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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Chatley

What To Do With A “Bad” Teacher

By Rodney L. Pry, P.S.S.S.A. Executive Director

Recently, a friend was telling me about a woman from his church. This woman is one of the finest, most dedicated Christians you could ever meet. She is eager to help and serve in any way that she can. The only problem is, she is not a very good Sunday school teacher.

The woman is currently “trying,” as this man put it, to teach a young adult class, with rather disastrous consequences. A number of the members of the class have even stopped coming to Sunday school.

My friend asked me, “Isn’t there something we can do other than ‘fire’ her?” This man’s concern is well founded.  

Nothing good could possibly come out of “firing” this woman from her teaching job. Dedicated Christian workers are hard to come by and, even though she might not be meant to serve as a Sunday school teacher, there are certainly many other areas within the church where her service would be of real value.

I started by telling my friend that, except in cases of great impropriety, Christian workers should never by “fired.” They should be “promoted.” IF a person is not suited for service in one area within the church, you “promote” them to another position in which they are better able to serve.

I quickly added that before his church does anything in the way of “firing” or “promoting” this woman, there are a number of other things that they should consider.

First, has this woman been properly trained to serve as a teacher? Several years ago the State Sunday School Association conducted a survey of Sunday school leaders from across Pennsylvania to ask about the problems that they face. From that survey we learned – not really a surprise – that the number one problem that Sunday schools face today is the lack of training for their workers.

But, if so many Sunday schools see the lack of training as their biggest problem, why aren’t they doing more to offer training and to see that their teachers are better equipped to serve?

Being a good, effective Sunday school teacher who can inspire class members and hold their interest week after week is not an easy task. It takes lots of dedication and hard work on the part of the teacher, and it also takes teaching skills…skills that most teachers can learn, if they are willing.

A good Sunday school teacher needs a basic knowledge of the Bible and its application to life. They need to be skilled in communication and public speaking. They need to know how to ask good questions and be skilled in leading a discussion. They also need to be knowledgeable of the various methods of teaching and teaching “tools” that are available to them.

A good rule for any Sunday school is that every person who wants to be a Sunday school teacher should be required to attend at least one workshop or class on basic teaching, related to the age level where they plan to work. Furthermore, I suggest that every Sunday school worker be required to attend at least one training event or workshop related to teaching skills every year.

Second, would this woman be better suited to teaching another age group? Young adults and youth are probably the two hardest age groups to teach within the Sunday school. From what my friend told me, it sounded like this woman would be a much better teacher of young children than of young adults.

It takes a very special person to teach children and it is certainly one of the most important areas of teaching within the Sunday school. Persons who have the talents to teach children should be encouraged to work in that area.

Third, is this woman receiving the kind of help and support that she needs to be a good teacher? Teachers need information and resources – books and magazines related to Christian education, teaching methods, etc. Bible dictionaries and concordances can help answer questions that the teacher may have. Teachers also need “teaching tools” – VCR’s, tape recorders, overhead projectors, chalkboards, etc. Teachers need a support network of other teachers and leaders from within their Sunday school. This should include persons with whom they can discuss problems and concerns. It should also include regular teachers’ meetings where teachers can come together to discuss problems, brainstorm ideas and learn from each other. And, one of the most important areas of support, each teacher should have a “prayer partner” or other persons from within the church who are praying for them and their efforts in teaching God’s Word.

Fourth, the final question that I asked was this, “Is it really this woman’s fault!” Two things that I suggested my friend look at are the curriculum materials that the class was using and the class itself. I’ve heard it said that a good teacher can make a lesson good no matter how bad the lesson materials are. That might be true, but on the other hand, a person who is not one of the best teachers in the world needs curriculum helps that provide lots of ideas, help and support. If your materials are not providing teachers with the help that they need, maybe it’s time to look for something better.

The final thing to look at would be the class itself. Sometimes a certain teacher just won’t “click” with a certain class. Some classes have gotten used to a certain style of teaching and when a new teacher tries to get them into a new style, no matter how good the teacher is, the class will rebel and be unresponsive.

Working as a Sunday school teacher is certainly one of the most important areas where a person can serve their Lord. Within the public schools, a person is required to have four or more years of training before they can teach. I’m sure that most of us would agree that God’s Word and living our lives for Him are of far more eternal significance than any of the classes that a person will ever take in the public school. If this is true, shouldn’t we put a greater emphasis on the teaching of His Word? I’m not suggesting that we require every Sunday school teacher to have a degree in religion, but I do believe that it is very important for every teacher to be as well equipped as possible for their task.

Teaching a Sunday school class requires a lot of hard work, dedication and personal commitment. A good Sunday school teacher can make an eternal impact on the lives of the people within his or her class. But, on the other hand, a bad teacher can drive people out of Sunday school and away from the church. It is extremely important to help all of the teachers of your Sunday school to do and to be their very best.

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