Monday, March 2, 2015

Teaching Is Teaching

This year, my husband and I are the coordinators for our parish's Marriage Preparation course. This means that we handle all the administrative duties associated with the classes as well as organizing teaching responsibilities and resources. We have many new mentor couples working with us, a new pastor, and actually a new course. (After much reflection and conversation with our priest and the other experienced facilitators still on the team, we significantly revised the structure and content of the classes we offer at our church, to better match what is taught throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto and to better serve our participants.) This has been a bit nerve-wracking for us - we were bringing in so many changes for the very first time and we prayed that everything would go relatively smoothly. However, as James and I planned for the upcoming class we'd be leading (on Intimacy), I realized that teaching is teaching, regardless of the age of the students.

1) You have to prepare.

I know some teachers say they no longer write lesson plans once they've graduated from teachers' college. I still do. For my school-age students, I review my long range plans and what I taught previously, and decide what I need to cover, how I will cover it most effectively, and what materials I'll need to make it happen. The same is true for the Marriage Prep course and the engaged couples enrolled. I read the background material we were given when we took our Marriage Preparation Facilitators' course, consider the main ideas, the best strategies for conveying the information, and ready the handouts and activities.

2) You have to make it interactive and engaging.

One of the biggest changes we made to the Marriage Prep course was to involve the participants more. The previous course was good but involved a lot of lecturing and lengthy Power Point presentations. It was very "sit n' git". Now, there are a lot more tasks that the couples are asked to do together and a lot more time is allotted for guided discussion between them. I aim for this sort of chunking in my full-time job as a teacher. I try hard not to talk for more than ten minutes before asking students to say or do something.

3) You aren't the only one with responsibilities, but flexibility is key.

When the engaged couples registered for the course and on the first night, we provided them with a syllabus outlining the course dates, times, topics and conduct expectations. This is part of what we wrote:
To successfully complete the Marriage Preparation Course, participating couples must:
·         Attend all six sessions together (make up sessions are needed for missed classes – contact one of the facilitators to arrange)
·         Pay course fees prior to the first day of class
·         Demonstrate active involvement, attentive listening, and respectful conduct
The course facilitators wish to make this an educational and enjoyable experience for all so we will:
·         Attend sessions together and offer make-up classes for those who cannot attend
·         Begin promptly, end on time, and provide lessons, resources and snacks (except on the last night = potluck buffet!) to nurture participants physically, mentally, and spiritually
·         Demonstrate active involvement, attentive listening, and respectful conduct
We deliberately tried to make the teacher norms match the student norms. In the past, it was pretty lenient about punctuality and absences - attendees could miss a session without penalty. However, we realized that every session had important content that we didn't want them to miss. Offering make-up classes was a new extra layer of work, but it was worth it. This is similar to my regular students. We want them to show up, ready to learn. We realize that external circumstances might make it difficult, but it's our job to help students catch up on misunderstood concepts and missed lessons so that there are no holes in their understanding.

4) You try your best but there's always room for improvement.

When I reflect after school on how the day went, or when I reflect with my husband or the team on how that evening's class went, there are always portions that I'd love to re-do. The very first night of the 2015 Marriage Prep course, James and I forgot to bring pencils! Thankfully the parish office had a few we were able to borrow. Whether or not we were the ones to lead the session, I always notice something that could have been done differently - the pacing, the phrasing of directions, the activities assigned, the specific questions used with the small groups during the book talks, etc. This is the same for my lessons with my students.

There are a few differences between teaching 4- and 5-year olds media literacy and teaching adults about sexuality and spirituality (less formal evaluations and fewer worries about classroom management, for example), but many of the essential portions are the same. I hope that the engaged couples AND my students learn a lot while they are with us.

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