I teach Sunday school. It’s pretty straight forward. There is a curriculum that the teachers more or less read from though we can ad lib a little. Did I mention I teach preschool through Grade 1? There is A LOT of ad-libbing that goes on.
Let me remind you, I have two children, I have been a Girl Scout leader for the past six years and I have coached middle school cheerleading for the past ten. None of this has really prepared me for Sunday school. I have been a Sunday school teacher for two years now and in those two years I have learned a couple of things.
First, the most important thing I have learned in order to get through that 45 minute period is rest up! Honestly, these kids can take you out! If you are not bringing your A game, forget it! Plan to spend the rest of the day napping because it can be rigorous! And if you drink, do not think for one second you can handle these children slightly hungover. It is never going to happen! There is NO coffee on this planet strong enough. Trust me on this.
They are little and they move around. A lot. They climb on things. Chairs especially. The chairs are the folding variety and while it comes as no surprise to me, if you climb on them, they fold! Not a shock to me again, but they are usually quite surprised when it happens. (But I must ask, don’t they remember it happened to their neighbor last time? Short term memory issues in the young today, very concerning.)
They pepper you with questions, seriously at the speed of light sometimes, layered one on top of another. Tough questions too! You have to be careful how you answer. Be thoughtful but be careful. How did Jesus die? On the cross. Yes, but how? What did the cross do to him? Of course, THIS is the moment they all stop talking and turn their sweet little faces toward me expectantly. Meanwhile, my brain is hmmming along, hmmm, three to seven years olds, hmmm, nightmares? Hmmm, whitewash? Quick, answer them! Hmmm, don’t scare them! Answer the questions, don’t elaborate. Simple. Which leads me to…
The second thing I have learned: keep it simple. The more straight forward the thoughts the less likely we are to get off onto a tangent. We have been on tangents about Disney World, Transformers, whether or not we can turn our t-shirt around without taking our t-shirts off, brothers, sisters, picking noses, blowing noses, and this was just one class. Getting back on topic from some of these tangents is what I imagine reeling in a 1/2 ton tuna must be like.
Third, have a plan B and preferably a plan C as well. Let’s be honest. Religion can be a difficult topic, what makes us think it is an easier for kids? Sometimes the lesson falls flat and be warned all you novices out there, a coloring sheet on the week’s lesson is just not going to cut it. Puh-lease! Some of these kids are in first grade and if you think they can be entertained with a simple sheet of paper and some crayons for longer than 30 seconds in a world of iPads, YouTube and apps, you are sadly mistaken.
Unless… you let them turn the paper into an airplane. Then you are the winner teacher for the week. London Bridge is also an excellent fall back. I am amazed at how long the kids will play this. I am also amazed that I still think it never gets old!
Fourth is be prepared to be surprised. I know that seems a bit like an oxymoron but seriously, do you get on a roller coaster anticipating a smooth, relaxing ride? Teaching Sunday school to preschoolers is a lot like that. They are going to ask questions, you will not be prepared for the utter strangeness of these questions. Or the degree of understanding and compassion they show. Mind you some of these children are just three. They harbor such kindness in those little bodies. If we could tap into them like little maple trees and siphon off some of that kindness to add with the fluoride in the water, the world would be a much kinder place.
Also, they tell you a lot of stuff their parents would be mortified to know they have shared. (Which makes me vaguely uncomfortable because both my children have gone through Sunday school at this church, not to mention all the years in Monday-Friday school. I can feel my cheeks blushing as I type this.)
Finally, prepare to have your heart melted. One of my all-time favorite memories which I am sure I will recall on my death bed, is of a little boy who, honestly, is a bit of handful. He keeps me on my toes, and he often is doing some kind of gymnastics on the folding chair so I am constantly trying to unfold him and maintain some level of control over the rest of the class.
We were discussing how we know God is there, pretty existential stuff, but I was working it. Part of their curriculum-approved leaflet included stickers that said God is here. The kids could take them home and stick them on themselves, in the kitchen and on the cat, wherever they think God is. Moms and dads were at the door and kids were streaming out in their usual pell-mell fashion while I was trying to catch the kids whose parents hadn’t arrived yet while releasing the rest. The little boy came up to me, very serious with his big blue eyes staring straight into my soul and stuck a God is here sticker right near my heart. My eyes are welling up right now remembering it. I grabbed him and hugged him as not a single word could squeak past the heart-shaped lump in my throat. He gave me a quick squeeze and then he bolted, coffee hour snacks were calling his name no doubt.
While I can recall many mornings I have finished class slightly shell-shocked and frazzled, you better believe I am signed up for next year and pretty much every year hereafter. My cup runneth over people.