September is here. Growing up, that meant that it was time to go back to school. Now, students have been back in the classroom for a few weeks. Unlike your children’s school teachers, my classroom hasn’t opened yet for this school year.
Since I graduated from college in 2001, I have been teaching high school faith formation for my church here in Houston. I was going through the first “wave” of friends’ weddings and cringed at the words “and guest” and avoided the bouquet toss like the plague. Don’t get me wrong – I wanted to get married someday. I just felt as though my life was on hold because I wasn’t dating anyone. So, I signed up to teach high school faith formation.
I’m starting my 9th year and am still single. I have watched my ‘kids’ get married and have children of their own. I take my former students out for a margarita when they turn 21 (those that keep in touch with me).
I’ve learned a lot about teenagers over the past 9 years. I have had an 18 year old man cry on my shoulder after he told his parents that he is gay. I allowed myself to be wrapped in duck tape (sticky side out) and covered in candy to be a ”human pinata” for a skit. I listened to a high school freshman tell me that her stepfather sexually abused her and that she didn’t feel as though she was worthy to be loved. I took a bus ride with 25 high school students from Houston to Tucson, Arizona for a conference (and bought fake poop for the kids that served as a great practical joke tool). I’ve learned to pack extra tampons for retreats and that if no one in your small group is talking, be silent for 30 seconds (someone will talk because they can’t stand silence).
I’ve also learned a lot about parenting, and what kind of parent I want to be someday (God willing). I’ve seen parents make excuses for their teens to not attend a mandatory retreat because they made the volleyball team and they don’t have enough time for homework. I’ve had parents bring their daughter’s dress to the church office to make sure it was modest enough for their Confirmation (I threatened the girls that they would be confirmed wearing choir robes if their dresses were inappropriate).
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from working with teenagers and their parents is the importance of support and setting an example. When I started a new class for high school seniors who wanted to continue growing in their faith after Confirmation, I told the parents that I would send them the information we discussed each Monday morning. If the material we discussed about their faith was only a part of their life one hour a week, it was going to be a waste of their time. We allocate an hour a week watching one episode of a TV show; if that’s all we give to our faith, then the lessons teens learn from “Jersey Shore” or “Gossip Girl” will get more time in your home than their faith.
I know that my class doesn’t assign a grade that will factor into your child’s GPA, and I know that what I teach won’t help them be more popular (it might actually do the opposite). The lessons learned and friendships created can change their lives.
Teenagers are a funny bunch. They are seeking truth, they are craving direction. They won’t admit it, but they are. And one day, they may be like me, repeating the same advice you gave them when they were 15 to another 15 year old. And you just might hear the three words every parents longs to hear from their children, “You were right”.
I want to thank Kristan from Hugs Included for sharing with us her story of teaching and faith!