13. Reflections of a Josephite educator
A series of practical suggestions coming from direct experience with teenagers, because the pedagogical challenge is won on the field. Share a job, be present, involve the family, instill hope, teach them to serve and to ask themselves important questions, know their songs and their expressions, share a good meal, but do not forget to pray with them, call them by name, bring them to “touch” the divine through sacramental life. Does it seem difficult? Try, theory is not enough; you should take the plunge.
P. Giampietro Gasparin
If you want to deepen
13. Reflections of a Josephite educator
(P. Giampietro Gasparin)
I have been a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph for 45 years. I have witnessed and treasured the pedagogical art of illustrious educators such as Fr. Gino Gini, Fr. Bruno Bison, Fr. Rino Busolo, and Fr. Gino Bisigato. My own service to young people has been directed specifically to teenagers, and mostly in school settings. The “practical considerations” I list here are the fruit of what I learned from the great teachers I have always admired, as well as my own personal experience in the context of my ministry in the USA.
Do something challenging or meaningful together.
It’s the best way to get to know the character and personality characteristics of the teen. Organize a day-long excursion in the mountains, take them to a pilgrimage, schedule a retreat, plan a service project. Accomplishing something meaningful together creates a bond of respect and trust between the teen and the adult.
Be present at the times of joy and achievement of a teen’s life
If the teen associates the most glorious moments of his life with the presence of a mentor, especially a priest or religious, then he will associate joy and accomplishment with God himself! Make it a point to be visibly present at championship games, at graduation ceremonies, at awards banquets, at recognition ceremonies, etc.
Be present at the most difficult and confusing times of a teen’s life
A death in the family, a divorce, the betrayal of a friend, a sudden illness or injury, are extremely scary and confusing for a teenager. They are times that will never be forgotten. My reassuring hand on the teen’s shoulder, a compassionate hug, a word of encouragement, a visit at the teen’s home or at the hospital will make an indelible impression on the young person.
Work with the parents and the whole family, rather than with the teen only
I may be able to be with a teenager for a few hours a week at the most. Parents are with that same teenager for much longer, and have a much greater influence on the teen than I do. It makes sense to work alongside the parents, involving them directly in my ministry. Parents become my most powerful allies in ministry to youths.
Be an agent of hope, encouragement, affirmation for the teen
The self-esteem and confidence of a teen is often low. People around teens tend to remind them much more of their mistakes and limitations, than of their potential, goodness and value. By affirming and encouraging any of their progress, by openly acknowledging their improvements and achievements, I offer them hope and help them believe in their goodness.
Offer the teen opportunities to practice responsibility and to serve
If there is anything teens can do at any stage (planning, leading, directing, coordinating, evaluating, etc.) as well or even better than me, I step aside, let them take responsibility, and discreetly accompany the project they now “own”. Teens who are offered meaningful responsibility by an adult, will go out of their way to show the adult they deserve the trust he/she has placed on them.
Confront them with the big question: “Is that me?”
When teens make big mistakes, or recognize they have acquired shameful or destructive habits, or realize the meanness or malice of their actions, I challenge them to ask themselves the “big question”: “Is that me?” “Is that the person I truly am, the person God created and sees?” This question helps them distinguish between who they are in the eyes of God and of the Church, and their specific evil actions. I find that disassociating the evil action from the person gives the teens relief and hope.
Cook a good pasta dinner for them!
Teens are always hungry. The food that tastes most delicious to them is any food that is free! If it is food produced by an act of love, it becomes mythical! Teens will appreciate anything I personally cook for them. I think every member of the Josephan family should know how to cook for the teens, and periodically offer them this exquisite act of friendship and hospitality for which Jesus was well known.
Use their songs
At retreats, at outings, at pilgrimages, at any moment of reflection and prayer, I ask the teens to provide the songs from their I-pod lists. It is amazing to see how they will present songs that are not only popular, but meaningful, on target with the assigned theme, respectful of the circumstances, and prayerful. When they hear these songs on their I-pods or the radio a week or a month later, they will be drawn back to the memory of the prayer experience!
Pray with them
Prayer is what they expect of me as a religious man and a priest. I need to give the example by praying with them before meals, at prayer meetings, at church, before going to bed, before a game or a trip… I find that after a while the teens themselves will want to lead the prayer, and may even pray from the deepest of their hearts!
Greet them by name
To greet a person is to acknowledge that person’s presence and value. When I greet a teen with “Good day!” or “Ciao” I have taken time to recognize the existence of that person, and the importance of that teen to me. When I greet teens by name, I show respect for and interest in them. Many negative attitudes have been changed by a simple greeting and a name pronounced with love.
We are Catholics, people of the Sacraments. We use material objects and signs to touch the divine. Even in times requiring extreme prudence due to the priests sexual scandal, I touch teens at every chance I am offered. My favorite touch is a gentle hand to head, a form of blessing in itself. Teens appreciate this type of direct human contact, and many now actually require it of me! To touch is to transmit one’s spirit and friendship to the other person.
P. Giampietro Gasparin