Teachers Are Made, Not Born!

Sheryl Haystead

The following story is provided by our INCM/CPC Partner Gospel Light. Sheryl will also be a breakout presenter at CPC ’10. 

What do you remember about the first time you taught a group of children? Were you prepared? Were you trained? What happened?

I’ll tell you my experience. I was a recent high-school graduate who had never helped with kids’ programs. With my teacher’s guide in hand, I showed up to tell a Bible story to a group of first graders. I don’t remember anything that was said during the entire session, except for the little boy who raised his hand and asked in a voice full of surprise, “Teacher, are you scared?”

I can only imagine what I said and did so that even a young child could recognize that I was totally unprepared and untrained for being a Sunday School teacher. I think my lack of training was the result of the church leaders being so glad to have someone (anyone?) willing to teach Sunday School that they forgot about the steps that are needed to help the willing volunteer become an effective teacher.

What was true then is still true today. Most adults do not automatically know how to guide others in learning the faith. In fact, when left untrained, most of us tend to teach in the way we were taught: good, bad or indifferent. And who among us would accept a new task without the promise of training to help us make a good start?

When a pro sports team recruits a college player, a tremendous amount of training takes place before that player ever steps onto the field. In the same way, great teachers may have natural talent, but must have training to be able to advance and grow. Reading an instruction manual and attending an orientation class are only the beginning!

It’s easy to tell volunteers we appreciate them. But as the old saying goes, talk is cheap. A well-run training event, however, says loudly to every teacher, “You are important. We value you and our kids. We want you to grow and we want them to gain all they can from your ministry.” That’s affirmation in actions that speak louder than words!

So how do you know if your training is hitting the mark? Here’s a quick checklist to help you focus in on your training efforts:

A Good Ongoing Training Program
• Is practical. Training should always focus on practical ways to use the information that has been presented. The best way to get your teachers motivated is to give them strategies and tips that are ready to use. In fact, having the opportunity to actually practice the skills they are being trained to use will create the most enthusiasm for future training events. (Think about how you learned to ride a bike, drive a car or use a new computer. The most helpful-and the most exciting-part of the training was the time spent riding, driving or exploring.) Focus on one or two specific skills or topics each time you gather your teachers together. Bite-size practical training allows teachers time to absorb and understand.

• Is related to the curriculum. Training that helps children’s teachers and helpers must show how their teacher’s guide can help them put into practice the information learned at the training event. To make sure this happens, always include some time for teachers to talk and plan together during or at the end of a training event. Communication and coordination among your teaching teams is required for lesson goals to be met. Experienced teachers are able to help new teachers grow in their understanding of teaching methods. And planning together makes it possible for each member of the teaching team to feel supported. Keeping your entire staff working together and building a sense of teamwork will pay off in their commitment to children’s ministry.

• Is regularly scheduled. When people are recruited to teach, they should clearly understand when, where and how they will be equipped to succeed in their jobs. More than one such event is essential because not all teachers will attend any single event-and even more important, teachers (especially new ones) need significant reinforcement during the first months of their service. Both new and experienced teachers need opportunities to learn new skills, figure out how to handle classroom concerns and grow in their ability to make a difference in kids’ lives.

• Is consistent. The training you offer should always reflect the same teaching and learning philosophy. Teachers then grow in their understanding of how and why they teach and how best to teach regardless of age level. (And for a smaller church, leaders in more than one program and for different age levels can then be trained together.) Choose topics that reinforce each other so that over time, teachers can “put the pieces of the teaching puzzle together.”

• Is demonstrated. All the great information, tips, suggestions and instructions will quickly dissipate unless you provide a means for your teachers to see good teaching in action. This can be done in a variety of ways:

1. Use the same methods to teach your teachers that you want them to use in teaching children. For example, if you want teachers to talk about the day’s Bible verse or story while children work on an art project, provide a typical art project for the teachers to do, and then talk informally with them about Bible content.
2. Show video clips of teachers in action with children, stopping periodically to point out specific skills being used. The examples do not need to be professional or to show “perfect” teaching; they just need to show real teachers working effectively with real children.
3. Team your new teachers with more experienced teachers and make sure they spend a few minutes after each session talking about how and why certain things were done.

So no matter what you call it-teacher training, teacher networking or teacher orientation, and no matter how you do it-coffee night once a month, brown-bag lunches or pizza dinners, taking the time to build up the skills of your volunteers will motivate them in the most important task they have-leading kids to Jesus!


Sheryl Haystead has been a leader in children’s ministry for over 25 years. She has a solid understanding of real-life ministry because of her contact with children’s pastors throughout the United States and because she is a committed Sunday school teacher in her own church. As Senior Managing Editor at Gospel Light, Sheryl has written a wide variety of popular children’s ministry resources. Sheryl and her husband, Wes, live in California. Sheryl believes that it’s never too soon (or too late!) to nurture children in the faith. Sheryl is leading three workshops at CPC (both Nashville and San Diego): (1) Training That Works, (2) Nurturing Babies and Toddlers in the Faith and (3) VBS Director Power Boost.

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