Successful teachers use the start of a new semester to define the class goals. State clearly what you hope the students will gain from the course. This includes the lesson topics as well as the impact you hope the course will have on their lives.
- Emphasize the importance of building teamwork. Learning increases as a group works together to reach their objectives. Cooperation and interdependence also keep the students engaged in the course. Share your expectation to be a learner as well as a teacher. You may have taught the lessons before, but you should expect to grow from the dynamics that this group will bring to the course.
- Emphasize regular attendance. Regular attendance is important for teamwork. Students need a healthy sense of commitment.
Discuss classroom rules for participation.The class may want to draw up their own group rules. These might include:
- Show respect for one another
- Build on each other's ideas
- Speak for yourself, not for others
- Be sensitive to needs of members
- No laughing during role-play
- Be courteous and show brotherly love
At the start of each class, outline what will be covered in that class session. The lessons will be more effective when the objectives are clear. Knowing the lesson objectives helps a group stay on task. It has been said that when the students know where the lesson is going, they are more likely to be there with the teacher at the end.
Momentum is key for holding student interest. Keep the lesson moving briskly. Lessons with good flow are less likely to offer opportunities for deviance because cues for students are directed toward behaviors appropriate for the lesson. If the lesson is jerky with frequent interruptions and side trips, there is more competition for student attention and a greater tendency for the students to go off task.
Handling Difficult Behaviors
Even with the best preparation, all teachers occasionally encounter problem behaviors. Here are some tips for the more common challenges you may face.
- When one or two students become involved in off-task behavior, look for ways to redirect their behavior. It is important to refocus the student's attention on the objectives being covered. If a couple of students are distracting the group with a private conversation, use proximity. Simply move closer to the students that are talking without interrupting the instruction or class discussion.
- If the group starts to lose interest in the lesson, use discussion questions to draw the students back into the lesson. Group-focus through discussion questions often rekindles interest.
- It is best to ignore mildly negative behaviors. Discuss very negative behaviors in private. In a classroom of seventh graders, one young lady was completely disruptive. I ignored the behavior during the class, but spoke to her privately after the class. I said, "I like you. You are bright and funny. I want you to do well in this class. What can I do to help you succeed?" From that day on, she was my most attentive student.
- What do you do, however, when all your best efforts fail? Use the librarian approach to overdue books. Librarians never scream or shout. They do not take your tardiness personally. They simply tell you what you owe for the overdue book.
Do not take personally the difficulties you encounter. Remember that most problem behaviors have nothing to do with you. They are due to personal fears, needs, or other issues beyond your control.
As you face your next Sunday school class, remember to keep the class goals clear, encourage teamwork, emphasize respect for one another, and never lose your sense of humor.
By Julie Kraus