Teaching the Unmanageable Class

by Gordon Kierstead

“Are we ever going to give you a black eye this morning” was the greeting that met me at the door that first morning when the Sunday School Superintendent took me to meet the class of Junior High boys. I had been warned, “This is the most unmanageable class in the Sunday School…Sis. Smith was the last to try and she just resigned…we hope you can do something with them.

OH — OH, it looks like we have a discipline problem on our hands. Let’s start by considering a question or two about the subject of Discipline:


Bro. Wayne Mitchell answered that question at a seminar recently with the following scriptures:

Leviticus 20:9 “For everyone that curseth his father or his mother shall be  surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall  be upon him.”

Exodus 21:15 “And he that smiteth his father or his mother, shall be surely  put to death.”

Deuteronomy 21:18 — 21 “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son,  which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and  that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him and bring him out unto the elders of his  city, and unto the gate of his place; and they shall say unto the elders of  his city, this our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

Proverbs 30:17 “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.”

God would not be a just God if He did not reward evil and disobedience as well as good. The Word of God teaches that obedient children will have a long life (Eph. 6:1 — 4).Children who don’t learn obedience, obviously will have alife of heartaches and trouble.


Many things could be said and good points made, but I ratherlike one made by Sis. Janet Trout a few months ago concerning THE ANOINTED TEACHER.(Quote) “With all the emphasis on adequate facilities and tools of teaching, we may have overlooked one of the most beneficial tools of all, “The teacher that is in tune with the Holy Spirit” (end of quote).

We expect our Pastors to be anointed in the pulpit, so why not our teachers. Someone has rightly said they are, in essence, all Pastors assistants…They often teach boys and girls that many pastors seldom see, let alone get to know personally.

TEACHING AN UNMANAGEABLE CLASS (SO CALLED) is, of course, another way of saying an unDISCIPLINED CLASS.

Too often we think of discipline, however, only in terms of punishment. The word, DISCIPLINE comes from the same root word as the word, “DISCIPLE” and carries with it the idea of training or learning.

Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go. “TRAIN UP — make a disciple of him, teach him (not only the Sunday School lesson), but teach him discipline for his life. How we train, disciple, discipline these children is going to have a greater effect on our society ,someone has said, than:

The way these children will vote

The technological problems they solve

The exploits they perform, even in outer space

or how successful they become in business.

The actual words, “train up” in the original Hebrew is the root word for the term ROOF OF THE MOUTH or PALATE. When a Hebrew child was born, the midwife would dip her finger in date juice, reach into the baby’s mouth and massage the PALATE and GUMS to create a TASTE AND SENSE OF SUCKING. Then she would place the child at the mother’s breast. So, train up meant DEVELOP A TASTE OR THIRST FOR. This came to be known as DEDICATION or CONSECRATION. Thus, train up…develop a taste or thirst in the child for proper things. Cause him to become dedicated, consecrated in the way he should go.

A CHILD (INCIDENTALLY) as the Hebrew word is used is referred:

in I Samuel 4:21 to a new born.
in I Samuel 1:27 to a young boy just weaned
in Genesis 21:16 to a pre-teen
in Genesis 37:2 to a teenager (Joseph, age 17)
in Genesis 34:19 to a young man ready for marriage.

The term, child, then, was very broad. It covered all the years under the parents’ roof…babyhood to marriage or adulthood. The entire time is called the period of being trained up… discipled, disciplined.

THE VERB FORM OF “TRAINED UP” refers to breaking or bringing into submission (as, for example: bringing a horse into submission by a rope in the mouth).

Create a thirst, build into the child the experience of submission… as one would train a horse which way he should go.


Certainly a great deal more could be said on this subject… however, we will limit ourselves and simply say that Proverbs 22:6 concludes with, “and when he is old, he will not depart from it” OLD in Hebrew meant “HAIR ON THE CHIN” or WHEN APPROACHING MATURITY. The promise is that the child, when he becomes mature, will not depart from the TRAINING, DISCIPLESHIP, DISCIPLINE you gave him —

as a parent in your home
as a Sunday School teacher in your class
as a Pastor in your teaching and preaching.


