Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book Review: The Catechist's Toolbox

Well, here's the first installment of a number of book reviews that I will be doing this summer for Loyola Press. Our first book is The Catechist's Toolbox: How to Thrive as a Religious Education Teacher, by Joe Paprocki.

Having taught CCD to 6th graders this year, I can honestly say that being a religious education teacher is difficult work. At least in my experience, there is no formal training for Catechists. Those who are new to the experience tend to learn how to do it on the fly. How to prepare lesson plans, how to present the material to a specific age group, how to manage a classroom, etc. are all details that we have to consider. And, since CCD is not a graded class, the Catechist must necessarily keep the material fresh and interesting, especially for the younger generation.

The cover image on Paprocki's book is an apt one. Paprocki uses carpentry images throughout his entire book as an analogy for teaching CCD. For example, sockets come in different sizes, and you need to use the right-sized wrench. In the same way, he says that one should consider the age group when coming up with a lesson plan. It wouldn't be a good fit to teach high schoolers like they were in 2nd grade.

Paprocki's book approaches the teaching of CCD in this manner. It is a very readable book and offers some good practical advice. I also very much enjoyed the various anecdotes sprinkled throughout.

The book is primarily geared towards new catechists/teachers, so more seasoned teachers may not find the book as helpful. Still, I would say that even these teachers can learn a thing or two here. What I found helpful about the book is that it gave me a number of points to consider when approaching CCD, to assess what I can do differently in my teaching. I felt, in my first year of teaching CCD, that I constantly had to re-evaluate and re-assess how my classes went and to think about how I can improve. Paprocki's book certainly offered some practical tools that I felt were helpful for me.

Tools, however, are only as helpful as the one who knows how to use them. Every catechist is different, so some tools that may be helpful for some may be completely unhelpful to another. In order to be a successful teacher in general, though, you must necessarily have a level of self-knowledge, to weigh in one's gifts/talents and one's weaknesses. Without that knowledge, you might end up using a square wrench for a round socket without realizing it.

So, I think it is safe to say that some may find this book really helpful and some not so helpful. By no means is it a strictly academic work that provides an in-depth analysis in pedagogy. If you are a young CCD teacher looking for some tips, I think this would be a very helpful resource for you.


Michelle said...

Years ago I was in a 2 year training program for catechists that taught us many of those useful skills -- but I have to say that 6th grade is perhaps the most difficult grade to teach religion to!

Thanks for the review...

Ryan Rallanka, SJ said...

A number of my Jesuit brothers at the beginning of the year made it clear to me that they did not want to teach 6th grade. It definitely was quite challenging in my experience, but it can also be quite rewarding with the right attitude.