How does one become an excellent teacher? This is the question that moves the formation of catechists from the sciences into a realm that might more accurately be described as a craft. Or an artform.
244. Together with those dimensions which refer to being and knowledge, the formation of catechists must also cultivate technique. The catechist is an educator who facilitates maturation of the faith which catechumens and those being catechized obtain with the help of the Holy Spirit.* The first reality of which account must be taken in this decisive area of formation is that concerning the original pedagogy of faith. The catechist is prepared or formed so as to facilitate a growth in the experience of faith, which he himself has not implanted for it is God who has sown it in the heart of (people). The responsibility of the catechist is merely to cultivate this gift by nourishing it and by helping it to grow. (Cf. Catechesi Tradendae 58) Formation seeks to mature an educational capacity in the catechist which implies: an ability to be attentive to people, an ability to interpret or respond to educational tasks or initiatives in organizing learning activities and the ability of leading a human group toward maturity. As with any other art the most important factor is that the catechist should acquire his own style of imparting catechesis by adapting the general principles of catechetical pedagogy to his own personality. (Cf. General Catechetical Directory 113)
* The importance of pedagogy is underlined by Catechesi Tradendae 58: “Among the many prestigious sciences of man that are nowadays making immense advances, pedagogy is certainly one of the most important… the science of education and the art of teaching are continually being subjected to review, with a view to making them better adapted or more effective, with varying degrees of success”.
Let’s peel out those three abilities:
Formation (of catechists is aimed at):
- an ability to be attentive to people,
- an ability to interpret or respond to educational tasks or initiatives in organizing learning activities
- and the ability of leading a human group toward maturity
Assuming the Church’s catechists (or any sub-group of them) are competent in their subject material, these three points would be the focus of forming people to be able to communicate the essentials of the Christian way of life. Do you think preachers get this formation? Or do we assume its covered by osmosis or ordination?
245. More concretely: it must enable the catechist and particularly the full-time catechist to know how to organize in the group of catechists, educational activity by carefully considering the circumstances, by elaborating a realistic catechetical plan and—having drawn it up—to know how to evaluate it critically. (General Catechetical Directory 113) It must be capable of animating a group by applying with discernment the techniques of group dynamics offered by psychology. This educational capacity and this “know-how” along with the knowledge, attitudes and techniques which it involves “can be better acquired if they are taught simultaneously while the apostolic works are being performed (for example, during sessions when lessons of catechesis are being prepared and tested)”. (General Catechetical Directory 112) The goal or ideal is that catechists should be the protagonists of their own learning by being creative in formation and not by just applying external rules. This formation must be closely related to praxis: one must start with praxis to be able to arrive at praxis. (Guide for Catechists 28)
Put simply: this stuff can’t be effectively taught in classrooms. It’s more a technique of apprenticeship.