I can never remember a time when a church I was working with didn’t have a challenge finding teachers. Either because of just a shortage or because of burnout I’d find myself virtually begging for one or more teachers and feeling like something was amiss. I mean why can’t we find the teachers we need, people must be disconnected, unwilling to serve, etc. And then there was that teacher who once said to me: “I was asked to teach 20 years ago. I said ‘yes’ and they threw me in the classroom and locked the door and that was the last I heard from them!” In every church there have been those brave souls who loved teaching so much and did so with great joy! But that wouldn’t chase away the sneaking feeling that there was a problem since we had trouble finding teachers. It gets depressing when trying to find teachers. I even remember it being a problem when I was growing up.
Then about two months ago I got the church bulletin from one of the largest congregations in middle Tennessee that dramatically changed my perspective. A church of nearly 2000 people and it listed the needs in their little ones classes through 3rd grade:
Sunday classes 8 classes - need 11 teachers/couples.
Wednesday 11 classes - need 19 teachers/couples.
It was for the quarter beginning ONE WEEK from the date on the bulletin. It is worth noting that in very healthy churches and very large churches this is still a problem. The bulletin said: "With only one week remaining, our teaching needs are CRITICAL!!! The sad thing is that we will have to cancel any classes that do not have enough teachers."
This was in the same time frame that we were trying to get teachers and I was going to have to make yet another announcement begging for teachers. And it dawned on me...I have never taught children in our Bible school program. Not here, not anywhere.
I was 19, married and had taken a job working with the church in Kossuth, Mississippi when I attended my first adult class that I remember - and I was the teacher. And for about 30 years now I’ve taught adults. There have been occasional little breaks but for the most part for 30 years I’ve taught adults both Sundays and Wednesdays. The youngest class I’ve ever taught was middle school kids as a fill-in a few times.
I read somewhere that you can’t lead where you won’t go. So with a flutter in my heart I dove in! I volunteered. I asked our brave deacon where he most needed a teacher and we selected the 1st Grade class. He asked me if I wanted an assistant and I said “no.” Now, to be honest I said “no” not because I didn’t need one but because I didn’t need one, but because I didn’t want anyone replying back to the other adults what a failure I might be :).
So, I’m 2 weeks into this 13 week quarter and ready for my first report. WOW. Thankfully it’s summer and some are out of town. I’ve had 16 students...16 beautiful, wonderful, unique, full of life, forgiving, patient, smart students. I know it seems strange to some of you, but I’m much more comfortable preaching to 500 people ages 1-100 than walking into that First Grade classroom. Here are my impressions:
- You really have to prepare! Our teachers - all teachers - are now my new heroes. The amount of handwork, decorating, studying is amazing. When I volunteered I didn’t think about bulletin boards, attendance charts, cutouts, etc. You are my heroes!
- They pull the creativity out of you! I’m teaching Joseph. For a whole quarter. I love the story of Joseph. I remember Mrs. Fowler teaching me in 5th grade and every day reading to us out of a Bible story book the life of Joseph. It was “sit on the edge of my seat” exciting! If you are feeling a little dry in your creativity - make this change and teach children. It will challenge you.
- How do 1st graders ever learn anything?! Attention span? Not! I find myself thinking - would this keep them engaged for more than 30 seconds? After the first week I did a fast forward memory of talking to my boys each week after class and asking what they learned. And then thinking ONE thing, just ONE thing. If I can teach these little guys one thing each week I will have accomplished something. I’m thinking of initiating a “word of the week” project (Hermeneutics, predestination, transubstantiation, circumspectly, exegesis). Can you imagine the parent saying “and what did you learn in class today?” “I learned that our hermeneutic determines how we interpret the scriptures.” That’d just be too awesome! :)
- Some of these kids are SHARP! I attributed the brothers not killing Joseph to Judah (when it was really Reuben). One of them corrected me. A child going into first grade! It was an awesome moment.
- Take treats! Nobody told me! When they asked near the end of the first week if I had treats and I said “no” I pictured myself like the giant in Gulliver’s Travels being staked down by these little ones revolting. I may not have my sermon notes one week but I won’t be going into the class without some treats!!!
- They are so easy to love! Forgiving, patient, just easy to love. Everyone of them.
- “That kid.” Yes, you know him/her the one so loud and preoccupied. He/she may be using a crayon as a make believe sword leading a revoke in the classroom but they are getting every word you say.
- I bet not other class has as many checking on it! I think EVERY adult at SM has swung by and peeked in on me. I’m not sure if they are checking to make sure the kids are still alive or if I am, or if they are just looking for a good laugh. Regardless, thanks. Sunday, one little girl said: “Close the door so people will stop looking at us.” Rich!
- Did I mention that our teachers are my heroes.
- Melanie told me that they love to be “helpers” and they do but how do I decide who to let be the helper? How do you determine who to commend? How do I pick volunteers? Do I call on the boy who puts his hand up loudly (yes, you can put your hand up loudly) every time or do I let the quiet child have a turn? I don’t want to leave a one of them out. I haven't gotten this figured out yet, but I am learning.
It may not be next quarter, but I WILL do this again! I don’t know why it’s hard to find teachers. I may feel different about that in week 13 but for now this is a frightening, wonderful experience.
Preachers, as I said, this one’s for you. Am I the only one who never considered teaching a children’s class? Next quarter, why not volunteer. You’ll be glad you did, it will challenge you and the parents will appreciate it and you’ll make some new friends of these little ones.
P.S. The picture associated with this missive is a myth!!! :)