What to Do When the Sunday School Teacher Cannot Make It on Sunday

Sunday 20th January, 2008

For a number of reasons, the Sunday School class my wife and I had joined a year and a half ago ended. Because of that fact, we are "visiting" other classes to choose one. Because I travel to other churches to preach, teach, and observe the Sunday School, I have been out some of the Sundays which has lengthened our decision-making process.

Even though there is one more class we want to visit, we made our second visit to a class today. Some of the members from our former class have joined that class. The teacher and class made us feel at home. We, again, filled out a registration card since the teacher didn't have our previous record--which was no problem (better to request information twice than to have no contact information about your guests!). On a side note, I did begin wondering today what happened to the records of the members of the class that was dissolved (don't leave this up in the air--help your members understand who will provide care for them until they choose a new class).

Anyway, my point in sharing about this experience is to tell you that the heat in the teacher's home had failed overnight. As a result, this morning he called a coteacher to fill in for him. The coteacher had not taken time to prepare for the lesson until he was called. Thus, while the teacher did a great job under the circumstance, there were moments you could tell he was having to rely upon his hastily-prepared notes.

Not long ago, I was in a class in a church where the teacher's bull had gotten out and had to be retrieved making her late for Sunday School. This necessitated an unprepared substitute to cover for her until the teacher was able to arrive 15-20 minutes late. Heating units break down. Emergencies happen. Teachers or their family members get sick. Deaths in the family occur. Teachers take vacations.

Are you prepared? What will you do when it happens (and it will happen!)? What are your options? How can you put a process in place to make these moments less stressful? Allow others to benefit from your experiences by pressing Comments below and sharing your process. Consider these possibilities:

  • Every teacher should have one or more regular substitutes that he/she knows can be called on in an emergency. Make sure you ask about this because not every person can function without advanced notice.
  • Every teacher should be training an apprentice who should be teaching at least one Sunday per month anyway and who should be ready every Sunday. But if it is too early in the apprenticing process, another plan should be in place.
  • Every department or age-group should have a corps of teachers from which teachers in that department or age group can call upon when they will be out because of work, vacation, or emergency. This list of substitutes should exceed the number of persons for whom they may be called upon to replace. In other words, if there are three classes in the department, there should be four or more substitutes on the list--because one or more of them may be unavailable.
  • All classes for minors (preschool, children, and youth) should already have two or more teachers/workers for each class anyway. If one teacher has to be out, another one steps in to cover for the one that is out. But an additional person may still need to be enlisted for safety and security--though this may be easier than securing someone to teach with little or no notice.
  • If an adult class is taught by coteachers, as described above, the other coteacher can step in when the scheduled teacher has to be out. Or they may both choose to enlist a substitute for these times--especially when time to prepare is available, such as when the teacher is out on a scheduled trip.
I have never researched this statement, but I have been told that teachers are out today an average of 10-12 Sundays per year. If they have difficulty securing a substitute every time they are out, teaching becomes a burden. When they are sick, they may have difficulty deciding what to do unless a plan is in place. This can lead to teacher burn out and teachers who quit.

One plan that I have seen fail frequently is one where the teacher simply calls the Sunday School director or pastor. This can be overwhelming, and what if they leave a message on the answering machine of a director or pastor who is out of town--they assume it will be covered, but no one gets the message to take care of it. The best answer is to decentralize the process. Help teachers to own the responsibility. Hold them accountable to enlist substitutes and apprentices. Be prepared for emergencies. Be revolutionary!

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