The Way He Should Go
Next month this series on Sunday school work will feature the preparation and presentation of a Sunday school lesson, using the Easter theme as subject matter. Write to the publisher for back issues carrying this series monthly since September 1959 inclusive.
To what extent should a Sunday school teacher feel responsible to strive for good behaviour on the part of each child in his class?
In seeking an answer to this question, the spiritual Christian will give primary consideration to biblical principles and not to human fancy. In other words, he will listen to God rather than to man (Acts 4:19).
The Glory of God
First of all, the believer’s purpose in life is to glorify God. Nothing short of this purpose will be entertained by a devoted teacher (Mark 10:13-16. Rom. 15:6. 1 Cor. 6:20; 10:31. See also “Why Sunday Schools?”, Food for the Flock, September 1959, page 173).
Is God likely to be glorified as much in a class that is poorly behaved as in one that is well behaved? We know that God is not a God of confusion, but rather of peace. Also, it is evident that He prefers things to be done decently and in order. Therefore, we can be sure that He is not particularly glorified in a disorderly class (1 Cor. 14:33, 40).
Furthermore, it is obvious that misbehaviour and efficient learning are completely incompatible. God is glorified only when the seed of His Word falls into good ground and brings forth much fruit (Matt. 13:23. John 15:8). But when children are disobedient, unruly, disrespectful, and inattentive, the Word of God can scarcely gain an entrance into their minds, let alone into their hearts and lives.
Above all, God is glorified by the reproduction of His likeness in His creatures (Gen. 1:27. 1 Cor. 11:7. Gal. 5:22-23). For this to be achieved, children must be taught what God is like, as revealed in His Son. If this is taught conscientiously, each pupil will come to realize what is right and wrong in human behaviour.
Such a realization is vital. For one thing, it produces that consciousness of sin which drives the guilty soul to the Saviour for cleansing and forgiveness. In addition, it brings that awareness of human weakness which leads the child of God to depend entirely upon the Holy Spirit, the only One who can produce the divine likeness in any one of us.
All these benefits are lost if children are allowed to “run wild” in the Sunday school. Not only does the confusion dishonor our testimony to the Name of Christ; not only does the disorder make efficient learning impossible; but also, the permitting or condoning of objectionable behaviour encourages the child to think that there is little difference between right and wrong — and what could be worse!
It is therefore of the utmost importance that every teacher should feel responsible for teaching standards of good behaviour in the Sunday school, and for striving in every way possible to see that such behaviour prevails at all times. Failure to assume such a responsibility is nothing short of failure to recognize our primary responsibility to glorify God!
Power Through Prayer
The first step towards achieving good behaviour in the Sunday school is the development of a well-disciplined spiritual life on the part of each teacher. The cardinal feature of such a life is a carefully cultivated communion with the Lord, which is quite impossible without regular private prayer.
In other words, the teacher’s ability to control the behaviour of his pupils will depend largely upon the spiritual power which is brought to bear on the classroom situation. And this, of course, depends in turn upon his devotion to the Lord in prayer (Jas. 5:16).
There are two main reasons for this power through prayer. First of all, by constant communion with the Lord, the teacher’s life becomes a shining example of Christ-likeness, the influence of which will inevitably tend to regulate the behaviour of the class.
Furthermore, there are teachers, who can witness to the evidence of God’s workings upon the unruly members of a class, solely as a result of prayer that God Himself would restrain the ill-behaved individuals. This constitutes a challenging opportunity to every teacher who has to cope with a “problem-child.” If we have the faith to expect such things from God, He will not disappoint us (Matt. 9:29).
Preparation with a Purpose
Minimum preparation for a lesson, which enables the teacher just “to get by” for an afternoon, can scarcely be expected to achieve great results for God — either in the learning or the behaviour of pupils.
Every lesson must be prepared carefully and comprehensively. An interesting introduction will attract attention right at the beginning. By carefully connecting the introduction to the main body of the lesson, the teacher will hold this interest and attention throughout the period.
A personalized application given in terms of the children’s experience and understanding, helps to focus their thoughts on the lesson right up to its properly prepared conclusion.
If, on the other hand, the teacher arrives in the class without adequate preparation, then no one need be surprised if the children are inattentive, uninterested, and consequently poorly behaved.
From this point of view, it is clear that behaviour is the responsibility of the teacher, not the pupil! In other words, teacher — if your class is ill-behaved, blame yourself, and no one else!
Adequate preparation will also give due consideration to the attention span of every child. By experiment, the teacher should find out the shortest attention span amongst his pupils. Then, lessons must be designed to require the children’s concentrated attention only up to the time-limit of which they are capable.
When the minimum attention span has been reached — three minutes for the nursery child — the approach to the lesson must be shifted immediately. If a story is in progress, the straight telling of the story must not exceed three minutes (for nursery youngsters). A shift can easily be made by asking a question, introducing a new element of the visual aid being used, or by acting out some part of the story.
Such care in preparation should also provide for child participation —in answering questions, in re-telling the story at the review stage of the lesson, in writing answers to quizzes, in coloring, or in doing other kinds of handwork.
Some people are more gifted than others in their ability to control children, but practically every one desiring to see behaviour improved can see this accomplished by avoiding certain pitfalls and by developing various helpful techniques.
To be successful, the teacher must first of all give children the impression that they are loved despite their behaviour. Adults tend to love them when they are good and loathe them when they are bad. On the contrary, we must love them always and let them know it.
At the same time, we should never forget that we can’t fool a child on this point, although it’s a simple matter to fool most adults!
At the other extreme, we sometimes tend to think that love is leniency. Never! Love must be coupled with firmness. Vacillation is fatal; children have no respect for a “softie”.
The child’s insights are exceedingly keen in matters of fairness, justice, and consistency. In this area, teachers need to cry to the Lord constantly for real spiritual guidance.
A common fault is the use of the threat; this should be shunned like the plague! Not only is it a negative approach to discipline; usually children think it is either a joke, or a challenge to test the teacher on his readiness to carry out the threat. Often the threat is so ridiculous that no teacher would ever dare to carry it out; thus, the whole matter becomes a complete farce.
Voice and looks are important elements in the control of classroom behaviour. Cultivation of a low-pitched voice will produce better results; high-pitched voices tend to aggravate discipline problems.
Facial expressions convey to others the love that is blended with firmness; in this area we are completely dependent upon the Lord. As the Spirit of God fills us and reproduces the character of Christ within us, then the radiance and power of His person will be seen in each one of us.
Then we shall not only be more successful in the regulation of children’s behaviour; we shall also see them drawn in love and devotion to the One whom they know we are following and serving.
A Tip for the Teacher
A “curiosity corner” can be a very useful device for arousing the child’s interest in things biblical. Each week an object, picture, or book related to a past, present, or future lesson is placed in a noticeable location where the pupils can see it plainly on entering the class. If it is an object that is not too fragile, the children can be allowed to pick it up too, thus exploiting their sense of touch as well as the sense of sight.
Almost inevitably some child will ask “What’s this?” or “What’s this for?” and thus the teacher is given an opportunity to discuss informally, before school starts for the day, certain aspects of the topic to which the object or picture is related.
Curios might be ancient stones, pottery, jewelry, weapons, or tools —some of which can be borrowed from museums in certain localities. Pictures and/or books about Bible lands can also be used to great advantage. Postage stamps and leaves of typical plants have a similar value in making the discussion about distant lands more concrete.
Besides giving children additional information about the Bible, this device also gives the youngsters something to do and think about while waiting for school to start. It also provides the teacher with just one more opportunity for developing an ever-improving relationship between each child and himself.