My very first time teaching a classroom lesson was at a small Lutheran school in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was working with a class of about ten eighth-graders, helping them identify active and passive voice in writing. If you’re not an English nerd, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, what a boring lesson!”
I thought I could make the lesson fun, and I thought I succeeded in doing so. My fun idea included Fred. I told my students that one way to identify if the subject is performing the action, thus making the sentence active, is to add “by Fred” to the sentence. If Fred was performing the action, the sentence would then be passive. (For example, active voice would be “Fred walked the dog.” Passive voice would be “The dog was walked by Fred.”)
The students loved it! They got attached to Fred and his shenanigans. I did my best to make a boring lesson fun, and I did well. However, I got distracted by my efforts.
The catch is, you can add “by Fred” to sentences that are in active voice, yet Fred isn’t performing the action. (“She walked the dog by Fred.”) The class didn’t quite catch that condition. So when I asked students to write a story in all active and then all passive voice, they got a little confused. The task of writing everything in passive voice was a little too difficult to do after one day’s instruction.
Think like a Kid
What is it I wish I knew ahead of time? First, think like a kid.
In my efforts to make learning passive and active voice fun, I distracted the students from an important part of the lesson. I overcompensated for what I believed was a dull topic and didn’t realize that kids would be distracted by Fred. If I had gone through my lesson thinking like a kid, I would’ve noticed some of the flaws in my teaching plan.
Ask for God’s Help in Prayer
I wasn’t nervous about teaching until I was in front of the class, getting ready for the day by writing on the white board. Then, it hit me: all eyes were on me, expecting me to educate, engage, and entertain. I got anxious. In the moment, all I could do was pace until my legs stopped shaking.
In hindsight, I should’ve prayed. God knew I was both confident and anxious about teaching this lesson. Had I taken a moment to pray and recall God’s promises, I would have remembered that I wasn’t alone when I was standing in front of these eighth-graders. I was receiving His help the whole time.
Leading by example, whether purposeful or not, is one way teachers influence their students. One of my options was to pray silently, but I also could have invited the class to pray with me. That’s the beauty of a Christian school.
Never Give Up When Helping a Student
During the lesson, a student came to me and asked how to change a specific sentence into passive voice. This was difficult because the sentence was stating the setting of this student’s story. (“This happened at a big-name coffeeshop.”) I was nervous. I couldn’t think on the spot. I should have sat down and solved the puzzle with her, but instead, I dismissed her.
That’s not my proudest moment.
She came up to me a second time, stuck on the same sentence. This time, I tried working it out with her. I thought outside of the box and asked her about all the different ways we could prevent the subject from doing the action. Eventually, we figured it out. (“The coffeeshop was opened in 1971.”) I only wish I had handled it better the first time. Dismissing students only prevents them from asking necessary questions later, and I was both lucky and thankful that this student still came to me again for help.
God has given us each the gifts we need to help love and serve our neighbor. In this case, He provided me with the courage and wisdom I needed to help this student. Being stuck or wrong is scary, but as we reflect on His Word, we remember that He never fails.
Indulge Some of Their Questions
Anyone who has taken or taught education courses knows that building relationships with your students is one of the most important things to do as a teacher. Relationships can affect the whole classroom environment, so you must be sure you’re fostering those student-teacher relationships.
I wish I had been told not to be shy. Students are bound to ask the student teacher questions—after all, we’re practically celebrities in their lives. I deflected many of the questions students asked me, not because they were interrupting the lesson, but because I felt like I didn’t have to share anything about myself.
Of course, there is a limit to how much you should share and when; however, relationships require some vulnerability. If they want to know my favorite pasta or what I think about dinosaurs, then I should indulge them and answer. My first time teaching, I avoided these kinds of questions. “Do you have any siblings?” is rather low risk but can feel intrusive. If they aren’t distracting the class, questions should be answered.
Teachers are bound to make some mistakes, especially when they are newbies. Don’t sweat it, do better next time, and build those relationships. Remember—God is always there to listen and help us. Prayer is essential. He doesn’t dismiss us, and we shouldn’t dismiss our students.
Enduring Faith Religion Curriculum helps teachers and students learn about God’s Word at work in their lives.