How to Handle a Handful
The first time I met William was when my two-year-old punched him in the nose. Four-year-old William had a problem understanding personal space, and my son, the youngest of four boys, had a problem with William screaming in his face. It was quite an introduction, to say the least.
As I got to know William I learned that he was very intelligent and a fluent reader, but he talked incessantly and couldn’t sit still. He had a hard time making friends and didn’t interact well with other children. William was, to put it mildly, a handful.
I’m sure many Sunday school teachers can relate. We know that all children are God-given blessings, and we have a wonderful opportunity to reach them for Christ. But sometimes the task seems a little daunting. In fact, let’s admit it, there are times that we breathe a sigh of relief when we walk in and notice that one particular child happens to be absent. But as soon as we think it, we feel a pang of guilt that reminds us that Jesus welcomed all the little children, and so should we.
The more I struggled with maintaining order in the classroom, the more I became resentful of William. I knew I was in trouble when I began disliking him. How could I, a Christian adult, a teacher in the church, have hard feelings against a child whose parents had entrusted me with his physical, emotional, and spiritual safety? I knew I needed divine intervention.
So, I prayed, not just for William, but for me. I prayed for God’s guidance and for wisdom in teaching this class. But most of all I prayed that I would love William, and all of my students, the way God loves them.
Next, I enlisted an assistant whose primary job was to keep the students “in order.” Since most of the other students only had minor and occasional discipline issues, she was basically there for William. She sat behind him and would whisper in his ear when he needed to be quiet, redirect his attention to the topic at hand, and gently place him back in his seat when he started jumping up and down. During music time, when William was prone to scream the lyrics in his neighbor’s ear or swat them during his excited performances, she would simply shift him back a little, and give him more space to worship. She was a Godsend, enabling me to focus on the lesson instead of on William.
It wasn’t long before I began greeting William with a hug. I also decided to capitalize on a few of his strengths. I asked him to help read scriptures during the lesson. In this way, he maintained focus and gained the respect of his peers. I praised and rewarded him for his diligence in memorizing his verses. And I gave him special opportunities to do what he loved most—talk! In particular, when he returned from a long-awaited vacation, I allowed him to give a special “show and tell” presentation at the beginning of class. William had his moment to shine, we got to know him a little better, and he listened more attentively during the lesson since he told his story first.
As Bible teachers we too often take our roles for granted. We know the stories. We know the songs. We could make the crafts with our eyes shut. Through William, God reminded me that what we do is important, and it is important that we do it well.
School proved to be a difficult adjustment for William, who was eventually diagnosed with a form of Autism. I am so thankful that I had the privilege to be one of his first teachers, that my class was one of his first classroom experiences. I hope that he has warm memories of that place, a place in which he could not only hear about it but truly experience the love of Christ.