Tips for the First-Time Teacher – Part 13
From time to time, my sister will jokingly suggest that the next set of tips for Sunday school teachers be written not for first-time teachers but for church members asked to substitute at the last minute. She says this because I now and then ask her to fill in for a teacher who, until thirty minutes before class was to begin, had been in fact planning to teach but, due to an event beyond any person’s control, now cannot. She then races like some madwoman from her Sunday school class, where she had been enjoying a lovely time of fellowship with her teacher and classmates, to her car, where she stores materials for times such as this, and then to the classroom.
Perhaps you are that church member brought in at the bottom of the ninth, and you might not even know it yet! But chances are, if you have been approved to work with children by the office of your pastor, have successfully completed a background check, and have experience in teaching but are presently not involved in the Sunday school ministry, you are on a shortlist of go-to people. If you seem to be catching the eye of the Sunday School Director more often than not or, in conversation with him, are on the receiving end of such remarks as “I heard from so-and-so that you are great with children!” or “Imagine what kind of class I could have if I had your gift of teaching!”—it is inevitable; you will be asked to substitute. Now, ideally, you would receive notice one or two Sundays in advance; but as is the nature of emergencies, one can never really know when they will arise. Subsequently, that telephone call from the Sunday School Director might come the morning of—how did he get my cell number, you wonder—or a day or so before.
Below are just a few tips for those courageous hearts willing to serve under such unusual circumstances:
Begin preparing now.
Grab a small box for class materials, cue cards, handouts, prizes, stickers, pens or pencils, project materials, snacks, music player and CD, etc. Keep the box in an area that is readily accessible like the trunk of your car or garage closet. In addition, consider approaching the Sunday School Director about your willingness to substitute and provide him with your availability and any other information that would be a help; that way, he will know when or when not to ask. For example, a few of our church members can only substitute in the summertime while one or two prefer to teach only sixth grade and below.
Prepare at least two Sunday school lessons.
Most of our children’s classes follow curriculum produced by North Valley Publications. The convenience is that lessons are easily passed along to a substitute. However, should you be asked to teach at the last minute and would not necessarily have those lessons ahead of time, it would be good if you had at least one or two lessons prepared. Perhaps stray from the usual choices like “Jonah and the Whale” or “David and Goliath.” Maybe choose a parable, a miracle, or an account of someone’s life in the Bible. Place copies of the lessons and any visual aids or attention-getters for the lessons in the box. (Another option would be to keep an ear to the ground of what series of lessons the Sunday school is using, assuming that you might be a recurring substitute. Since most curriculums are divided into quarters, you would simply need to match up the week in the quarter that you are teaching with the correct lesson. For example, if you are teaching the third week in the quarter, you would need to know what Lesson 3 in the curriculum covers.)
Make a general cue card.
Make a general cue card and place copies in the box. Not every class is run the same way because every teacher is different. However, it would be prudent to at least prepare an outline of the activities that you would like to have accomplished by the end of the hour such as, but not limited to, (1) greeting, (2) prayer, (3) singing, (4) offering, (5) lesson, (6) review, (7) memory verse, etc. It goes without saying that all activities must fall in line with the philosophy of the pastor and the Sunday school ministry. When in doubt, ask the Sunday School Director.
Perhaps implement projects or handouts.
Many, many years ago, I was asked to substitute. I distinctly and painfully remember following my cue card and then realizing that I had at least 25 of the longest minutes in the history of mankind left. What had happened was that the students arrived about 30-40 minutes before the class was to begin. Subsequently, I had buckets full of extra time. I would have benefited from having a project at the end of the hour or letting the students who had come early to class work on a handout. Handouts could include Bible- or lesson-themed crossword puzzles, general trivia questions, word searches, etc. (Since it is a Sunday school class, you want to steer clear of any secular material that highlights television or film, cartoons, etc.) Make copies of these handouts or secure enough materials for one or two class projects and place all in the box.
Make your time with the students special.
Consider thinking of something that would make your time with the students special. Yes, you do want to do your best to keep the class on track while their teacher is away. In addition, however, you might think of ways to make your time with them unique. Perhaps you know of a Bible game that can coincide with the lesson, a memory verse activity, or an interesting story about missions or soul winning. Maybe you want to make some light refreshments to enjoy outside toward the end of class.
Ask your Sunday School Director if you could sit in on one of the classes for a Sunday or two.
If it has been some time since you taught or worked in a class, ask your Sunday School Director if you could sit in on one of the classes for a Sunday or two. It is possible that ministry policies have changed since you last taught, so it might be good to see how a “regular” teacher conducts the class. This is also advantageous because it will give you time to ask the teacher questions about class procedures or the ministry in general or have the Sunday School Director review your cue card and materials.