While there could be times when certain circumstances would require off the cuff action of discipline, for the most part, teachers should PLAN AHEAD for discipline RATHER THAN TO JUST REACT when something unexpected happens. This type of reaction and punishment usually fails in proper control, and
interrupts the learning process.


This will enhance learning and teaching becomes a joy.


Immediately, most will think of attitudes and actions by children who cause problems, but let me submit that THE TEACHER can often be the major cause of misbehavior. “Now wait one minute”, someone will say, BUT let’s take a look at some possible TEACHER CAUSES of misbehavior:



Teacher, John Brown, walks into the classroom with his boys from opening session (if his S. S. has one). The boys are excitedly talking about an interesting event of last week (in this case, a hockey game). John says, “PLEASE BE SEATED, BOYS”, and then jumps right to the lesson…”Now our lesson today is…” It’s not long and the boys are restless, looking out the windows, wiggling, whispering. John’s temptation is to lecture now on how to act in God’s house. But the situation could have been avoided by taking a few
moments to share in the lives of his boys before moving into the lesson.
“Tell me, fellows, who scored the winning goal? Great! So your favorite team won”, etc. “Who can tell me what the greatest game in life is?”…a few more comments and move into the lesson connecting it up with
perhaps the great goal of eternal life.

In Sis. Samantha’s class, they have the wiggles too. Paula doodles on her quarterly, Karen and Debbie are talking, and Gail giggles as Sally tickles her… Sis. Samantha rasps, “Isn’t anyone listening? As I was saying, our lesson is about Joseph…Joseph was a man who lived for God long ago…” Susan digs in her purse and Gail clips her nails… “Girls, would you please pay attention to this lesson”

In another town, Sis. White begins her lesson also with a question: “What would you do if your parents played favorites with your sister?” Every eye turns to Sis. White. Having the attention, she continues… “Debbie thought her parents were playing favorites…’Be sure the dishes are done when we get home’ her sister Brenda taunted…when mother and Brenda returned home with a new coat for Brenda, it was just too much for Debbie…’I hate her’, Debbie shouted as she slammed the bedroom door…Sounds like our house,
interrupted one of the pupils.

“In the Bible, we read of some brothers who felt their father played favorites with their younger brother, Joseph… especially when his father, Jacob, gave him a beautiful new coat of many colors.”

With that, the teacher plunged into the Bible lesson… She had the attention and discipline problems were nil.


What is the difference between these two teachers, both have the same materials? Sis. Samantha didn’t give her pupils a chance to shift their thinking to the lesson.

Sis. White got their attention with a provocative question… and followed with a fast moving story relating the Bible to circumstances of life.

Next week, don’t jump into your lesson with, “Now we study about”, rather stimulate your class’ thinking with a well placed life related approach.


Don’t stop with getting their attention and simply telling a Bible Story. They are listening, now HOLD THEIR ATTENTION! Show them how the Bible is related to their personal lives. Inject things like…

“Maybe you have been mistreated wrongly like Joseph was”

“Have you ever felt guilty because you doubted when you prayed? Thomas would know how you felt.”

Perhaps they would not be able to relate to an order not to pray as Daniel was…but they may have been afraid to ask the blessing in the school lunch room…even some of them at home.

They may not face the lion as Daniel did, but God can stand by them against the taunts and sneers of their peers.


Having a teaching goal or series of goals will not help you relate the lesson to the pupils lives, but will also minimize the discipline problems. FOR EXAMPLE: A lesson is to be about God supplying water for grumbling complaining Israel. One of the lesson aims is to let the students know that grumbling and complaining are sinful.


Actually, you have applied the Bible to life throughout the lesson BUT in closing, you need to summarize and drive home the goal of your lesson.

