Effective Teaching Means Knowing Yourself

Every teacher teaches two lessons at a time - one from the lesson material and the other from himself.  What he teaches from the lesson material often misses the mark; but the teaching that goes out from himself - his personality, his character, his life - goes without aim or effort straight to the hearts of his students.  Children may fail to grasp the truth that comes from the teacher's lips, but they will not fail to absorb the truth that comes from the teacher's life.

It is not what the teacher teaches purposely or by earnest effort that goes deepest into the hearts of his students, but what he teaches unconsciously and without any purpose at all.  It is not what the teacher says so much as what he is that makes for success in his holy calling.

So while it is extremely important to know your lesson and to have it well prepared, it is a far more important thing for you to know yourself and to have yourself well in hand.

Spend time preparing yourself.  Find your way to the presence of the Master.  Have Him cleanse your heart anew and fill you with His Spirit.  Remain in His presence until your heart is in a glow and your face reflects the light that shines from His face; until all the harsher things in your nature disappear and love reigns supreme; until you are full of sweetness, gentleness, and loving kindness.

Climb by prayer up to the heights where petty things cease to vex; where it is easy to be patient; where trying circumstances are no longer trying; where one can suffer with a smile; where one can love the unlovely and the unlovable.

And always try to go to Sunday school by way of this mountain top.

Secrets of Sunday School Teaching
By Edward Leigh Pell

The Very First Secret of Successful Sunday School Teaching

Aim at Something!

1.  The reason a great many teachers never accomplish anything is because they never aim at anything.

2.  Go in with the attitude that you want to accomplish something, and you know what you want to accomplish.

3.  Some people "drop" into teaching for various reasons.  Then they wonder why they strike bottom.

4.  We will almost always strike bottom when we fail to strike for something higher.

5.  What better thing could a teacher do than mold a life - a dozen lives - after the image of Christ?

6.  As a Sunday school teacher:
  • Set a high goal.
  • Get to work.
  • Keep your eye on the goal.
  • Continually improve your teaching skills.
  • Win and manage your students.
  • Love your students.
  • Pray for your students.

The work of molding lives is going on now.  You are arriving because you started somewhere, set goals, and worked toward them.  If you want to be a successful teacher aim at something!

Secrets of Sunday School Teaching
Edward Leigh Pell

Am I Reaching the Hearts of My Bible Students?

Are we reaching the hearts of our students?  Is there any mission more important in Sunday school or children's ministry than to reach the hearts of our students? 

It is fine to have an inviting classroom, enjoyable activities, and interesting lessons.  These things win a child's attention, but they do not necessarily reach a student's heart.  It takes heart to reach heart.

You reach a child's heart by your loving, caring words and actions.  You can reach a child's heart with God's heart by laying the Word which comes from God's heart on the child's mind.

How can I lay the Word of God on the minds of my students so that it finds its way into their hearts?

I must get possession of the Word myself.

I can't lay it on the mind of my students if I don't have it on my own mind.  I must possess the Truth - God's revelation of Himself.  The Word must be in my heart. 

I must not only possess the Truth, but the Truth must possess me.  I'm not going to get possession by glancing over the lesson and memory verse on the way to church Sunday morning.  If I'm going to put anything into the minds of my students I must have something in my own mind.  If I'm going to fill up my own mind, I must go to work and dig it out of my Bible with the aid of the best lesson helps I can find.

I need to reach the hearts of my students with the Truth that saves, that transforms us into the image of Christ.  I can't do that unless my own heart is on fire with it.

Imagine our Sunday schools being equipped with teachers who burn with desire to know the Word of God, and who study that Word till their blood tingles with eagerness to impart it to their students.  Those classes will be successful even if they have no equipment but a log to sit on!

Liberally adapted from Secrets of Sunday School Teaching
Edward Leigh Pell
Copyright 1912

Mechanical Methods for Securing Attention

Let's say we've gotten the attention of our students.  How do we keep it?  Here are a few simple methods that may keep children on their toes.

1.  Movement

We know that kids can't keep still for an extended period of time.  It's hard even for adults to do that.  Often, on long afternoons in my school classroom, the children would be tired and restless.  I would ask them to quietly stand, stretch, and maybe have them walk around the room.  This was usually enough movement to help their concentration.  Or I would give them a ten-minute break.  They could go to someone else's desk and chat with them, clean out their desk, or whatever they wanted, as long as it was not disruptive.  When the break was over, they were much more refreshed.

2.  Simultaneous reading

This may work better for younger students, but it can be a fun activity.  Choose a small passage and have everyone read it aloud with you.  Next, have the children read silently while you read orally.  Pause frequently, and have them say the word that is next.

3.  Continual engagement

Continual engagement is the great antidote to inattention.  Whatever you can do to keep the students involved by eyes, ears, and hands is going to help.  Ask questions that promote discussion.  Let the children know they could be called on at any moment.  Pause often and have them write down a word, phrase, or definition.  Have them draw a small graphic to illustrate a point.

4.  A quick eye and ear

Most teachers already have this skill.  Make sure you know what is going on all over the classroom.  Be sharp and watchful.  Be alert when someone is "zoning out."  Simple techniques, such as walking over by the student or asking him or her a question can bring the student back to the topic.  The goal is not to embarrass the child or put him on the spot.  You are just trying to bring him back into the discussion.

These are called mechanical methods because they don't have anything to do with actual teaching.  They are simply external techniques to keep interest from flagging.

Adapted from "The Art of Teaching," by Joshua Fitch, copyright 1800's


The Bookish and Unpractical Lesson Will Fail

One of the first requisites in good teaching is, that the lesson will address itself to the actual experience and needs of the learner, and not to any imaginary experience or need.  We cannot fulfill this condition unless we make it our business to know what are the real dangers and temptations, the weaknesses, and the wants of the children whom we have to teach.

Here are some things to avoid:
  • Anything unfamiliar, artificial, or sermonizing in your language
  • Fake tone in your voice
  • Illustrations that are too bookish and unpractical
  • Virtues and vices that don't relate to your students
  • Talking over their heads
  • Not being familiar with the real lives which children lead
Any of the above traits will cause your students to lose interest in what you say.

So, what will children listen to?  A teacher who has ample and accurate knowledge of the subject, and skill in applying it to the case of children.  In the eyes of students, this gives the teacher credibility and the right to be heard.  It will enable the teacher to gain the ear of the class.

Adapted from "The Art of Teaching," by Joshua Fitch