The Sunday School Teacher's Guide

By John Angell James, 1816



In every case of combined exertion, there are mutual obligations devolving upon the co-workers; on the due discharge of which the success of their efforts materially depends. This is obviously true of the case in hand. Besides what is due to the children from the teachers, there is much to be observed by the teachers towards each other.

1. They should cultivate a spirit of reciprocal affection.

In addition to the ordinary reasons for brotherly love, which exist in every case, your circumstances supply another of considerable weight. Unity of exertion certainly calls for unity of affection; for the former without the latter can exist—but in a very feeble degree, and be crowned only with very partial success. Love should be the 'superintendent' of every school. Affectionately devoted to the object of the institution, you should love everyone who contributes in the least measure to its success. Worldly, and even wicked associations, lead to strong affection between the united parties—the soldier contracts a strong affection for his comrade who is fighting by his side; the servant who is faithfully devoted to his master's interest, feels a regard for his fellow-servant, in whom he discovers the same fidelity; the traveler forms a growing friendship for the person whom he has incidentally met with on the road, and with whom he shares the toils and the dangers of the way; even the fraternity of robbers, generates sometimes a sort of affection for each other.

Certainly then, a co-operation so benevolent in its object, and so holy in its acknowledged bond of union, ought to produce a high degree of Christian love. Laboring side by side in the cause of immortal souls; that cause in which the Savior spent his life, and shed his blood; that cause, which from beginning to end is emphatically the cause of love, you should cultivate towards each other no common measure of hallowed friendship. It is not enough that you avoid a state of open enmity; it is not enough that you maintain a kind of complaisant indifference, or a cold and civil distance; all this is very far below that cordial and glowing affection which should be cherished among the fellow-workers in such a cause. This should be the prompt and generous language of one heart to another, "I love you, for your love to these children, and the interests of piety." The teachers of every school should form a holy family; a beautiful fraternity associated by the bond of affection, for the purpose of benevolence, within whose sacred, and peaceful circle, envy, jealousy and strife, should never be allowed a place—but which should incessantly exhibit the "good and pleasant sight of brethren dwelling together in unity."

2. There should be cordial, and general cooperation in everything which concerns the institution.

The prosperity of the school at large, is what every individual teacher should keep in view, and which he should seek by the improvement of his own class. It is of vast importance that you should steadily and permanently remember, that although you have separate and individual duties, yet you have no private, and separate interests. The school forms a little community, of which you are a member, and against which it is a sort of high treason to violate its integrity, by setting up the interests of distinct parties. You must all act together. The worst of evils have arisen from the teachers being divided, as is sometimes the case, into little separate groups. These are frequently, perhaps generally, produced by the operation of private friendship. For example, here are two or three of the number who, from congeniality of mind, or long intimacy, are on habits of the most friendly fellowship. Forgetting the consequences which are likely to ensue, they take no pains to conceal, or suspend their fellowship during the time they are at the school. They are often seen talking to each other, and exchanging the warmest expressions of endeared friendship, while the rest are passed by with cold civilities, or indifference. All this while, a spirit of division is imperceptibly generated. Others perceiving that they are not to be admitted to the select circle, form parties of their own. During the usual and uninterrupted routine of ordinary business, no effect peculiarly injurious perhaps arises—but the very first time that an offence occurs, or a diversity of opinion takes place, the mischief which has been secretly collecting, explodes. Factions are instantly formed with the most exact precision, according to the parties which had been previously composed. Opposition grows strong. The work of division and alienation goes forward. The seeds of lasting discord are sown, and it is very long before the school recovers the injury.

Take care, therefore, of splitting the teachers into parties. Particular friendships you are not forbidden to form—but at the same time remember that the school is not the place to display them. Even should you walk in company to the scene of your labors, remember to separate as friends, the moment you touch the threshold of the school room, and suspending for a season the visible partialities of favorites, mingle with the whole body, and feeling the pressure of a general bond, act upon the principle that you are all one.

Especially take care of systematically thinking and acting with a certain party. Endeavor, in all cases of diversity of opinion, to act independently and conscientiously. Be very watchful that affection does not impose upon your judgment, and that private attachments do not influence your public conduct—for if it is seen that in your official duties, you act independently of personal regard, such friendships, however well known, will make no party, and therefore do no harm.

3. Never make the real, or supposed faults of one teacher, the matter of conversation among others.

This rule equally extends to official delinquencies, and personal offences. There is a most powerful propensity in human nature, to what has been denominated with considerable propriety, backbiting—or making the faults of an absent person the subject of conversation. This is a vice so evil, so mischievous, so cowardly; so characteristic of littleness, as well as of malignity—that every holy man should hate it, and every wise man be ashamed of it. O what wisdom, what mercy, what beauty is there in our Lord's direction, "If your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone; if he shall hear you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, then take with you one or two more; that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established." If this rule were universally obeyed, most of the feuds and quarrels which destroy the peace, and desolate the temporal interests of mankind, would be cut off.

