By Gail Marsh
When does 45 minutes seem more like 45 hours? When teaching Sunday school!
It doesn’t need to be like this. What can make a difference? Training! Many church leaders and Sunday school superintendents fail to take the time to train their volunteer teachers. And that’s a mistake! Especially if you hope to retain teachers from one year to the next.
The following suggestions offer some practical and helpful hints—things every good teacher should know and do. Give your teachers a boost toward success. Provide information that they need and strategies that will help them enjoy their teaching experience and touch lives for Jesus, as well!
Consider teaching teachers about these things:
- Routines and procedures. Explain how your Sunday school works. Where do classes meet? Do classes join together for a group opening? What is the beginning and ending time for Sunday school? Do teachers take attendance or an offering? If so, where do they place results? What is the check in and check out procedure for small children? Is there a preferred or standard discipline plan for teachers to follow? Where are the extra Bibles, tissues, and craft supplies kept? Your teachers need to understand the nuts and bolts that make up your Sunday school. Tell them!
- Lesson planning. The old saying is true: If you fail to plan, plan to fail! Planning involves more than those frantic ten minutes before the children arrive in the classroom. Teachers need to plan their entire lesson so well that they could lead the lesson in their sleep! (Well, almost!) Beyond knowing the Bible story, teachers need to bring everything they’ll need: Bibles, lesson leaflets, offering basket, and a class roster. (Maybe even some name tags for the first few times their class meets.) Teachers will also need to gather props, pictures, or other items needed to present the Bible story. Encourage teachers to consider seating arrangements and discipline strategies, too. As leader, it’s your job to do everything you can to help your teachers succeed.
- Attention-getting strategies. If your Sunday school doesn’t have a group opening, students will probably arrive a few at a time. When it’s time to begin, teachers will need to get the class to take their seats, quiet themselves, and be ready to listen. Some teachers sound a noisemaker, ring chimes, or blink the lights to signal that it’s time to begin. Other teachers prefer to use a verbal prompt. With a prompt, the teacher will say something, and the class will, in unison, reply with a predetermined word or phrase. For example, the teacher might say, “5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1.” Students respond by moving to their places as they whisper their response, “Time to begin.” Encourage your teachers to devise a prompt and teach it to their class. You can find many attention-getting prompts online.
- Ways to keep attention. Once the class is settled and ready to listen, it’s showtime! Teachers must be ready. (Now is not the time to search for the day’s Bible text, or firm up brunch plans with a friend.) All of the pieces of the lesson should be in place so that the teacher can easily access them. If the pace of the lesson is brisk and well thought out, teachers will keep their students focused. Additionally, encourage teachers to be genuinely enthusiastic as they go through the lesson. They can move around the room, and vary voice speed and volume, to keep their students’ attention.
It’s important to remember that a child’s attention span is generally equal to his or her age. For example, a four-year-old can generally focus intently for four minutes. That’s why teachers of little ones change things up as they teach. After the Bible story, for example, the group may stand to sing. Teachers can also keep their students’ attention by involving the class in the lesson—active learning. If the story of Noah's Ark is taught, perhaps students could provide sound effects, patting their laps, for example. Louder and faster for more rain, tapering off as the rains subside. Or, involve the class with story actions. They could flutter their fingers each time they hear the word rain as you tell Noah’s story.
- Making connections. Teaching the facts of the Bible story is really only the beginning. Encourage teachers to connect the biblical account to the students’ everyday lives, like this: “Noah and his family faced huge challenges. Sometimes we face difficult times too. What are some challenges kids like you face? Is God strong enough to help us when challenges come? Yes, he is! Let’s talk about that.” You’ll also want to encourage teachers to share their own faith stories because they help students understand that God is still at work in the lives of his people today.
- Lesson reminders. Children remember what they’ve learned if they have something tangible to remind them. This might be a simple craft, a printed Bible verse, or a picture of the Bible story. Older students may also enjoy making a craft, but some teachers find that many of the older students prefer a challenge. For example, in the story of Noah, the challenge may be: “Find three Bible verses that mention God’s promises to care for you. Bring the verses with you next week.” Whatever goes home with the Sunday school students should serve as a reminder of the lesson’s central truth. And who knows? Maybe family members will be encouraged by that biblical truth, as well!
Share these ideas with your teaching staff before your children’s ministry program kicks off this fall. Encourage them to tweak the suggestions to best fit the age group they teach. They may discover that 45 minutes goes by waaay too fast!
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