An application we should always make unless we are definitely sure everyone is saved…and even then it won’t hurt, is to make a gospel application and an invitation to pray. Incidentally, apostolic teachers know
and believe that the Gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that is exactly what Peter made a life related application of on the birthday of the church when in Acts 2:38, he said, “Repent (die), be baptized (buried) in the Name of Jesus Christ, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost (resurrection).”

Sis. Judy Maki makes the point of this application so well in her seminars. I believe the gospel (Acts 2:38) should be applied in every lesson.

Sis. Samantha might have said, “Is there anyone who wants to pray?”

Sis. White hopefully would say, “Will you let Jesus come into your life right now? How do we do that, class?” If she is apostolic in approach and has taught the class long, they will answer quickly, “Repent!” What does that mean? that “Ask God to forgive you for things you have done wrong the Bible calls sin” What else does it mean? “Don’t do them anymore! Then what? “Be baptized in Jesus’ Name” And what will God do? “He will fill you with the Holy Ghost!”

This class knows how to apply the Gospel. Discipline problems will not be difficult here!

Let’s look briefly again at teacher related causes:

1. Dull Teaching

This is a primary cause of discipline problems. The class knows when  you are not really prepared. When goals are not thought out and  organized for maximum effect while the teacher fumbles, the class rumbles.

Organized teachers have rehearsed — activities, lesson discussions, or whatever is to be done, and therefore, know what order they intend to follow, what materials they will use.

3. FAILURE IN KNOWING YOUR PUPILS (a subject all by itself)

This has everything to do with the discipling process and will help you anticipate problems. This involves visitation, extra-curricular activities, and all the rest.

4. PLANNING TO BE FLEXIBLE in your plan is wonderful key  to handling discipline problems. If the teacher appears  to be organized, has an air of control, the children  will often believe you really are in control…negative  behavior is therefore often avoided.

This involves prayer, study, burden, dedication and so  much more (again, a subject by itself). These all play a major role in a disciplined class. A good Holy Ghost ‘ anointing will go far in eliminating discipline problems.


There are some of these also, to be sure –pupils feeling of inadequacy negative behavior for attention, or to feel important plain contrariness, deceit, rebellion, or simply frustration… these, and other problems are
there all too often. We simply don’t have time to spare to deal with all these in this session, but I still believe a prepared, organized, prayed up, burdened teacher is, over all, the best answer.

Finding a way to respond to needs before they are expressed in misbehavior, giving attention before it is demanded, not ignoring frustrations, hoping they will simply go away…These actions by caring teachers and more are things that demand simply…investment of time and energy, work and more work, prayer and care.

Someone said, “God is not looking for people with extraordinary talents, but for people with extraordinary dedication.

1. Giving standards to follow

–let them know what is expected
–keeping it positive helps –not”We don’t”, but  rather, “This is how we do it”.
2. Varying types of learning at various stages of class  and individual development. Again, knowing your pupils and your class–investing  the time necessary to know them well.

Realize that what would work well for awhile may now be getting dull…keep new fresh ideas flowing. Change the method before the present one wears thin.
3. POSITIVE EXAMPLE is the best method of all.

You want them to be early…be there before they are.
You want them to pray…let them see you pray.
Let them see you give respect to the superintendent  and pastor,
Let them see you put in a large offering.

There are several techniques that can influence behavior.
We can do no more than list a few here that would be beneficial to search out and apply.
1. Wise use of the voice

Impact is lost when the teacher is constantly correcting verbally.

I had a teacher in school who was an expert at this, “Mr. Steeves”– would let the hum of whispering and lack of attention rise to a certain level that would turn a certain switch in his tolerance dept., and suddenly, without warning, like a clap of thunder, “ALL RIGHT”, he would explode, and one look at his face was enough to make your heart stand still. He would not need to speak in discipline tones for the next ten classes.

2. There are other signals you can work out that will let the class know the tolerance level has been reached. One teacher simply turned out the lights…and quiet would descend.