"Tell him his fault between you and him alone," and of course this must mean, tell him first—let not another know it, until you have tried the effect of this private and personal representation. How often has the harmony of our schools been interrupted by a violation of this simple and beautiful rule. A teacher's faults have been made the matter of free conversation, until the subject swelled by falsehood, and envenomed by malignity, has come to his ears in the most exasperating form. It is quite melancholy to reflect, from what slight causes, the most serious animosities have arisen, even among those who were professedly teaching a religion of forgiveness; and the grief is increased by considering what a small measure of forbearance would at one time have proved sufficient for preventing the whole series of subsequent mischief.

It is a difficult point to settle, who is most to blame, and most answerable for the consequences—the person who first commits backbiting, or he who by revenging, or publishing it, causes it to extend its mischievous effects. If my neighbor be wanton, or wicked enough to throw a kindled firebrand into my dwelling, and I, instead of immediately quenching it, throw it back into his premises, or cast it into the air, for the wind to carry it where it will, am I less answerable for the conflagration than he? Thus when you are offended, if instead of going to him alone, and endeavoring to come to an amicable adjustment of the affair, you throw back the firebrand in revenge, or cast it into the air, by publicly talking of the matter, and a fire of contention ensues, you are perhaps the guiltier individual of the two.

Let me here enjoin upon all concerned in the active duties of a Sunday School, the diligent cultivation of that love, which the apostle has so exquisitely described, "Love is patient"—when injured does not seek revenge. "Love is kind"—is desirous of making everyone happy. "Love envies not"—feels no pain at the sight of another's excellencies or possession; nor dislikes him on that account. "Love is not boastful"—does not brag of what it has done or can do. "Love is not puffed up"—has no proud conceit of its own attainments or achievements. "Love does not behave improperly"—quietly discharges the duties of its own rank, station, age, or gender, without crudely stepping out of its own appropriate circle. "Love seeks not her own"—abhors selfishness. "Love is not easily provoked"—is as backward to take offence, as it is to revenge it. "Love thinks no evil"—is willing to impute a good motive, until a bad one is proved. "Love rejoices not in iniquity—but rejoices in the truth"—mourns the failings; and delights in the excellencies of its opponent. "Love bears, or covers all things"—covers with a mantle of love, those faults which it is not necessary to disclose. "Love believes all things"—to the advantage of another. "Love hopes all things"—where there is scarcely evidence sufficient to induce belief. "Love endures all things"—is willing to make any sacrifice, and endure any privation consistent with truth, in order to promote peace.

What schools we would have under the control of such a spirit? What hinders us from elevating this Godlike, heavenly, and everlasting virtue, as the ruling temper of our hearts, and the all-pervading spirit of the institution?

4. Always address each other with kindness and respect.

Avoid everything domineering, uncivil, and disrespectful, both in manner and in tone. It is greatly to be regretted that suavity of speech, and politeness of manners, appear with some people, to rank among heterodox virtues. But I have yet to learn in what page of revelation courtesy is forbidden. Gold is not the less weighty for being burnished, nor the diamond less valuable for being polished—no, nor is real religion the less pure for being decorated with the ornament of real courtesy. The holiness of a saint, receives no contamination or alloy from the manners of a gentleman.

I am not inculcating the stiff, cold etiquette of a heartless and cringing politeness—but that affectionate, and respectful attention to each other's feelings, which is compounded of benevolence and good manners. "Let the law of kindness be in your lips, and your speech be always with grace," remembering you are not many masters—but brethren.

It is of considerable moment that as the children are required to respect their instructors, they should be invariably taught to do this, by the example of the teachers, mutually respecting each other. And as it is one object of Sunday School instruction, though not the ultimate one, to check what is crude, and polish what is rough in the manners of the children, it is of no small consequence, that in the conduct of their teachers, they should constantly have before their eyes, very correct models of kindness and respect

5. Never interfere with the duties of each other.

An interfering, meddling disposition, is sure to do mischief, and incur contempt. Your respective duties are sufficiently distinct to be clearly ascertained, and to render encroachment inexcusable on the ground of ignorance. Upon observing any irregularity, or neglect in the class of another, instead of attempting to rectify it yourself, mention it kindly to the teacher to whom it appertains; especially remembering that the hint be given as privately and delicately as possible, as no one should be convicted or reproved before his own pupils.

6. Be very careful to discharge the general duties of your office in a manner suitable to your age, gender, and condition in life.

Older and younger teachers are under reciprocal obligations to each other. They whose years and experience entitle them to considerable deference from their younger fellow-laborers, should be exceedingly anxious to employ their seniority to great advantage. Let them remember the influence of their example, and therefore, not merely abstain from everything which it would be injurious for others to imitate—but abound in every virtue which may be copied with advantage. Extraordinary seriousness and zeal should characterize all their deportment. Connected with this should be a friendly disposition to associate with their younger brethren. There should be no distant, reserved and repulsive behavior—but a willingness to instruct, encourage and guide them—unattended by a wish to dictate and govern. How eminently serviceable might such people render themselves by repressing intemperate zeal, by giving to youthful ardor a right direction, and smoothing the ruggedness with which the first stage in the career of usefulness, is sometimes marked. Instead, therefore, of viewing the junior teachers as too young to be their associates, and leaving them to companions, as inexperienced as themselves—let the senior laborers in this good cause, consider them as objects commended to their especial protection, whom by their fostering care, they are to train up to excellence in the duties of their office.

