KEEP INVOLVED WITH YOUR STUDENTS
BY HAROLD J. WESTING
Kim saw his teacher get out of the car at the front of his home. “What would he say!” He had been absent for three weeks from his Sunday School class. His defense mechanism went into high gear. Could he
produce an excuse for his laziness fast enough?
“Yes, teacher, I know I was absent for three weeks, but I had a bad cold.” That sort of satisfied what he interpreted as a polite rebuke but it set his guilt feelings to work faster than usual. Now each time Kim saw his teacher there was a strange feeling. He acted in a polite fashion on the outside but that was the beginning of a strange new relationship built on guilt feelings.
After personally talking with more than 3,000 Sunday School teachers about their respective ministries, I discovered that the majority feel an urgent need to keep re minding their absentees to come back to class. Of those who feel the need to contact their absentees, only about half do anything about it. These show this loving concern by mailing cards, making phone calls, and some even make home visits to remind their students that they were missed. “If you only would have been there, we would have been a banner class last Sunday,” is often the plea made by those conscientious teachers.
Praise God for those teachers who show their concern for empty chairs and absentee checks in their roll books. They are following through with a heavy emphasis that has been made in Sunday Schools for
Become Involved With Your Students
In this emphasis on absentee visitation, few teachers have been taught the far more important reasons for spending time with students–all students, the regulars as well as the absentees. An effective superintendent has as his primary concern the spiritual well-being of all the students in the entire school. Since he is not able to personally be involved in the lives of all the students on the rolls, he will need to make sure to direct the staff to do so.
The following list is a start in that direction. It could be copied and given to the staff and/or you could use it as an outline for a talk at a staff meeting given on the subject of your personal ministry with students. The list is not complete, nor are the items in order of importance. May it serve you well in understanding what student contact is all about and thus provide some meaningful material to present to the staff. Perhaps when more teachers see that there are significant reasons for such contacts, more Biblical centered relationships may be initiated.
1. To establish a friendship base for teaching
Did you ever learn anything from a person you didn’t like? If you did, it probably was a negative idea.
(1) Show an interest in the student. Calls in the home can help to establish a friendship with a student, but to participate with a student in an activity of his liking is far more apt to open the door to communication, especially with teens. That contact must be one which shows a great deal of interest in the student. It must not be used as a chance for the teacher to talk about himself or extend his lecture of last Sunday.
A major amount of our discipline problems could readily be corrected through a friendly relationship outside the class. The “I really care for you” atmosphere will grant you permission to deal with the external classroom problems when they arise.
(2) Patiently persist. There is no guarantee that your teachers will win everyone’s friendship. Each one comes in a different fashion and will take different lengths of time to establish. Those friendships may just as rapidly take place in the teacher’s home or on some mutual ground as in the student’s own secure home surroundings.
Establishing friendships may not be first in importance, but it will need to come before the other learning objectives can occur. It’s that important!
2. To assist students in their life application.
Each lesson, or unit of lessons, must zero in on application in the student’s life. You can readily observe this same objective in the style of the writers of Scripture. Of course, that necessitates moving from content to a specific life response in teaching. To know doctrine, but not to respond to it, will only produce Pharisaism. But all students are not going to need to make the same response to each Scripture portion. Once the teacher has established a warm, friendly relationship with each student, he will have a chance to discuss with each one personally how he or she is responding to the current lesson emphasis.
“Joe, this week I learned that God can help me overcome temptation as He promised in Romans 6. I don’t need to let the members of my body be subservient to Satan. I’m anxious to know what kind of progress you are making since we studied last Sunday. Is there anything that I can do to help you in your struggle to victory?” That kind of intimacy won’t likely be acceptable in class, but if the teachers are going to be life-building, disciple-making teachers, they will constantly be seeking for private opportunities to personally reinforce a genuine Biblical response.
3. To check the validity of your teaching;
When you have a great distance to swim, you want to make sure your strokes are gaining the moat mechanical advantage. Of course, if you only want to prove you can swim and you don’t care if you get
anyplace, then your strokes won’t make that much difference. When I’m going someplace in the water, I want to do more than just get tired out beating the water. A mature teacher is concerned with more than filling a slot in the school’s roster. He is concerned with making each teaching stroke help fulfill his task of leading his students to spiritual maturity in Christ (Colossians 1:28). Your teachers’ willingness to check the effectiveness of their teaching will soon indicate how mature they really are.
The only possible way for teachers to check their teaching effectiveness is to see firsthand what is happening in the lives of their students. The acid test isn’t how well the students filled out their workbook or how well they answered the teacher’s questions in class. A continual personal encounter with each student will soon show the teacher if he is aiding that spiritual maturing process.
Teachers shouldn’t expect to see that desired growth in all of their students, but good teaching practice will show some spiritual fruit in their lives. This type of evaluation will not only reveal the strengths and weaknesses of their teaching, but it will give a major clue about what they need to work on to improve their teaching.
4. To assist parents as God’s responsible teachers.
Is the church in existence to build the home or is the home in existence to build the church? Often I would reach the conclusion that the former is true. It is very likely that the church through its teachers has been saying, “You send your children here and we’ll give them their Christian education.” Untrained and fearful parents are all too ready to fall into that trap.
