Question: "Our branch church is fortunate to have several willing Sunday School teachers, for which I'm grateful. But I've heard my kids and some of their peers comment that the teachers "don't get them." What can we do to support the teachers and students, and to encourage successful Sunday School classes?"
RESPONSE 1: John Kohler
I think any teacher worth his salt has to pray about how to teach a class that is inspiring and healing. And it should come as no surprise that the answer is going to come through prayer and love.
I think we just need to really love Science, live it, and be excited about it! And then, I think we simply have to love, love, love those kids. I know a teacher who had a group of Junior High kids. This woman was passionate about the lesson; she valued it beyond measure. I am sure she prayed a good deal about the receptivity of her students and their inherent desire to participate. The interesting thing was she never actually gave an assignment, but based the class each week around the Bible Lesson, mostly about how to dig into it, how to summarize each section and find special passages that resonated with them and think about why it touched them. At first, it was mostly her sharing her great enthusiasm about what she was finding. But it wasn’t long before all the students were coming in with pages of homework to share. She led by example.
Another teacher got her students more engaged by letting them take ownership of the class. This 8th/ 9th grade class was really quiet, and seemed to lack any interest. We agreed to pray about the class, knowing God was the true teacher and could meet every need. We also prayed to eradicate any form of animal magnetism, which would try to mesmerize the class into a state of apathy. The next week, prayer led her to ask the students what kind of issues they would like to address. At first they remained quiet, but she had prepared a list of things she was working on. The next couple of weeks she shared the kind of answers and comfort she was getting from our “pastor,” and particularly the Bible Lesson, about these topics. After a few weeks, the kids were bringing up topics, and healing ideas, the class was off and running.
Sometimes we need to “be instant in season, out of season,” (II Tim. 4:2) trust our prayer, and trust God to give us the ideas that we need in the moment that we need them. But if we love Science and love, love, love the kids, they will feel it.
RESPONSE 2: Kate Robertson
I can remember feeling this way...as a Sunday School student, and as a Sunday School teacher. And in both cases the solution came from realizing that Mrs. Eddy's definition of "Children" (see Science and Health, pp. 582-583) referred to everyone in the class--teachers and students alike.
I can't recall anywhere in the Bible, or in Eddy's writings, where there is a reference to the "adult" of God. We are all children. So when she says, in her definition of children: "not in embryo, but in maturity" (Science and Health, p. 583), she is offering us a profound insight on the kind of visionary relationship that fosters mutual respect. I believe that this provides a strong platform for understanding one another; it goes beyond not just the teacher "getting" the student, but the students "getting" the teacher.
This kind of mutual respect fosters genuine interest in one another's day-to-day practice of spiritual discipleship, and the practical insights this allows each participant to bring into the classroom. In this environment, both the teacher and students are willing to listen to the other's inspiration with compassion and appreciation.
When we all come to Sunday School as curious spiritual thinkers -- not students or teachers -- suddenly there is an opening for the kind of relationship in which care blossoms and the spiritual insights we bring to class are a gift of love. When I was in high school, a teacher that was interested in my love for dance, and came to a see a performance, was able to reach me more affectively by referring to God's choreography in supporting my growth in grace. And later, as a teacher, my familiarity with characters in popular children's literature allowed me to connect noble traits with characters they loved.
At one time, William Johnson, in his role as Clerk of The Mother Church, responded to Charles M. Veazey's (Superintendent of The Mother Church Sunday School) request for clarification on how to teach the Sunday School lessons by saying, "I know of no absolute rule for teaching all children or scholars even of the same age. It should be the prayerful study of the teacher to learn just what each scholar needs" (The Mary Baker Eddy Collection).
This kind of willingness to discover what each "scholar" needs is the most valuable guidance we can get from our leader on how to make our Sunday Schools vital, practical, and engaging. It makes the heart, the most important teaching tool for facilitating mutual respect and a deeper interest in the practical application of Christian Science.