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Hold Your Tongue!

Christine Yount

We just moved into a new house. And for three weeks we were without any television hookup. Then my husband and a friend climbed up into the attic and put in a new antenna. The big moment came as we hooked the cable into the TV set and waited to see if the picture would come in. The reception ritual ensued. My husband turned the antenna, I yelled to my son, and he yelled to my husband: "Stop!" "Too far!" "Go back!" "Great!"

Finally, the static was gone and we had great reception. Now we could find out what was going on in the world.What's this have to do with the most common mistake teachers make? Everything, and quite honestly, nothing. It's simply an analogy. Just as the antenna had to be fine-tuned for us to clearly pick up programming, so children's ministry teachers' skills have to be fine-tuned for children to pick up God's messages to them.Teachers, on the whole, are doing a great job. They're consistent and faithful. They love children. They pray for them. They prepare their lessons well. They're just pretty wonderful. But, often, teachers talk too much. And this "teacher talk" creates static in the classroom. With a little fine-tuning, teachers can remove the static and become even more effective as translators for the most important Message-Giver.

Here are the seven most common areas where children's ministry teachers need to either talk less or talk more efficiently.

1. Lecture-In many classrooms, kids sit the entire time while teachers lecture. Curriculum publishers are mostly to blame for this one. Their story-time suggestions amount to 20 minutes of teacher-talk with a few uninteresting visual aids.But let's get personal-even a good teacher can ruin a good curriculum with lecture. Rather than being a know-it-all, teachers need to be artists whose brush strokes color kids' discovery process with meaning. An effective teacher involves children in hands-on, direct experiences. As kids discover Bible truths, good teachers subtly direct their experience with a few well-placed comments or questions.

2. Teacher-Centered Communication-To determine if a classroom is too teacher-centered, bring a ball of yarn to class. (Tell kids you're doing an experiment.) Every time anyone says anything related to the lesson content (don't count kids' unrelated comments), hold onto one end of the string and toss the ball to that person. That person holds onto one end of the string and tosses the ball to the next person who says something. At the end of class, if you don't have a tangled web that goes all over the room-rather than from teacher to student to teacher-that class is too teacher-centered. Encourage the children's ministry teacher to ask questions and get kids to discuss their answers before they tell the teacher. Even better, have kids debate or defend differing answers. When a child answers a question, ask the others to comment on the answer-"What do the rest of you think about what Kelly has said?" Get kids talking to each other instead of to the teacher.

3. Inadequate Transitions-Children's mnistryeachers, and kids, get caught up in the pace of the lesson. We do this thing, then we move on to that thing, and now we do this thing. This approach to the lesson is fragmented and results in children not seeing how everything fits together. Rather than saying after each activity, "Now, let's move on to the next thing," teach your teachers to tie each activity together (if the curriculum doesn't). First of all, encourage teachers to read their curriculum and determine if the transitions have always been there but they haven't been using them. Look for transitional words such as "also," "however," "therefore," or "let's find out more about" to tie one activity to another one. If the transitions aren't there, have teachers write in the margin of their lesson what they could say to give that activity meaning. Or have them restate the purpose of a just-completed activity and then lead into the next activity. For example, they could say, "We've just learned that Jesus is God's gift to us. In this next activity, let's thank God for his gift to us."

4. Storehouse of Knowledge-Some children's ministry teachers feel they have to expound on everything. They may drone on and on about Bible minutiae while children yawn and long for the "bell" to ring. Have teachers think about how much kids really need to know. Then have them explore how kids could discover those things on their own. If it's important for kids to know all about sackcloth and ashes, don't tell them about it. Bring burlap and ashes in and have children put them on their bodies. Ask lots of questions: How does it feel? Why do you think people wore this when they were sorry for their sins? Would you want to wear it? What do we do when we're sorry for our sins?

5. Total Coverage-Another problem is that teachers talk so much they don't let kids share their personal experiences. "I gotta cover the material," they think-as though the curriculum is some kind of magical cure-all that'll teach children if it can only be completed. Help teachers see the God-ordained lessons apart from the curriculum. Encourage them to let children talk about things that even remotely connect to the lesson. Children will remember the things they say much more than the things the teacher says.

6. One-Upmanship-You've seen it happen a hundred times. In fact, you've probably had it happen to you at some point. You venture to give an answer to a question. It's a good answer. In fact, the teacher thinks it's such a great answer, that he goes on and on giving further background and related information to shed light on your great answer...until, you feel like a dummy because you didn't think of all that, and you wish you'd never said anything at all. When a child gives an answer, avoid the temptation to do a mini-lecture on that point.

7. Incomplete Directions-Teachers often tell children to start an activity before they've given full instructions. Children excitedly begin, only to be interrupted by a teacher yelling, "Oh! I forgot to tell you!"

It's very difficult to regain the children's attention, and it's distracting. Teachers need to give full instructions, repeat them, answer any questions, and then have children move into position to do the activity. The bulk of the talking during the activity should be the excited hum of kids learning.

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