3. Probationary isolation

Sometimes this works — remove the child from involvement in a group activity…but within your sight. This often works for fits of temper.
4. Purposeful Ignorance
This works when a child is using misbehavior to get our attention…if it is not too disruptive, ignore it, it may go away.
5. Positive versus Negative
“I think John is almost ready…how about the rest of you?” instead of, “Aren’t any of you ready yet?”

Other excellent positive reinforcement methods of good behavior abound as opposed to negative approaches and frequent use of punishment. It basically amounts to care and work, work and caring, investing your time, studying and sharing, seeing each child as an eternal soul, or future missionary perhaps.

Who knows just who may be sitting in that class masked behind a mischievous freckled nose.

YOUR TECHNIQUES OF DISCIPLINE must be developed and may vary with the needs.
1. Use humor — but don’t ridicule, laugh with them but not at them.

2. Remove the cause of poor behavior.

3. Discuss problems at their inception — don’t let them develop.

4. Don’t let the class get the upper hand.

5. Discourage tattling.

6. Concentrate on improvement, not perfection.

7. Show them how to do better.

8. Speak to the individual privately when possible.

9. Avoid the “obey or else” approach. That simply dares the child to disobey

10. Expect the best — children know when you are expecting misbehavior  and they will reward you.

11. Listen more — listen between the lines for special needs and worries  (again, this is a subject by itself).

12. Be consistent, be fair and firm.
“Oh consistency, thou art a jewel”
Oh God, give us consistent people and we will, I tell you, take our cities, win our families, and convert our classes.

I read a book once on “How to Out sell the Born Salesman”… and I believe we can also out teach the born teacher, out preach the born preacher, out lead the born leader…and just how may that be done? CONSISTENCY, MY FRIEND! Just keep working at it… The born salesman, teacher, leader, is so sure he knows how that he often forgets to just get at and do it! He is like the proverbial rabbit who knew how to run but lost the race to the plodding turtle.

The natural gift af doing things is good, very good when totally dedicated…but those who do what their hands find to do and do it with all their might, their gift will certainly make room for them.

We started by talking about a situation being thrust upon us and the idea of discipline being most out of hand. What do we do in such cases?

The best we can?
Pray and roll up our sleeves?

I guess I found in that case, the scripture was fulfilled which says…in that moment it shall be given you what you shall speak. The class said as I walked through the door, “Boy, are we going to give you a black eye this morning!”

Stunned briefly, I found myself saying, “OK…fellows, who wants to be first?” Being a heavy set six football individual (even back then in my early days of Sunday School involvement in the work of God), the fellows were a bit shocked. The reaction was: “Not me, I was only kidding!”

“OK fellows, now listen to me a moment,” I said as I strode into the class (perhaps a little less confident than I projected)… and to their further surprise, I said, “I don’t really care what you fellows do in this class.”..


“Look, I don’t care if you stand on your head, put your feet on the table or whatever (some already had their feet on the table). Brian, are you comfortable? Why don’t you lean your chair back against the wall, relax, man,” and I continued a couple of minutes in this vain.

You can imagine their state of wonderment at this seemingly different attitude than they would expect. “This is great”, I heard a couple of them say as I repeated, “Boys, I mean it, I really don’t care what you do in this class…

However, would it be fair if I asked one request ?”

“Sure, why not?” they agreed…”My request is this. You can do what you want, lean your chairs back, put your feet on the table, stand on your head, BUT (and I raised my voice) the one thing I demand and request is your ATTENTION.

The moment I don’t have that…there is going to be
T-R-0-U-B-L-E around here. Otherwise, relax, fellows”

Needless to say, in a week or so many of the things that were out of good taste grew wearisome when no one seemed to care… after that, we had to learn to use some of the methods we have been talking about in session.

There are no really unmanageable classes…there are some undisciplined, unimaginative teachers without spiritual motivation, that is, at least some places I’ve been. Thank God, they don’t have them where you good people live.

Incidentally, some of the boys from that class are today ministers of this great Gospel.