The Confessions of an (Occasionally) Frustrated Teacher
I was explaining the connection of Deuteronomy's curses with Jesus Christ's becoming a curse for us from Galatians when I saw Julie's eyes light up! For the first time she saw the relationship between the Old and New Testaments in a way that affected her life and faith.
Trying to be creative, I asked, a different class how they thought Jesus would act if he were here today. Danny replied, "He probably wouldn't ask stupid questions like this but have us study the Bible instead."
These two examples show the high and low points of teaching classes of teens. You can leave the classroom feeling you were used by God – or just feeling used up. I have found there are several ways a teacher of junior or senior high students can minimize the frustrations and make teaching the rewarding experience it is meant to be.
A key source of frustration is trying to teach students who are in your class for very different reasons. One student is there because he is committed to Christ and wants to grow. Another student is present because her parents won't let her go to the mall with her friends if she doesn't attend Sunday school. The former wants to be there; the latter prefers to be cruising the mall.
A similar frustration is realizing your class contains students who are at very different stages in their physical and spiritual development. How do you teach students in your class who have different motivations for attending and different needs to be met?
Compounding these class dynamics cue the discipline problems that often arise as the result of boredom or anger in being forced to do something the teen does not want to do. I have found that remembering the "four Rs" helps to reduce frustration and to make teaching enjoyable.
First, we must strive for relevance in our teaching. Even though teens may not share the same motivations for being in your class, they all share in being teenagers. This means what you teach should be relevant to their lives as young people. As you prepare the lesson you should frequently ask yourself, So what? Think it through: Why is this lesson important for teens? Your teens? What difference does it make in their lives here and now?
Relevance does not mean we throw out good, textual Bible study in favor of small group discussion on the latest hairstyle. Rather, we need to continually make application of truths in Genesis, the Gospels, or Paul's letters to what teens are thinking and doing.
Being aware of the needs of your students – and applying the Scriptures to the class – takes work. If members of your class are thinking about the death of a schoolmate in an auto accident, they may not hear what you are saying about the Sermon on the Mount. Every quarter you should either circulate a list of topics and books of the Bible the class would like to study or put out a question box into which students can drop questions they would like answered from the Bible. These questions can then be answered as you teach the curriculum itself or as time from class is taken to answer a question each week or two.
Besides having the class choose topics and books to study and asking questions, how can you become aware of the relevant issues in the lives of teens? The next R will help.
The best way to understand teens is through good relationships with them. (This also solves some of the other frustrations you might experience as a teacher) As your students realize you care about them, they will respond positively to your teaching.
However, adults are often intimidated by teens. As they seek to establish their own identities, adolescents can dress weird, listen to bizarre music, and speak a strange language. All of these can seem like formidable obstacles to establishing a relationship.
It is important to remember that teens desire positive relationships with adults. When a teen initially puts off an adult's suggestion to get together for a coke or ice cream, it is usually because he does not think the adult really wants to get together. But persistence pays.
If getting together one on one seems like a difficult first step, there are easier ways to establish relationships. One strategy is to attend school events in which your students are involved. This can be a football game or musical performance.
Keep your eyes open for your students' names in your local newspaper. Find out if one or more of their schools publish a paper and ask to receive a copy. If you see that one of your students won a debate, you can clip the article and meal it to her with a note of congratulations.
The telephone is also a great way to build relationships. If a student shares in class that he has a tough test coming up, call and ask how it went. Send birthday cards or have a cake once a month in class for all the students who had a birthday that month. Invite the students over to your home.
In these and other ways, you can communicate to the teens that you care for them and can make the classroom a better place. You will also continually learn about the issues the teens face and be able to address these from the Bible.
As you keep relevant in your application of the Bible and develop relationships with students, you should also give your teens greater responsibility in the class. When you prepare your lesson, ask yourself, "What could the students do to help teach the class?"
The ways students can be involved in the learning process are varied. They can range from simply having a student read Scripture to having one or more teach the entire lesson. One practical idea is to plan far enough ahead so that you and some of your students can recruit parents, an elder, a family, a mechanic, a nurse, or a homemaker – in addition to other students – to help teach the lesson. This kind of preparation on your part requires planning, time, and gracious oversight. But it will enhance your lesson and bring the students into the presentation, and thus, require more from them.
When your teens help prepare the lesson in these ways, you can be assured that the main theme of the lesson will receive attention from them. Not only will they benefit from preparing the presentation, but also the class will listen very intently to a peer – or take in what one or two peers have arranged.
In addition to allowing the students greater responsibility in teaching the material, allow the students to decorate the classroom in a way that reflects their interests and makes it a more comfortable learning environment.
When you are teaching the lesson, involve students in active learning. This can be done by asking them discussion questions, encouraging them to do something artistic in relation to the lesson, and letting them suggest ways of putting into action what the lesson teaches.
The final and most important R is reliance. No matter how well we prepare, how relevant our lessons are, how strong the relationships we have established with teens are, and how much responsibility we have given the class, we must rely upon God for any good to be accomplished in our classrooms.
This reliance begins by praying for our teaching, our students, and their families. Pray that the Holy Spirit will give us understanding of the Scriptures, and that he will enlighten our students' minds and hearts. Pray for the students by name, remembering their needs before God. Ask someone else in the church to be your weekly prayer partner.
Or consider having a pizza and prayer night three times a year in your classroom. In January invite the parents of your students to the church for pizza and a prayer time for their children. In May invite just the mothers; in September invite just the fathers, Prayer is a ministry, just like your teaching.
Reliance also means that we continue to do our best in preparation, whether we have one or ten hours each "week to prepare. In all this we do our best by concentrating on the material, seeking help in understanding, and being creative. We are God's servants and must strive to please him in all we do.
Finally, we show our reliance by teaching with faith. The class may apparently go well one week and be a disaster the next. In both cases we rely on God, who sees the hearts of our students. He sends forth his Word, and it accomplishes his purposes (Isaiah 55:11). We may not see the fruit for several years, if at all; so we must trust God that our labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Julie is a college student, active in the young adult group at her church. The jury is still out on Danny, but I trust that God has used both my joys and my frustrations to accomplish his purposes. I trust he will do the same for you.