It has been just over a year since I started teaching 1st and 2nd grade on Sunday mornings at church. A couple of weeks ago, I got a new batch of innocent, impressionable little humans. While the most challenging children are still with me, having only moved from 1st to 2nd grade, there’s a whole new batch of sweet kids who can finally balance them out. (My class size now averages at 18.)
Some days I think I made a really bad choice agreeing to take on this class; most days, however, I realize how fortunate I am, because in a single year I’ve learned a lot – about myself and about life in general – thanks to these kids.
1) I’m constantly reminded to focus on what’s really important. Not long ago we were talking about how Daniel and his friends refused to eat the food King Nebuchadnezzar provided, choosing instead to eat “pulse”. “They were not allowed to eat pig,” I started to explain, when one of the new girls gasped. “But- but I love bacon!” she cried.
2) I’ve realized the importance of speaking as simply as possible – and believe me, this has been one of my biggest struggles. I love words, and I love finding new ways to articulate my thoughts. 8-year-olds have very short attention spans with no tolerance for words above 3 syllables, and 1 or 2 syllables is best. I have also learned to be careful about what I decide to say, because the kids will pick up on the most random parts of a lesson; parts I’d rather they didn’t mention to their parents.
3) I’ve learned how to take breaks. Again with the attention spans, which can focus on a lesson for 15 minutes max, and that’s if the sloth is telling the story. We have prayer time, music time (with lots of activity-based songs), trivia time, lesson time, and game time.
4) Related to the above, my creativity has been pushed to new heights. The best way to get the kids to pay attention is to involve them. They’re too young for proper Sword Drills, which was traumatizing at first. Instead, we role-play (the mad man and the pigs was fun), go through lots of weird questions, refer to maps frequently, and get rewards for correct answers during reviews. Hands-on learning is the best here, which I can totally jive with.
5) Part of the creativity is knowing how to improvise; like when I forget to develop a lesson (I only have a whole week for every one), someone stole my supplies, or I remembered belatedly that there’s a lot of tricky material to the story of Esther that has to be dodged in a way the kids can’t detect.
6) Friendship is valuable, as is teamwork. Inevitably, there are a few oddballs who had trouble interacting (I feel ya, guys), so I have to devise ways to make sure they’re included without feeling awkward. It’s been fun to see my really quiet student open up and make friends on his own. And we’ve been splitting games and trivia times into teams to keep everyone’s interest for longer.
7) It’s ok – perhaps required – to be silly. I’ve really started to embrace my inner quirk in my classroom, and I’m surrounded by people who don’t judge me for it; they encourage it. Things got weird when a coworker visited and brought her daughter, who ended up being in my class, but oh well.
8) Patience, patience, patience. I take my job as a teacher very seriously. I want these kids to learn and grow in my class. I realize how impressionable they are at this stage of life, and I don’t want to mess them up too badly. But they are constantly reminding me to calm down, take life as it comes, and not sweat the small stuff. Some days, we simply aren’t going to get through a lesson, and I’m learning to be ok with that.
9) Deep down, I really relate to these kids on an emotional level. I agree that we shouldn’t have to be quite so quiet in church, shoes should be left at the door, not enough people appreciate the little things, and when you’re hungry or tired, it’s too much trouble to pretend otherwise.
Sure, there are still rough spots. I can’t stand everyone magically needing to use the restroom halfway through my lesson; I got very territorial (quite unconsciously, to my embarrassment) when a new year brought a change of routine and a Sunday school class started using “our” room; having an assistant teacher would be amazing; and it would be nice if the kids had the liberty to cheer a little longer after their team wins, but we can’t because we share a wall with the main auditorium and adults don’t like to be reminded that their kids are having fun in church.
Overall, though, it’s been a blast. Sure, I would like to eventually teach an age group that can read well, but teaching in and of itself feels satisfying and fulfilling to me.