Years ago when I was asked to take a Sunday School class of 13-year-olds who had the reputation of running out every teacher, I agreed on one condition. If I spent hours of preparation on an informative and motivating lesson, I insisted on the right to ask any person to leave the room if he were preventing me from presenting that lesson to the rest of the class.
The bishop demurred, but I pressed the old, often-used reason: “Well, it’s better for one to perish—or lose out—than for the whole class to dwindle in unbelief.”
The bishop looked over at the Sunday School president whose mute appeal told me that they had already had a long string of flat refusals. The bishop’s final words were, “Well, pray a lot about it and let’s see how it goes.”
I went into the class just daring anyone to step out of line. And of course they did. I had already told them that if they were expelled, it would be for as long as I was teacher. I intended for them to know that I meant business—and the braver souls had to find out if I’d stick by my guns.
But I had to eliminate only two before the rest of the class settled down to some interesting give-and-take learning sessions. The family of one expelled boy was already moving to another town, and the other boy sat with his parents in the adult class until I was released for a job in the Relief Society.
It did not bother me at all. I knew I was right; and, if the boy had to endure any ridicule from his peers, it was no more than he deserved!
It wasn’t until several years later when I read a statement in the Instructor that I began to suspect that I’d copped out as a teacher. A great-grandfather, who had been sent out of a Sunday School class as a teenager, had returned to the Church only recently. His statement: “I now have fifty-nine descendants who are not in the Church.”
Just what can a teacher do to prevent such catastrophes? First, he has to want to, and want to enough. I am now convinced that through prayer, diligence, and time we can solve almost any classroom problem.
The Church’s current Teacher Development Program and the inservice lessons cause changes nothing short of phenomenal in the teachers who apply these lessons. During the past 34 years I have taught in every organization except the priesthood and have even assisted my husband in a few of those lessons. Yet I still marvel at the breakthrough I felt from the Teacher Development lessons in the new purposefulness and ease of preparation, as well as the effectiveness I’ve recognized in my own situation. Multiply this by thousands throughout the Church!
Physical preparation beforehand can prevent classroom problems; and diligent spiritual and mental preparation by the teacher consistently to present a variety of sparkling, interesting lessons will win over all but the most disturbed children. There is also the idea of planned actions (not reactions) for the teacher to use in case of disruptions that cannot be overlooked.
But what of the long-time “hard-core” misbehavior? No matter how obnoxious he seems, wouldn’t it be easier to build a bridge of empathy to the person if you take the trouble to find out why he has such a deep need to be noticed at any cost? What can a teacher accomplish during a 45-minute class once a week to combat a home environment problem that has probably been years in developing?
Once the teacher has established the desire within his own heart to use all the resource helps available to him, I believe the whole secret is time. He may not be able to solve the child’s basic problems, but many a life has been redirected because the person discovered there was just one person who honestly cared about him. It takes time to learn about the child’s background and home situation. It takes time to find out his interests and show an appreciation of them—to be at the ball game he plays in or help him with a talk he’s worried about for English class. It takes time to listen to him long enough to gain his confidence.
And how can that time be found for so many of us who are now squeezing our lesson studies in reluctantly and last-minutely?
Well, when we accept the call to teach a lesson once a week, how much time should we be willing to spend on that job?
Think over the past week, the past month. Aren’t there some blocks of time we’ve spent on things less important to our eternal exaltation? Are we passing up opportunities for spiritual growth through services slothfully carried out?
Once we are called by the bishop (the Lord), this means that our stewardship now includes that particular job. We alone are given the stewardship of being the teacher in that class.
The Sunday School teacher who sent from the class the fellow who later had 59 descendants out of the Church was certainly not the sole cause of this. Every life has many variables that might have caused another person to react in a completely opposite way. But isn’t it just possible that that teacher might have been the means of saving those 59 souls?