Monday, December 10, 2012

Lessons from Church

This past Saturday was Liam’s First Reconciliation at our church. We’re Catholic and that basically boils down to his first confession. He and I have practiced what confession is, said the prayers to say, and the order of events during confession several times over the past few weeks. While Luke had been nervous when he went the first time, Liam was excited. Our priest is fabulous when it comes to communicating with children and really seemed to put them all at ease. When Liam came out he looked at me and flashed a huge grin.

Then it was our turn. The adults get to head back to confession. I quickly went over the steps in my own head, nervously wondering if I would forget what to do. I recited the Act of Contrition to myself several times. I thought over what I needed to confess to my priest. Over and over I went over what I was supposed to do, what I was supposed to say.

And then it was my turn. I walked into the room and Father smiled and asked me how I was doing. I tried to go through my steps and he humored me, let me rattle off some items. But then he really looked at me and asked what was on my mind.

I confessed the struggle with anxiety that I’ve talked about here. He listened, really listened. He mentioned that I seemed to be a person who likes to be in control – not a control freak but someone who needs to know how everything is going and that I am helping to steer the ship.
J Yep, bingo. We talked about the need to let that go. He recommended praying the Serenity Prayer over and over until it was basically my mantra.

I left that room feeling lighter than I had in years. And as I sat in the car driving towards Chicago I really thought about it. What lessons could I take from this? There are many things I immediately thought of related to teaching. The fact that I was trying to follow a scripted formula when I went to confession – if I had stuck to that “list” of what I felt I was supposed to say, we wouldn’t have gotten to the heart of the matter. Nothing would have really changed and there would have been no deeper learning, no deeper meaning. Something smacks of test prep here, don’t you think?

But also, I cannot forget Father’s eyes when I was speaking – he truly listened. I never felt that he had a rote response ready to hand off to each person who came in the room but really listened to each person, made an individual recommendation for where they were and where they needed to go – which is exactly what my aim is during conferring in the reading and writing workshop.

One-size fits all formulas don’t work for me and neither do boxed programs. Teri Lesesne has been writing up a storm this past weekend, discussing “unprograms” and all that they entail. (Her first post on this thought is HERE) This is the program I’m choosing. Deep conversations over books we love. Conferences where we get lost in a conversation. Meeting my students where they are and taking them where they need to go. Scripted formulas might help students score well on standardized tests but they are not where the true learning lies. 

Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers.


  1. It's a thoughtful post, Katherine, so reflective, as you are ALL the time. Since teaching is your passion, I would suspect that you connect all things in your life to it, as you did here. One of the questions we ask constantly at my school & that we teach from is "what works; what doesn't?". Students too are taught to ask. I'll go read Teri's post, sounds like what I believe,too. Thanks!

  2. This is a beautiful post, Katherine ... perfectly timed for Advent and thoughts of the "who we want to be" for the new year ahead.

  3. A very special slice and congratulations to your son for making his first confession. How many times in our prayers do we "just recite" what we think it expected, when all God wants is for us to talk to him. You have a thoughtful and intuitive priest who has helped you relate your feelings of control to improve how you relate to your students.

  4. Love your reflection and connection to students. No deeper thinking happens when students (or adults) are searching for the right answer. Wow - this is such good stuff!

    Thank you for sharing your reflections. All too often these golden nuggets of information are shared with a few close colleagues willing to learn and push each other. With all these thoughtful posts, it seems as if a book is beginning to write itself!

  5. Linda - thanks so much for the comments, especially since I know you're in the middle of your move! Enjoy Teri's posts, they were amazing.

  6. Thanks for reading, Terry!

  7. Thanks, Judy! It was a very special day indeed.

  8. Thanks, Michelle! It helps me to write them down and really figure out what I stand for. As for a book - that's my dream, just need to find a direction.

  9. Congrats to Liam on his journey of Faith-it's neat to see your own children go through this-my son Kam did last year. Also, it's neat to hear positive things that your priest brings you to discover...
    The connection to the scripted curriculum and the smack of test prep rings true as well...
    Teacher talent matters!

  10. Christy Rush-LevineDecember 13, 2012 at 1:18 AM

    I got chills when I read your words: "This is the program I am choosing." I felt my own renewed commitment to what I know in my heart is good for the readers and writers in my classroom. Hurrah! And Teri Lesesne's posts? What's not to love about someone who has a doctorate in young adult literature?!?

  11. I love how you connect everything in your life to teaching. What a fabulous example :)


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