and here are some tips, tricks and reasons why you might want to plan a retreat for your class, grade or school this year.

Why?  Middle school students, like everyone else these days, are busy.  Many students maintain a grueling schedule of pre and post school lessons, sports and activities.  Taking time away from class might at first seem like a waste of instructional time, but I think the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.  At the beginning of the year, a retreat clearly shows students old and new that the culture of your school is Catholic.  It can also help build unity between classes and grades.  At our back to school retreat each year, we make sure that each small group has at least one student from each homeroom in it.  This way students start the year knowing more than just the kids in their class.

talk

Retreats offer a time to prayer and focus on our relationship with God with fewer distractions, and students desperately need that. (So do their teachers!)  It’s also a great time to teach different methods of prayer and give students a chance to practice things like praise and worship or lectio divina.

Retreats are also a great time for you to share with and experience your students in a different environment.  Sometimes students who struggle in the classroom are able to engage more in a retreat.  You also get to see talents and leadership skills that aren’t always evident in class.  Retreats also build community within the school and your class.  We always ask parents to come help with the retreat, and this helps to build rapport and communication between teachers and parents too.  We also get our priests involved, so it connects your students to the larger community of the Church and lets them see the priests in a different light.

father
Father Peter playing kickball with the students during last year’s retreat.

When? I think there are no bad times for a retreat, but some times seem to lend themselves well to a retreat: beginning of the year, Advent, Lent, Easter and end of the year.  Not every retreat has to be a huge event.  You could do a mini retreat in just one class period with a little planning.  (Stay tuned for more on that as Advent approaches!)  Right now we do one at the beginning of the year and one for the 8th grade students before they graduate, but I would like to add more mini retreats throughout the year this year.

How? Half day retreats have worked best for us so far.  We do all the talks, small groups and activities in the morning and then do service projects as a grade or middle school in the afternoon to try to put the words we have heard in the morning into actions in the afternoon.  The 8th grade retreat at the end of the year is a full day off campus.

Retreats are a great way to get to know parents and other people outside the class who might be able and willing to help in your religion curriculum.  We ask local youth group leaders to be involved which is a win-win.  We get their time, experience and ideas, and they get to advertise their youth group to our students.

Practically speaking, pick a theme and develop your talks and activities around that.  So far our themes have been Love. Pray. Serve. which was a retreat based on the life of Mother Teresa and Made to be Saints which was a day of reflection on how to become a saint.  This year we are doing Happy and Holy: Living the Beatitudes in Middle School and using Pier Giorgio Frassati as our patron saint.  Some other ideas could be Fruits of the Spirit, Armor of God or the lives of any number of Saints.  We try to keep talks to about 10 minutes and activities to 20 to 30 minutes.  Middle schoolers don’t love to sit still.

Never done a retreat before?  Don’t be afraid!  Get your team together, start planning and let the Holy Spirit do the rest!

Comment with any questions or ideas- I’d love to hear from you!

Mary Infographic Project

A few years ago I took a digital literacy class and I was immediately hooked on infographics.  I love how clear and simple graphics can make information more accessible and interesting.  I started making and using infographics for use in my classes using some online software, and I watched student engagement increase.  Their enthusiasm got me thinking- how could students share and learn information more independently using graphic means of communicating?  And that’s where this project was born.

Because some of my students don’t have internet access or parents were uncomfortable with some of the internet components of creating an infographic, this project is designed as a paper infographic but would easily translate to a digital assignment.

Here’s the basic plan:

  1. Assign students a Marian apparition and give them time to do research.  I also try to show them websites to search on or provide paper copies of the stories.
  2. Hand out the assignment sheet.  Here is the Mary infographic sheet I give my students as an editable word document.
  3. Go over the requirements and make sure students are clear on what should be included.  I normally show a fair number of examples to help students know what to do.
  4. Let the creativity commence!

Why learn about Marian apparitions?  First of all, the stories are just great reads!  Also, there are often many things in the story that we can relate to- the uncertainty of war, the illness of a loved one, the openness of youth.  Mary often shares a message of hope and mercy to a world that desperately needs those things.  Our students need these things as well.

