The following post is written by Caitlin Rivera. She reflects on her experiences of teaching the 5+ classroom at Seven Mile Road Church and offers some helpful thoughts on how to love and instruct our children well.
I will share some of my experiences teaching SMR Sunday School but first, a quick question: If you grew up within a church, what was your most memorable Sunday school lesson? For starters, I will share the ONLY lesson that had a memorable impact on me.
Travel back with me to a 5th grade Sunday school room with new carpets and central air. The teacher is the father of a friend, whom I’ll call Mr. O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien started the class with the lyrics of a song written on the board. The song was, “One of us” by Joan Osborne. In 1995 this song took #4 on music charts and was extremely popular. In his lesson Mr. O’Brien simply shared the lyrics, played the song, and then asked, “So, WAS God one of us?” From there it was a teacher-directed discussion of Jesus and the whole idea of the Gospel. THIS. BLEW. MY. MIND. The enduring truth will forever stay with me from this lesson – God DID become one of us.
Why was Mr. O’Brien’s method so effective? Why is this the only Sunday school lesson that means anything to me in 2013? I will send that question out for inquiry. My theory however? Mr. O’Brien tapped into my world, my world-view, and my soul. He took a popular song, made it a relevant question, and required me to answer.
It was with this history that I preceded in planning for my own Sunday school lessons in the 5+ classroom at SMR. I started out so enthralled with the planning – too enthralled, probably. With a big grin I would tell random people in my life, “I’m teaching Sunday school at my church this month!!!” The courtesy smiles and questions always followed. I wasn’t too far into the curriculum and planning before I became disenchanted and frustrated with myself. Yeesh – there were a whole lot of worksheets, Jack and Janie skits, and memorization but not much in my plans that I felt could tap into the soul of our 5-7 year olds. I kept wrestling with my philosophy of education (wanting it to be more interactive, less “parroting,” more meaningful, more inquiry-based) but it was also important to meet the major requirements of the curriculum.
Out of curiosity, I reconsidered how Jesus learned and taught in His earthly ministry. Luke 2 tells us that as a young person Jesus was once separated from his parents and, “they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Jesus took shelter in places of learning but he was not afraid to ask questions, to interact deeply with truth and other people. Then, when he taught his disciples, he sat on the hillside (Matt. 5:1), he stood in a boat (Luke 5:3), he used relevant stories/parables (Matt. 13) and concrete imagery to deliver enduring wisdom and soul-searching questions. The passage, Luke 24:13-35, from which our church derives its name (Jesus walking “seven miles” on the road to Emmaus) also indicates that Jesus wasn’t interested in spoon-feeding answers to his disciples. On the road he mainly asked questions (ex. Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?) Jesus let people wrestle with the truth. Could it be that this is the best way to truly learn? Later, we see his apostles writing with a deep and thorough understanding of these teachings.
So, throughout my weeks of teaching I did cover (most) of the curriculum and it was a rich and fulfilling time. All the while I clung to my understanding of Jesus’ methods and my own principles of education. I tried to employ them as I presented our 5-7 year olds with Gospel truth. Questions: Did I succeed every week? Am I an awesome, perfect Sunday school teacher? Answers: No and most definitely not. There were weeks that I failed, came-up-short, realized later how I could’ve made it more meaningful. The thing is: that’s okay. As Amy Spencer aptly shared in the last Sunday School Blog – there is more to Sunday school than effective teaching and cute crafts. Developing community, creating connections, fostering discipleship – these are beautiful things unfolding upstairs at SMR. In this way, we are living out the Gospel together – slowly walking those seven miles and learning as we go.
Here are my encouragements to all of us as we plan and prepare to teach the children of SMR:
- Share yourself. Tell kids who you are. Give them someone to know and talk to as they grow. Share your passions, your love for Jesus, and your knowledge of the Gospel.
- Take time to pray for things specifically going on in the kids’ lives
- Follow-up the next week (ex. “Sally, how did that test go?”)
- Stay firm and loving with boundaries and expectations in the classroom (ex. “You’ll need to be cleaned up and at your seat when I countdown from 10… 9… 8”)
- Give room for kids to share even if the answer is “wrong”
- Decide ahead of time what the heart of your lesson is and make that priority
- Make a connection with a child’s parent/ share a classroom happening (ex. “Today Isaac made someone feel welcome.”)
- Be interested in who these children are (ex. “Julia, why do you love horses so much?”)
- Remember the gravity of events in their life that to us seem trivial (losing a tooth, getting glasses, learning to read, learning to write their name, etc)
- Stop bullying on the spot in the classroom – make it a communal, teachable moment (Ex. “Boys and girls, have you ever felt left out? How did that feel? How might Noah be feeling right now?”)
- Keep the eyes and ears of your heart open: notice and acknowledge little moments of sadness or fear and celebrate the victories -shy kid talks, serious child smiles, strong-willed child includes. (Ex. “Shawna, thank you for that beautiful smile!”)
How about you? What is in your heart for Sunday school and our children at SMR? Please share your thoughts in the comments so we can all learn from each other. I’ll end with Deuteronomy 11:18-19 which says to “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds… Teach them to your children… when you sit at home… when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”