If you teach a Bible class of kids or teens, inevitably you will need to correct one or more of your students. Unfortunately, if that correction is handled badly, it can become a faith stumbling block for the young person being corrected. Ironically enough, some Bible class teachers have assumed never correcting their Bible students is the answer to the problem. Neglecting to provide correction causes its own set of faith problems for the uncorrected student (who should have been corrected).
Whether you are correcting incorrect responses or behavior issues, it’s important to find a way to correct the student while allowing him or her to “save face”. “Saving face” isn’t something we normally think much about in our culture. In some cultures, it’s a cultural norm, but here we are more likely to try to embarrass someone who is incorrect, than we are to try and save them from undue embarrassment. Saving face doesn’t mean you don’t address the issue needing correction, it just means you don’t add embarrassment, shame or humiliation to the mix.
It can help to remember your goals as a Bible class teacher. You should want to reflect God’s image to your students as accurately as possible, while helping them better understand who God wants them to be. Our task is to help change their hearts and minds and if we do it well, those correct answers and obedient hearts will follow.
There are some basic principles that can help you correct your Bible students without causing them undue embarrassment.
- Don’t over react. Most students don’t make mistakes or even misbehave to somehow punish you. And if a student is working overtime to upset you, your over reaction will be the reward he or she is seeking. Do what you need to do to be calm before speaking or reacting in any way to whatever was said or done. Sometimes a few seconds of silence in a classroom while you get your emotions under control is adequate correction.
- Choose your words carefully. Correction is not a time for negative adjectives, pronouncements of dire future consequences, name calling or cursing. The words you use should be loving and kind, even if they need to be firm. Incorrect answers should be corrected with positive reinforcement for the attempt, if nothing else. If you would get upset if someone spoke to you in the way you are about to address a student, then rethink what you are going to say.
- Rememeber “less is more”. Often the first sentence in correction was perfect, but the corrector felt the need to keep talking. The more you talk, the more likely you are to say something inappropriate or harmful or cause the listener to ignore what you are saying.
- Have private connection conversations. If you were in your students’ shoes, would you respond better to someone who constantly criticized you or someone who had a private conversation with you pointing out how much you could help the class if you changed a specific behavior? Young people who struggle with behaving in Bible class are usually either bored (meaning you may need to rethink your lessons and activities) or they probably struggle with behaving appropriately in other settings. Those children are often living with constant criticism. It will change their perspective if someone points out the positive impact the change in their behavior could have rather than pointing out the problems their misbehavior causes. They need to hear you believe they are capable of change and that the world will be better, too.
- Make correction as private as possible. This obviously applies more to behavior than answering questions. If a child is really struggling with a specific behavior, privately develop a signal only the two of you know that reminds the student of the need to change the behavior. If you see someone doing something they shouldn’t have while you are teaching, but it only needs to be stopped for that particular student to learn more, have a private conversation after class. Correction for behavior should only be noticed by other students if the behavior was preventing them from learning. Even then, a light touch on the shoulder or a knowing look is often better than using your words to correct someone.
- Remember incorrect answers and theological ideas need to be corrected. There has been a tendency, especially in classes for teens, for teachers to allow incorrect answers to go uncorrected. They believe they are using the Socratic method of teaching. That’s actually not the Socratic method….only the first part of it (and it’s controversial in some academic circles any way). You want your students to know what God wants them to know and how to accurately apply those things to their thoughts, decision making and actions. Allowing students to believe a student’s misunderstanding of scripture is correct, not only hurts that student, but any other student who believes your lack of correction is an endorsement of what was said. Remember though, praise the effort while correcting the answer.
Using these tips should minimize the embarrassment a student may feel at being corrected. If you notice a student still appears embarrassed, try to find subtle ways to help him or her recover from the embarrassment. Often finding something to praise, asking the student his or her opinion on something non threatening (i.e. no right or wrong answer) or making an extra effort to connect with the student in a positive way can help. Correction in important, just don’t let it become a faith stumbling block.