Tips for the First-Time Teacher – Part 10
30. Try to encourage the children.
In one particular class, having been inspired by a true story of one teacher’s creativity, I asked each of the young people to list the names of their classmates on a blank sheet of paper. Beside each name, they were to write down the nicest thing they could think of about that particular person. They couldn’t just write “nice” or “friendly” or some other one-word answer. The description had to have some depth—“He won’t allow anyone to say anything mean about his family or friends,” “She is always respectful toward the teacher and other adults,” or “I notice that, when he is the team captain, he usually picks first the kids who are usually chosen last.” Whatever they wrote had to be something more than “She’s cool!”
You see, in the story, the teacher collected the lists. She then copied everything that her students had written about Jane on one sheet of paper. She did the same on another sheet for Davey, Susie, Johnny, and all the other students in her class; the following morning, she presented each student with a list of what had been written about him or her. In the story, the students kept and treasured their lists for years and years, unbeknownst to the teacher. That was in the story. In the story, though, was no suggestion for what a befuddled teacher could do when her students were hard-pressed to think of anything nice to write about each other. In the story was no suggestion for how she could respond when asked, “Miss Crissi, what if he’s just awful all the time?” or “Miss Hussin, is it okay if I just leave hers blank?” or “Um… could you tell me which one is ‘Jane’?” No suggestion whatsoever for motivating a room full of young people who regarded this project as ecstatically as they would algebraic number theory.
Young people might find it challenging to identify any redeeming points in their peers—they might only remember how Jane pulled out Davey’s chair from under him, how Davey made fun of Susie’s new haircut, how Susie tripped Johnny on his way to recite the memory verse, etc. They might not see past the last transgression of these diamonds in the rough, but their Sunday school teachers certainly can.
• Praise your students when they do something right. Did Jane arrive to Sunday school on time? (“Jane! I’m so happy you’re here today. We have a fantastic hour planned, and I’m very glad that you won’t miss a minute of it!”) Did Davey bring a friend? (Davey, you’ve brought your cousin Jervis today. I had wanted to talk about inviting friends and relatives to church during the lesson, but you’re ahead of the game!”) Did Susie sit toward the front? (“Young people, let’s do our best to sit toward the front during the main services and even in Sunday school like Susie does.”) Did Johnny go soul winning with the youth group? (You know, children, our pastor often preaches about soul winning. If you are anxious about leading others to Christ, perhaps ask Johnny for some pointers. I’m sure he’d like to be a help to you.”) Did one of them surrender for full-time service, do they shake hands with the pastor and his wife, do the boys open doors for the girls, do the students ask to help with tasks around the classroom or with planning for the next activity, etc.
Wait a second—these are just little things, right? They’re supposed to behave this way already, isn’t that so? Sure, but there’s nothing wrong with a little encouragement from their Sunday school teachers along the way. Just think of how much more eager Jane, Davey, Susie, Johnny, and the rest of that seemingly incorrigible bunch would be to grow as Christians if they were reminded with encouraging words from time to time that they do and can act like Christians now.
• Voice your faith in what God can accomplish through their yielded lives. Some young people might not yet see past graduating from elementary, junior high, or high school or passing a behind-the-wheel test or being elected for student council; but without a doubt, not one of them will tell you now that they hope to live unhappily for the rest of their lives, having wasted years pursuing “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Help them see that the Lord might be preparing them now for His will—whatever that might be. “Thank you for being kind to our visitor today, Jane. You remind me of our pastor’s wife and how she always takes time for everybody.” “Davey, you read the Bible out loud just like our pastor!” “Susie, would you like to help me ask the review questions today? You know these Bible stories as well as I. Why, one day, you might teach your own Sunday school class!” “Johnny, I noticed that you shared your Bible with our visitor last Sunday. I even saw you point out where we were reading. That’s kind of like what missionaries do—they are always looking for people who need help understanding God’s Word.” Try helping them see that what they do now for the Lord and for others can lead to “that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”