Why share information like this?  Students need to become an expert on their Marian apparition to be able to share with the class the most important facts.  It also gives them a chance to use art to connect to the subject matter.  This year I am going to try to help students rely more on graphics than text to tell their stories.  I will post this years infographics and the rubrics towards the end of May!

There’s also a lot of great extension activities that can go with this project- you could have students who learned about the same Marian Apparition share in between decades of a class rosary.  You could post around the school and then have a Mary trivia day.  In lieu of a traditional May Crowning, students could dress as Mary from around the world and tell the story of the apparition they researched.

Into your hands-

SEVENTH WORD

“And Jesus crying with a loud voice, said: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. And saying this, he gave up his spirit.” Luke 23:46

Reflection: Each year, I pick a theme song for my year, although some years there end up being two or three songs that become my theme song for the year.  Last year’s theme song was “Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle.  You can watch her music video here.  The reason I chose this as my theme song was the words of the refrain: When you don’t move the mountains, I’m needing you to move/ When you don’t part the waters, I want to walk through/ When you don’t give the answers, as I call out to you/ I will trust, I will trust in you.

 I want this kind of trust in God’s plan.  The saints had it.  Some of my closest friends and role models have it.  I think our Pope has it.  And here on the cross, we see Jesus’s humble trust in God’s plan.  It’s really incredible because Jesus could have interfered with that plan in so very many ways that we as humans can’t.  He could have come off the cross, dealt with all of his tormentors and sailed off in a literal cloud of glory.

But instead, he trusts.  He’s given everything for us, and in this last word, he gives everything back to God.  “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

This is one of the biggest struggles of the spiritual life.  Father, into your hands I commend my family.  Father, into your hand I commend my friendships.  Father, into your hands I commend my relationship with ______________.

Sometimes we hold so tight to these people, problems and promises because we are afraid that if we give them to the Lord, we’ll never get them back.  And sometimes that is indeed the truth.  God keeps those things because he knows we need something else.  But sometimes giving things over to God is the best way to have them immediately returned to you, better than before.

Questions for prayer and reflection:

Do I trust God to take care of everything in my life?  Why can it be scary to entrust my life to him?

What has God commended into my hands?  How can I take care of these things?

Have I ever given something up only to get something better?  When?

Possible activities:

Make a list of all your worries, fears and hurts.  Pray to be able to give these over to the Lord.  Put the list in a sealed envelope.  Check in later to see what God was able to do with your trust in him.

Pick a song to represent your desire to trust in God.  Use it as a theme song for your Easter season prayer.

 

 

It is finished.

SIXTH WORD

“Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is finished.” John 19:30

Reflection: Have you ever felt like you had done all you can do?  That you have nothing left to give?  That’s always been the feeling that I get from this last word of Jesus.  For years he has given of himself, poured out his love, healing and teaching for his followers, and in this moment on the cross he has done all he can do.  He has paid the ultimate price for us.

It is finished.

But it wasn’t really, was it?  What a gift it is to know the next part of the story: the glory of the resurrection.  However, those with Jesus at the cross didn’t know themselves that next chapter of the story.  Recently several people in my life have commented on the need to go through Good Friday to experience the true joy of the resurrection.  A friend who lost her husband, a friend who had a near death experience during the birth of a child, and several others have said this same thing to me, and I know that it has been true in my own life.  My times of greatest suffering and pain have always led to greater joy.

Like those at the cross, in our times of pain and suffering, we don’t always see the Easter that is coming for us.  When a loved one is struggling through addiction, we can’t know if the years ahead will hold more pain or the joy of sobriety and healed relationships.  When someone we know dies, we can’t see the heavenly celebration greeting them.  When a relationship falls apart, we can’t see the new one waiting around the corner.  It can be tempting in the face of our own weakness to say “It is finished.”

But God isn’t done with us yet.  We really do need to go through our Good Fridays to experience the joy of Easter Sunday.

Questions for prayer and reflection:

Have I ever felt like God’s plan for me was finished?

Have I ever been surprised that my suffering had a good outcome?

What part of the Good Friday/Easter story am I living right now?

Possible activities:

Pray the chaplet of divine mercy for those who feel hopeless or alone.

Make a meal or dessert for a friend or family who are suffering a loss or going through a tough time.