Facing Challenges

From What’s Your Calling? collection, lesson plan 2 of 3

Audience: Grades 7-12, College, Youth Development Organizations

Time: One to two 50-minute class periods, plus assignments

Subject Areas: Social Studies, Sociology, Language Arts, World Religions, Comparative Religion, Interfaith Dialogue, Leadership Development, Theology/Divinity Programs

Purpose of the Lesson: This lesson encourages students to consider the challenges inherent in committing to a calling or life purpose. The film modules from the documentary The Calling and the What’s Your Calling? website will help students identify potential challenges unique to individual circumstances as well as those that are universal to anyone undertaking a difficult, long-term task. Students will think about what challenges they may face as they pursue their future goals. This lesson will:

  • Introduce students to the notion that one will face both anticipated and unanticipated obstacles in the process of accomplishing important goals.
  • Help students to map out the steps they need to take, including challenges they might encounter, on the path to realizing their goals.
  • Provide students with an opportunity to interview someone they admire and establish a mentoring relationship.


Depending on the activities and assignments you choose, you may need any of the following materials:

  • The Calling educational DVD and an LCD projector or DVD player
  • Computers, laptops, or tablets with internet access
  • L2 Handout: Interview a Mentor
  • L2 Worksheet: A Life-Changing Challenge
  • Pens and writing paper
  • Video or audio recorder

Principal Writer: Gail Evenari started teaching in Oakland, California, in 1975 and has worked in the field of education ever since. Spurred by her work developing Social Studies curriculum materials for textbook publishers, Evenari began her own business as a writer and documentary filmmaker. She has produced and collaborated on multiple educational film projects, including Spirit of the Land, Wayfinders: A Pacific Odyssey, The New Americans, A Doula Story, Hold Your Breath, and The Calling. Evenari is working on a groundbreaking multimedia project that teaches children about global cultures and environments and encourages them to become compassionate, informed, and engaged citizens of the world.


What is a challenge?

Explain to students that they are going to watch film clips from the PBS documentary The Calling and/or the What’s Your Calling? website. While watching the clips, students will have to pick out challenges that each individual interviewed has faced while pursuing a calling. Discuss the following questions with students:

  • What is a challenge? Establish a common definition for the word challenge and write it on the board. For example: an obstacle that stands in the way of realizing a goal.
  • What are examples of challenges someone might face when pursuing a calling?
  • Are all challenges unexpected? Do you think it’s possible to anticipate some challenges and develop a plan for them before they happen?


Anticipating Challenges

Preview the film modules to the left and below before your class and choose three that best fit your student audience and learning objectives. Ask students to take notes while watching the videos and pay particular attention to the challenges encountered by each of the individuals.

Rob Pene Film Module:

Rob Pene was born in American Samoa and came to the United States on a baseball scholarship. Unsuccessful in his major-league tryouts, he pursues his passion through an urban ministry. He also writes and performs Christian rap. The sudden death of his father challenges Pene’s commitment to his chosen path.

Discussion Questions:

  • Pene talks about feeling a distance from parts of his own identity in his urban ministry work. How does he come to terms with it? Have you ever had a similar experience? If so, what did you do about it?
  • After Pene's father dies, he feels conflicted about continuing his religious training. Why do you think he feels this conflict? Have you experienced having your own personal circumstances affect what you are doing or what you want to do for your work or education?

Jeneen Robinson Film Module:

Jeneen Robinson is an African American single mother, as well as a newly ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. During her final year of study at Fuller Theological Seminary, she balances the responsibilities of parenting, schoolwork, and creating an original preaching style.

Discussion Questions:

  • How does each of the following issues challenge Robinson as she pursues her calling? How do these challenges strengthen her character and her ministry?
    • Demands of her faith (training, restrictions, etc.)?
    • Personal situation? Family?
    • Personality?
    • Gender?
    • Ethnicity or Culture?
  • Do you have challenges that make it more difficult for you to accomplish your goals? If so, how can those difficulties help to make you stronger?

For additional context and glossary terms regarding the religions represented in the film clips, distribute L1 Handout: Religions in The Calling in the downloadable lesson materials.

What’s Your Calling? Website Video Clips:

Eboo Patel: Founder and president, Interfaith Youth Core
Eboo Patel shares an experience of failure from his high school days, explaining how it motivates him to promote interfaith cooperation today.

Raufa Sherry Tuell: Learning Arabic "A Convert’s Journey into Islam"
Raufa was born in the U.S. and raised Southern Baptist. As an adult, Raufa became involved in Sufism, eventually converting to Islam. She talks about her journey into Islam and her struggles with learning Arabic and connecting with other members in her community.

Sandra Rhodes Duncan: Owner, Duplain W. Rhodes Funeral Home
Sandra Rhodes Duncan is the owner of one of the oldest mortuaries run by African Americans in New Orleans. She talks about damages that the funeral home suffered during Hurricane Katrina and how the business and the community have come back in the years since.

Master Kenya Prach: Founder and owner, Kenya Muay Thai Academy
A native Cambodian, Kenya Prach began serious martial arts training at a very young age before the Khmer Rouge takeover forced him to flee to Thailand. He tells his story of survival and becoming a teacher, founder and owner of Kenya Muay Thai Academy.

Demetrio Maguigad: Musician; Media Producer
Demetrio Maguigad shares his story of surviving childhood trauma with the help of community. He works with Community Media Workshop, is the co-founder and radio host of Chicago is the World, and is a musician with the Filipino cultural collective Bagwis.

Mark Horvath: Founder, invisiblepeople.tv
Mark Horvath explains how he uses social media to raise awareness about homelessness and poverty in America. Armed with a website (invisiblepeople.tv), Twitter account, and a camera, Mark's on a mission to give "a face and a voice to homelessness."

Discussion Questions:

  • What are the principal challenges facing each of the subjects in the film clips?
  • What role does each of the following play in determining what challenges each of the subjects faces?
    • Relationships?
    • Personality?
    • Gender?
    • Ethnicity or Culture? e. Faith or Religion?
    • Sexual Identification?
    • Class or Economic Status?
  • What resources do the subjects draw on to overcome their challenges? For example: mentors, skills, scholarships, etc.


Mapping Your Path

Explain to students that this part of the activity will guide them in mapping out the practical steps they need to follow in order to pursue their calling — or to realize the future that they imagined in the visualization. Read the instructions below and ask students to make notes so they can complete the activity independently, either in class or at home. (Ideally, students will have access to computers, so they can research as needed to obtain as much information as possible.) Before they begin, ask students to consider not only the study and training, but also the requirements on their personal lives, such as moving away from home, finding a job to support their studies, etc.


  • Illustrate your journey to the life you envisioned in the first part of this activity, starting where you are now (A) and ending where you want to be in five (or 10 if you are in high school) years (B).
  • Your map can take whatever form works best for you: a ladder, train track, timeline, roadmap, etc.
  • Note all of the major steps you need to accomplish in order to get from A to B. Include as many details as possible: dates of future events, schools, teachers, buildings, family, locations, jobs, etc.
  • Be creative and daring with your dreams and drawings — and be as practical as you can with the steps you need to take. It can be long (butcher paper) or short (a series of index cards), two- or three-dimensional (think props, paints, collages, pages from school brochures, photos of people who have inspired you to start the journey and people you hope to meet along your path, and illustrations of your future self, for example).
  • Keep the visualization and your map in a safe place. When you look at them five or 10 years from now, you might be surprised — or you might not!

Encourage students to share their maps with the class or in small groups.


  • Discuss the relationship between career and calling on the different paths students followed. Talk about how the two might or might not seem mutually exclusive.
  • Ask students who chose business-oriented careers to share some of the challenges they would face.
  • How are the challenges different for those who chose paths involving service?
  • How will the different challenges affect the outcome of their journey?


Select one or more of the following assignments:

Assignment 1. Interview a Mentor

Establishing a relationship with a mentor can prepare students for a time when they need support in overcoming a challenge. To prepare for this assignment, first discuss the meaning of the word mentor. For example: a role model or confidant, someone who you know that can offer advice or guidance when facing challenges, a person you trust and look up to who has had experiences you can learn from.

