How to Handle a Sensitive Issue

Give all your students an “A”—as in affirmation. It’s a vocal “grade.” But it can be nonverbal, too, coming across in powerful body language to the class, the way we listen to and dialogue with them. This is a key element in the discussion transactions we regularly have with members every Sabbath.

What we’re talking about here is an instructional disposition, a teaching trait that is absolutely essential to becoming a master Sabbath School teacher! So experiment with positive teacher responses like “That’s very helpful;” or “You’ve pushed us further along here; thanks heaps.” Or “That was incisive and thoughtful, wasn’t it, class?” Or “Now there’s a different spin on things; let’s see if we can springboard off that good lead Brother Bill just gave us.”

Affirming students is critical at every age and stage of education. Quite possibly there are members in our class who were very serious and focused about their study this week, who know more about this lesson than we do. They help us teach the class, and they teach us. They especially deserve our impartial “strokes.”

And there are also, as we well know, some who haven’t spent 20 minutes with the lesson all week. Yet they love to grab the floor with contributions that are about as deep as an oil slick. 

But the class is usually patient and charitable with them, befitting a Christian collective (after all, this is church!).

Be Sincere, Fair, Transparent

Here’s the kicker: You and I as teachers do not just “suffer” such ego-tripping or meanderings. We genuinely accept and affirm their best efforts, however stumbling and inadequate. But it cannot be a PR charade; it must be transparently genuine on our part. Because the class has its antenna out. They’re checking to see how safe it is for them personally to venture forth. No one wants to be put down in a public forum. 

There is something akin to an unpardonable sin in Sabbath School teaching—directly rebutting a sincere discussion offering with a “No, that’s not the correct answer,” or “That’s not what I had in mind,” or “Try again, class; you haven’t got it yet.” A little honest introspection might reveal just who it is that is ego-tripping. Adversarialism may sell newspapers, but it’s the kiss of death for an accepting, Spirit-directed Sabbath School class! Have you noticed how everyone seems to wilt when a class member gets speared like that?

Our assignment as master teachers is to respond to a disappointing contribution by finding a way to validate all responses sincerely and diplomatically. A wounded, well-intending class member who offered up his or her best thought and expression to us, only to have it batted down, may never again jump into the discussion. If other options exist, the person may start shopping around for a class where it is safe to be vulnerable. Or not return to Sabbath School at all. There’s a lot riding on this sensitive matter!

Remember, in every class there are those members who bring a different perspective to the dialogue. Their answers may not be wrong, just the offerings of a “divergent thinker.” These free souls tend to carry a residue of open questions that invite fire. Have you noticed, though, how often these intellectual frontiersmen (and women) spark the discussion and open up new dimensions of conceptualization for all to consider? In this age of group think, these individualists are not generally cherished. So one of our grandest opportunities for acceptance is to give them a little cover, to protect them from the barracudas who have a litmus test for every utterance.

In the end, your class becomes a safe haven for honest searchers in direct proportion to your modeling acceptance and genuine affirmation. So, when the time for the backstage evaluation of the Sabbath School teacher comes around, you’ll find that your class will have reciprocated by giving you an “A.” And I think you’ll see God smiling.

George Akers
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists