The catalyst for a dynamic Church School program is you…. the teacher. All teachers, both new and seasoned veterans, must have a clear perception of their role as Sunday Church School teachers.
- Christ was the Great Teacher. He is referred to as “Teacher” (for example, Matthew 8:19) and His work is called “teaching” throughout the Gospels (for example, Matthew 5:2).
- You are part of the great heritage of discipleship. Christ gathered disciples around Him and prepared them to go forth and teach others the Word of God as He did. You are part of the heritage of discipleship, called to teach as Jesus did.
- St. Paul said we are all gifted, and some of us are called to use those gifts as teachers (1 Corinthians 12:28-29).
- You are a lay minister, helping the priest in his enormous task of leading his parishioners to God.
- It has been said that the teacher is the Bible in human form.
- Examine your personal call to discipleship. Know that God has called you and that you are constantly growing and changing in your call to discipleship.
Teaching is an intentional act. It doesn’t just happen. You must be aware of what you can do to enhance your ability to teach and to reach out to your students:
Know Your Students
Pass out a prepared form for students to complete. These should ask information about the following: biographical info, school attending, preferences in music, movies, sports, future aspirations pastimes. These can vary according to age groups. You might have some open-ended statements on your form:
I enjoy Sunday School when……
I pray……times a day.
One thing I would especially like to learn this year is…..
I come to Sunday School because…..
I wish teachers would not…..
You can make up the questions and open-ended sentences that you think will help you get to know your students better.
After the first two or three Sundays, make a list of your students (or use index cards) and write what you know about that student and how you can reach him/her.
Be in your classroom early enough to have everything ready. This frees you to chat with students as they come into the classroom. These precious moments can open channels of trust and friendship between you and your students.
Respect Your Students
- Respect is the inalienable right of every human being.
- Kids are quick to decide if a teacher likes them or not.
- Remember that Christ loved the underdog. You, too, must then love the shy ones, the "unlovable" ones. You must see Christ in the face of every child.
- Listen to your students. Listening is the language of love.
- You are a significant person in their lives. How you view them is very important to them.
Do Long-Range Planning
- As said before, teaching is an intentional act, not an accidental one.
- Be familiar with the ENTIRE text, not just one lesson at a time.
- Use the Church calendar to mark particular Holy Days and fast periods you will incorporate with your lessons.
- Keep files into which you put information about separate chapters and unit themes. Include pertinent materials you gather from other sources. Be sure you check with your priest about any information or resource that is not from an Orthodox source.
Plan Your Lessons
Make all lessons relevant to the lives of students. Relevance gives meaning to them and helps them put faith into action. Without relevancy, your lessons become meaningless. Christ's teachings are meant to be lived in glory to God. Remember that Sunday Church School classes are aimed at their lives, now and in the future.
State objectives for each class. Objectives are measurable. They are observable. This means they are what the teacher can see and/or hear and what students do. (Good example: Students should be able to list three miracles of Christ. Poor example: Learn about the miracles of Christ.)
Sample format for lesson plan:
- The objective
- Text or supplemental materials to be used.
- New vocabulary (unfamiliar words, places, and terms)
- Materials needed (maps, art supplies, Bibles, etc.)
- Opening prayer
- Focus/Review - How can you get your students’ attention focused so they can relate to the lesson? Relating a life experience? Showing a picture? Asking questions that lead to subject matter? Relating a story?
- The Message - This is the lesson itself----chapter from text, Gospel reading, video, etc.
- The Activity - This is the discovery phase in which you help them connect the message and make it relevant to their lives. This is sometimes in the form of writing, an art project, discussion.
- The Response - What are they going to do about it? What can they do during the week to put this into action?
- Closing Prayer
A final note on lesson planning: The best lesson is the one you don’t use all the time. Monotony conditions students to be bored.
- Be early to class. Many problems begin in an unsupervised classroom and carry over into the class.
- Be prepared. A quick start keeps students on task. Busy students do not get trouble as much as idle ones.
- Set classroom rules. Post them in the room if possible. Have only a few; the more you set, the more you have to enforce. Rules should be enforceable and in concert with overall policies.
- Avoid confrontations. Making threats you can’t keep signals lack of control. Losing control make the student the winner and you the loser. Praise in public and reprimand in private.
- Be consistent. Be a constant in their lives. Inconsistency breeds poor discipline.
- Know your students. This has been previously discussed; however, one final comment is essential. Know them by name as quickly as possible. A name is their identity.
- Model Christian behavior. Sarcasm, favoritism, and impatience have no place where Christian values are taught. They only cause antagonism and misbehavior.
- Work out seating arrangements. Who sits by whom can make or break our best efforts at good discipline.
Let Absent Students Know You Miss Them
A card or phone is a personal expression that lets a student know you care.
Create an Inviting Physical Environment
This may not always be possible, since some teachers may be in makeshift classrooms. You can still have a mobile classroom, bringing an icon or posters or other items to the classroom.
If you are lucky enough to have a real classroom, one yours alone, fill it with icons, art, posters, students’ work.
Even teenagers appreciate this. Take a look at their bedrooms and lockers. You will find these filled with pictures and mementos. Your classroom should be a faith community wherein the faith is lived, not just taught. Your classroom should be welcoming, a place of hospitality, where all students are warmly welcomed because each one is made in the image and likeness of God.
Support Your Sunday School Department
- Attend meetings and training sessions.
- Follow policies and curriculum of the department.
- Check with the Director for help or advice as needed.
- Work closely with your priest.
Have a Worship Center and Use It
On a small table place a cloth, icon, votive light, and Bible. If possible, add an icon to honor a specific feast day or saint being commemorated at that time.
Students should go to the worship center before class, bow their head, and venerate the icon. If possible, have everyone face the worship center for the opening and closing prayers.
Communicate with Parents
Hold an open house and invite parents to see what goes on in your classroom (NOTE: Do this only with the knowledge and consent of the Priest and Director.) Any notes must also be approved by both also.
Be Aware of How You Communicate
- Use language appropriate for your students. For example, preschoolers and primary students will not understand abstract, metaphorical language, (Ex: Christ is the Bread of Life.)
- Lecturing is boring. Sometimes the only one listening is the lecturer. Break up your presentation of new material with visuals, activities, student involvement. A student will learn more by seeing and hearing than by hearing alone. A student will learn best by doing.
- Avoid repetition unless it is for dramatic effect. Otherwise, repetition is boring.
- Expressions, gestures, and posture can have both negative and positive messages.
This is by no means a complete list but merely a few suggestions to get your own creativity generated:
- Use objects to make a point.
- Hands On - Show articles and vestments of the Church, don’t just talk about them. If possible bring in the actual article, not just a picture.
- Take them on a tour of the Church if this is possible during class time (Ask the priest to be the tour guide.)
- Give them opportunities to make prosforo, kolyva, or prepare palm crosses for Palm Sunday. Orthodox Church life offers many opportunities for enrichment the curriculum.
- Journal writing helps students to internalize and personalize the message.
- Collages are a fun way and to think about the message.
- Use Videos and DVDs. Encourage your parish to set up a network so you can use the Internet during class, with a computer and a projector.
- Role playing can bring stories and situations to life.
- Ask the priest to come into the classroom (This is possible only if there is an assistant or if class time does not overlap his liturgical duties.). Invite other parish experts as well, e.g. doctors, missionaries to share experiences, stories, etc..
A final but most important note: Develop more fully the Orthodox way of life: a sacramental and liturgical life, study of Scripture and Orthodoxy. Our lessons should reflect our Orthodox Faith and Holy Tradition Being Orthodox is how we are called to express our faith in God. What a wealth of marvelous information we have to offer our students! Remember the words of St. Paul: “If God is with you, who can be against you?”Mrs. Elaine Michaels is the co-author of Sowing Seeds for Christ, published by the Department of Religious Education. She has been active in Christian education at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Charlotte, North Carolina for many years.