Thursday, June 14, 2007


When I first began to teach, I was so uptight. My greatest fear, I explained to others, was knowing how to discipline the children. The truth was, I was afraid of losing control.

A Sunday School teacher has limits on what discipline to use. We can’t spank. We’re afraid to speak too firmly to kids because they may never come back again. We certainly can’t deny them snack. (Oh, horrors!) Yet, if we’re too lenient, one child can disrupt an entire class and keep a teacher from imparting God’s precious Word to these little ones. What’s a teacher to do?

However, no one told me of this delicate balance. I just wanted kids to sit primly and properly at my table and listen to my words of wisdom as directed in my teacher’s book. With three rowdy boys in my Sunday School class of first and second graders, that was a dream gone by the wayside.

My mentor/mother loaned me the book, “Logical Consequences” by Rudolph Dreikurs (an excellent book, by the way) and taught me about time-outs. With renewed vigor, I went fortified to my next class with my new enlightenment on containing children. With the first sign of inattentiveness, I zapped one boy in the corner. Someone else did some seemingly horrible violation; he was relegated to Corner #2. My third rowdy boy dared to cross the line of my strict expectations and trudged, head down, to Corner #3. (Boys, I still remember your names. If you happen upon this blog and have suffered lifelong emotional trauma because your Sunday School teacher put you in the corner for something stupid like grabbing your tablemate’s scissors, please, oh please forgive me! I was so new in this teaching thing!)

“I’ve got one corner left,” I declared to the two remaining girls, “Who is going to be next?” You can only begin to imagine the not-so-peaceful silence that fell upon that room. One little girl, eyes round with awe and fear, told her parents the whole incredible story on the way home from church. “I’m not sure what we did, but Miss Karen sure was mad.” The parents laughed. (I remember your name too. I hope your parents’ laughter diffused the emotional blow to your self image.)

Today, I cringe when I think back on that day. I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe any Sunday School superintendent in their right mind would ever let someone who was grouchier then a person with tight underwear continue teaching. I can’t believe that I didn’t just quit and vow never to teach again when I realized how petty I was.

Most adults don’t parade their mistakes on blog sites. Yet all of us have had moments of failure. All of us have made mistakes, mistakes that sometimes hurt others. When we realize the depths of our failure, we have a choice. We can quit and decide we’re just not cut out for that job. We can allow our remorse to deter our future efforts. Or we can learn from our mistakes and try again.

I still occasionally put children in corners, but please believe me, my tactics are a lot different. The time out is tempered with love and affirmation. The time out has become a last resort instead of a first resort from an easily frustrated teacher. Part of my problem in those early days was that I didn’t have enough for the children to do. I’ve learned that bored children are rowdy children. I’ve learned to turn inattentive children into interactive children.

The greatest failure is the failure to learn. We have the choice. We can fail to learn – or we can learn from our failures. Only when we are humble enough to learn from our failures will we become successful teachers.

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