While I was thinking about discipline in the church setting, I was struck by how often we focus on “the problem” instead of “the child.” Every teacher I have ever known (including me!) had a student that makes the time we spend teaching more of a challenge. Challenge or not, each child is a PERSON first, and should be treated as such – not as a problem to deal with or work around. Remember the end goal for any preschool or children’s teacher at church is helping shape a person who loves God and follows Jesus, not producing perfectly behaved robots or chalking up another completed lesson! An example from my own classroom:
I teach a class of 3rd graders, most of whom are active and energetic (read here, rowdy and loud!). On this particular day, one of my regular attenders was having a particularly difficult time, being even more active and energetic than usual. Not openly defiant, but slow to quiet (LOTS of talking and noise making) and unable at all to be still (running around, touching everything, poking people). When I asked the child to be still or quiet, it seemed to exacerbate the behavior. This back and forth continued for the entire class time. And I was irritated because I had a great lesson planned and I couldn’t get to all of it if this kept up. We made it to the end of the hour, but I was still irritated and curious about this child’s behavior – why so much more disruptive all of a sudden?
After class, I asked if the child could stay to help me clean up the classroom. While we (and the other teacher – 2 person rule!) worked, I asked how school was that week. The answer? “I wasn’t there much.” My response? (raised eyebrows!) “Really? Why not?” “Well, my mom and dad had a big fight and my mom and me went to stay at my grandma’s for a few days. It’s too far to get to school on time, ‘cause Mom had to work. But Mom said it’s okay to miss a few days. And I was feeling kind of sick.”
The morals of this story are kind of the same as so many others when you work with children — or anyone, really: The lesson isn’t always the most important thing, you “winning” the behavior battle isn’t the primary focus, everybody has stuff they bring with them, and each person has value. The big question is, What am I going to do about all that, especially when behavior IS an issue?
The best advice I have for you is this: Always evaluate what might be going on OUTSIDE the classroom that could be having an impact INSIDE the classroom. Keep the end goal in mind. Ask questions. Listen. And pray. Pray that you will be a conduit of God’s grace. Pray that you can look past the behavior to the child as a person. Pray that you will be able to tell the difference between “bad behavior” and “needy behavior” (like with my little friend). Pray that you will be able to balance the needs of the larger group with the needs of one child. Pray that somewhere along the line, in the midst of what you may feel is chaos, the truth of God’s presence is very real to all the children in your care, whether that truth came from a perfect lesson or from a quiet conversation in the wake of the chaos.
My prayers continue for you as you shape and guide the little people in your care!
This is installment 2 of probably 3 in a series of teacher helps. I failed to mention in last week’s email that what I sent was, like all the others that will follow, based on a compilation of experiences over the course of 20+ years of work with children and families. All of us have times we need to hear from the experiences of others, and story is an easy way to convey ideas and examine self. The rest of the series focuses on different aspects of the idea of discipline: the child as “person” (not “problem”) and the partnership between the teacher and the parents/family. This week: the child.
Our guest writer is Amanda Lott, Associate Pastor for Children’s Ministry at Huguenot Road Baptist Church in Richmond.