Ask students if any of them have a mentor or know someone they would like to have as a mentor. Explain that this activity will provide them with an opportunity to interview someone who is doing work that they admire. Distribute "L2 Handout: Interview a Mentor."

As an extension, students can submit their interviews to the What’s Your Calling? website. Email classroom@itvs.org for more information.

Assignment 2. A Life-Changing Challenge

For this activity, students will present an oral or written report about a challenging experience that affected them in deep and lasting ways. It might be something they chose to do, such as a marathon or a difficult course of study, or something they did not expect, such as an illness or injury. Perhaps they overcame a challenge and learned something important from the experience. Or perhaps they did not succeed and they learned something equally important but entirely different. Students can also write about something that happened to a family member or close friend, where they were profoundly affected by the experience.

Please note that this activity may trigger sensitive or traumatic memories. Before students share their stories, please refer to the "Creating a Safe Space" exercise in Lesson One, so there is a clear understanding of the expectations for participation.

Assignment Steps

  • Distribute L2 Worksheet: A Life-Changing Challenge in the downloadable lesson materials.
  • Ask students if any of them have faced a challenge in their lives that affected them deeply and taught them something about themselves.
  • Invite students to share briefly.
  • Explain that this activity will enable students to share important lessons they have learned about themselves — and to learn important lessons from others.
  • This can be a written or oral presentation — but students should take time to reflect upon the lesson(s) they learned that will be valuable for them in the future and helpful to share with others.
  • Ask students to consider whether their personal challenge was similar to any of the ones encountered by the subjects in the video clips.
  • Often, a challenge — such as an illness or accident — can cause individuals to reflect and reconsider their life’s path. Ask students how the challenge they described influenced their growth and/or future decisions about what they want to do with their lives.

Assignment 3. Religious Studies Research

Have students research the steps to ordination in one of the faiths represented in The Calling or a faith that is not in the film, such as Buddhism or a different sect of Judaism or Christianity.

If students are in a clerical program, have them research a different faith and report on the differences in the programs — including the most notable challenges in each. Students can share their findings with the class and discuss similarities and differences.

Assignment 4. Nonfiction Reading: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ask students to read and analyze an excerpt from or the entirety of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Have them respond to the following questions as a written assignment or as a class discussion. As an extension activity, have students find another testament to overcoming an obstacle by a contemporary or historical figure whose work or cause they admire.


  • To whom is the letter addressed? Why does King write this particular letter — when he normally does not respond to criticism?
  • Summarize King’s central ideas in the text.
  • What evidence does King offer to support his point of view?
  • How does King explain why, in his position as a religious leader, he took the actions that landed him in jail?
  • Summarize the sequence of events that led to King’s incarceration.
  • What positive social and political outcomes were precipitated by King’s incarceration and his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"?

5. All-Class Community Service Project: Part Two

In Part One described in Lesson One, students selected a cause or issue they would like to address as a class. Now students need to develop their plan that will drive their community service work. Ask students to form small groups and have them select one of the following three tasks to complete for their action plan:

  • Define the problem. An important part of developing a community service plan is understanding the problem and helping others to understand it as well. Ask students to write one sentence that summarizes the problem they are trying to address. Then ask them to research three statistics, stories, or facts that show evidence of that problem.
  • Write a mission statement and a vision statement. Explain that a mission statement is a sentence that explains what the group will do to address the problem students have identified. A vision statement is a sentence or set of sentences that explains how you envision a world in which the problem has been solved. This is the vision students are working toward with their project; the mission statement explains how they will get there.
  • Brainstorm three plans of action for the project. Will students recruit 10 volunteers to participate in garbage cleanup? Will they present in front of the school board? Will they write a letter to the editor or create a Public Service Announcement (PSA)?

Once students have completed their small-group work, ask one student from each group to present their completed tasks to the large group. Allow others to give input, make edits, and build upon the small-group work. Finally, ask students to vote on one of the three plans of action to take on as a class. Remind them that they should choose an activity that they think will most effectively address the problem and achieve the vision statement. If your class is larger, students can choose to take on more than one activity.

  • Film module:
    Rob Pene

  • Film module:
    Jeneen Robinson

Download lesson materials