Scripture teaching - is it the world’s hardest job?
Advice for scripture teachers on how to run classes, discipline well, and stay sane
“Teaching Scripture is the low point of my week”
...a friend told me recently.
He wasn’t a trained teacher, he didn’t know what to do in a classroom, and he was quickly growing tired of it.
I knew exactly how he felt!
Now I’m far from being an expert, but I can still remember the pain of the early days, and the dread that nearly suffocated me every time I anticipated my next class. I had kids throwing paper planes at each other, falling off their chairs, rolling across the floor, calling out, talking back, refusing to work, and just generally giving me hell!
So what changed?
I stopped trying to be their friend, and started being their teacher.
Every teacher needs a discipline policy, and every teacher needs to be consistent. Now in my opinion, a silent Scripture class is not only unrealistic but probably pretty boring. You need to decide in advance what level of ‘chatter’, ‘banter’ and ‘fun’ is going to be appropriate, but also conducive to your lessons. Once you’ve established this, the challenge is to maintain it.
It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you’ve got a policy. If you’re school’s got a system and you can use it, go ahead! But all too often we Scripture teachers are left to fend for ourselves, and so I thought I’d tell you what I do:
Three strikes and you're out
Strike One: You must give these out quickly! There are no immediate consequences to Strike One (or the first warning as I usually call it), so there is no need to feel bad about giving it out. You simply tell the disruptive student or students that they have been warned, and that if they continue to disrupt the class you will have to move them.
Strike Two: You move the student to a spare desk, as far away from the students he or she was sitting with as possible. If there were multiple students disrupting the class (for example three students), then move the middle student (even if he or she was not the most disruptive). Most students will calm down after this.
Strike Three: You send the student outside for a few minutes. This not only ejects the disruptive student from the classroom (allowing the rest of the class to regain focus), but it also gives the student an opportunity to calm down on his or her own. When there is an appropriate lull in the class and you have a moment to duck outside (when students are watching a video or working quietly), go outside and speak to the student. After this, bring the student back inside. Except in special cases, he or she should no longer be an issue.
You’re Out: If a student continues to disrupt the class after being brought back into the classroom, I then send them back to their original class to do non-Scripture. Depending on how Scripture works at your school, this may not be an option for you, but whatever happens, you absolutely must get this student out of the room. The class will never be able to continue until you do.
If a student is sent back to class twice in one semester, they are no longer welcome in my class. Although this may seem harsh and unloving, it is actually the most loving thing you can do for the rest of the class.
A few hints to make life easier
- If you have a smaller class, make sure no students sit in the back row. For almost a year I would say to students sitting in the back row, “It’s not that I think you’re horrible people, I’m sure you’re very lovely people. It’s not that I’m trying to disrespect you; in fact I respect you very much! But if you could please do me a favour and move somewhere out of the back row I would very much appreciate it because it just makes my job a little easier”. When treated with respect like this, almost all students are more than happy to oblige. These days my students just don’t sit in the back row.
- Give out the first warning quickly! If you haven’t given out a warning in the first few minutes you’re either too soft or you’ve got the top class.
- Remember who you’ve given warnings to. There’s no use in having a three-strike policy if kids can get 3 strike ones!
- If possible, always have a spare desk (or two) with chairs right up the front of the classroom. This means that when you get to Strike Two, you have a spare desk ready for them and there is minimal disruption to the class.
- When you send a student outside, make sure you walk them out and tell them to stand with their back to the wall on the opposite side of the hallway (if possible). This should mean that you can still see them outside when you’re at the front of the classroom, but that they are out of sight to the rest of the students who are in your classroom sitting at their desks.
As I said earlier, you absolutely must have a discipline policy! I teach at St Ives High in Sydney, and this is what works for me. You may be teaching somewhere else and find that my system doesn’t work so well for you. That’s ok, just make sure you have a system!
And remember, stop trying to be their friends and start being their teacher! Chances are, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably find that you not only start to enjoy teaching scripture but that you actually make a few friends along the way!