But I believe the Sunday School teacher’s position should be one of emphasizing the home’s influence. “Hi Mrs. Snow, your son is in my Sunday School class and I would be interested in helping you with your son’s Christian education and spiritual development. How can I assist you?” Words like this in a home visit with parents can reemphasize their strong responsibility as parents as well as open the door to new strides of cooperation between the church and the home.
Working as a team member with the parents includes: what assignments the child is to do at home; what discipline problems I need to be concerned with; what the teacher needs to emphasize to reinforce home discipline, etc.
5. To discover the student’s perceptual mechanism.
A two-minute look into a student’s playroom or bedroom, a discussion with him about his hobbies, what he does with his spare time, or what he likes in school can help the teacher get a great deal of insight into his perceptual mechanism.
It isn’t what the teacher says that counts, it’s the way the students hear him, and each one hears differently. They do so because their perception is screened through their beliefs, needs, values, threats, attitudes, and most of all through their self-perception.
If teachers expect to get through to each student, they had better be aware of how the student perceives the teacher. Students learn in response to their needs and perception not the way the teacher sees it.
When students express themselves in class and when teachers spend that private moment with them, they should try to determine how they may feel about different truths. That’s why teachers ought to be listening outside of class so they can talk more intelligently to students in class.
6. To augment the value-building process.
What would your reactions be if you went to a shopping center and found a thief had broken into the store during the night and at random had interchanged all the price tags? You would have a most difficult time deciding what anything was worth That’s what has happened to the value system of our world. Next to leading our students to personal salvation, our next most important task is to aid their internalizing
of a genuine Biblical value system. Aristotle’s concept of education was making pupils like or dislike what they should. As students search through the rubble of the world for reality it is our task to guide them in the internalizing process.
Now this is critical to effective Christian teaching. But I am sorry to have to say that it is not done by the flashy distribution of words. It’s done by relationships. Every major study on values comes to that conclusion. So unless teachers are building a personal relationship with those students for whom God is holding them accountable, you are not doing much to aid the process of internalizing values.
7. To assist them in their relationship to Christ
I have been impressed with the high level of concern most teachers have for their students’ salvation. Yet, I’ve been amazed to find how few teachers have taken the time to seek out an opportunity to talk with their students alone, personally, about their need to receive Christ’s forgiveness of sins. It is just as important also to meet with a person privately a number of times after he has received Christ to give guidance in his new walk with the Lord. That’s what it means to be a shepherd-teacher.
8. To encourage faithful attendance.
This item is put last, not because it is least important, but I’ve learned firsthand that when the other items are being cared for this will become the least important. When a teacher is building a spiritual shepherding relationship with a student he can casually discuss absenteeism without fear of building a guilt wall. I would recommend that teachers always give a student the benefit of the doubt about the reason for his absence. “I’m sorry that you had to be absent yesterday,” is much more acceptable than “How come you didn’t come?”
Contact Students Systematically
It has been my observation that showing and telling teachers why they need to keep in personal contact with their students usually isn’t sufficient to get the job done. I have also observed that schools which
have a method of getting their teachers practicing that kind of personal ministry, usually are far more effective in getting the job done.
It seems to me that was one of the kinds of things Christ was saying when He suggested that we “provoke one another to love and good works.” We are to be engaged in the process of drawing out of one another our greatest potential. That necessitates our displaying by our example how it ought to be done as well as a motivational comment on a regular basis. From all of my evaluations I have discovered that building in a sense of accountability even further facilitates that contacting process.
1. Provide an adequate form.
Numerous Sunday School organizations have various forms they use to facilitate the process. I’m simply going to show one that has been used successfully. (See “Weekly Outreach/Contacts Opportunities” form.)
Too many leaders have the idea that forms are the final answer to solving problems. As good as this form is, it is of little and sometimes even negative value if it is not used properly. It is all part of that great process of leading people.
Always start by thinking through the rationale for your approach. You are ultimately responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of the students. You are calling on the staff to help you get that accomplished. This discipleship form is a way to move in that direction.
In a departmentalized school, it is wise to have a departmental secretary in each department. After taking the roll the secretary will fill out the form in triplicate for each class, showing which students are absent on that Sunday and how many Sundays they have been absent. One copy, of course, goes to the teacher, one to the department superintendent, and the other to the general superintendent. In a smaller school the general secretary may do the same for each teacher.
2. Expect teachers to use the form
Before the teacher leaves the building each Sunday, he takes with him a reminder of the students he is going to see this week. After the personal contact has been made he records the results of the contact and returns the form to the secretary the following Sunday.
3. Keep the system working.
For this plan to bring the desired results in promoting a growing Sunday &hoot both you and your staff will need to faithfully follow the procedure each week. Show your personal concern for the students by checking to see if the teachers have made their personal contacts.
If your school is too large for you to check with each teacher, you will do so with each department superintendent. Making those approaches with a student-concern in mind will show how important you–
the over-shepherd of all the students in your Sunday School–consider such student contacts to be. The teachers will soon learn that you mean business and will catch your enthusiasm.
Notice that the sample form provides for a record of contacts made with visitors and students who faithfully attend as well as those who are absent. In light of the rationale at the beginning of the chapter, keep before your staff that you expect them to keep involved with all their students.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY ACCENT-B/P PUBLICATIONS, INC., 1980, PAGES 106-114. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.