On the other hand, let the younger teachers be thoroughly aware of the duties of their age. Let them seek the company of their seniors; treat them with respect, solicit their advice, and hearken to their opinions with deference. Where youth is modestly inquisitive, and old age unostentatiously communicative, much benefit must result from their being brought into association. Young people, however, are exceedingly apt to be forward, flippant, positive and self-confident. Nothing can be more unbecoming and offensive, than to see a person, young perhaps in years, still younger in experience, forgetful of the deference due to those who are wiser and older than himself, urging his own plans and views with a pertinacity which is scarcely tolerable in grey hairs, and contending for their adoption in opposition to the riper wisdom of his seniors—as if he had received them by revelation from heaven. Modesty is a disposition so necessary in the character of youth, that no talents can be a substitute for it, nor can any attainments, however splendid, be admitted as a substitute for the lack of it. Let those who have but recently entered upon their office, then, always listen with great humility to those who have been employed for years, and eagerly avail themselves of the testimony of experience. The worst of evils have arisen from that haughty temper, which amidst the pride of independence, forgets, that vast 'superiority of qualification' is often connected with 'perfect equality of rank'—and that in such cases deference is no degradation.

Between the teachers of opposite genders, there are duties to be discharged which involve their own respectability, and the character of the institution. Some people, who understand no logic but that of the pocket, and who find it more cheap to find out the faults of an institution, than the means of its support, have sometimes made this objection against the plan of gratuitous teaching in our Sunday Schools, "that it gives occasion for too frequent meetings of young people, and often leads to hasty and injudicious connections in life." Leaving this unsubstantial objection to pass like a shadow over a rock, I certainly see the necessity and importance of the most punctilious regard to all the rules of modesty, and reserve, between male and female teachers. A school room is not the place, nor is the Sunday a time for gossip between young men and women. Nothing can be more improper than to see young men intruding into apartments appropriated to the instruction of girls, and there nodding, laughing, or talking to some female acquaintance. Before an assembly of poor children, one of whose greatest dangers arises from a lack of proper and delicate reserve between the opposite sexes, and who are ready to copy with avidity any lack of decorum in their teachers, the very smallest deviation from the strict rules of propriety is a crime not only against their manners—but against their morals. Under such circumstances the most scrupulous circumspection is indispensably requisite.

And here, perhaps, it may be neither unseasonable, nor unnecessary, to caution young people against being led into ill-advised connections, by the fellowship they necessarily must have with each other, after every rule of decorum has been observed. There exists no reason why a connection commenced at a Sunday School should necessarily be a bad one; nor do the other hand, why it should necessarily be a good one. People may be very excellent teachers, and yet be very ill adapted for husbands or wives. The qualifications required for these respective relationships, are of an order, in some respects so essentially different, that there is no arguing from the one to the other.

Sometimes we shall find in the same school, people of very different standing in life; and such a disparity, without an attention to the duties which it entails, is likely to be attended with some degree of discord. The richer, and better educated members of the little community, should be careful to exclude from their conduct everything that looks like the pride of station, and at the same time to avoid that insulting condescension, which makes its object feel at what a distance it is considered. It is a nice and delicate point to distinguish between affability and familiarity; and to act with those who are below us in life, as fellow laborers in the school, without making them our companions outside of it.

Those whom providence has destined to fill the humbler stations of society, and who are engaged in the work of teaching with others of more elevated circumstances, will also do well to guard against an obtrusive, and forward disposition; and without being servile should always be respectful. All they ought to expect from their superiors, is a kind cooperation in the duties of the school, without the familiarity of friends and companions in general.

7. PRAYER is a duty which the teachers of a Sunday School mutually owe to each other.

If we are commanded to make supplication for all men, even for those with whom we have no other connection than what is established by the common bond of humanity, surely those ought not to be excluded from our petitions, with whom we are united in the communion of Christian benevolence.

Mutual prayer, as we have already considered in the case of the children, would be productive, in proportion to its fervor, of mutual endearment. If on a Sunday morning, you devoted a portion of the time spent in the closet, to entreat the blessing of God upon the people and labors of your fellow teachers, how sweetly would such an engagement prepare you to mingle with them in the duties of the day! Softened to benevolence by the exercises of piety, and with the fire of love still burning, which prayer had kindled in your heart upon the altar of devotion, with what a holy temper would you hasten to the scene of your exertions, and with what a glowing affection, look around upon the object of your fervent supplications! What an influence might it be expected such a system of mutual prayer—sincerely, importunately, and perseveringly presented, would draw down from heaven upon the institution at large!! Showers of blessings would come down in their season, in which children and teachers would reciprocally rejoice. God hears and answers prayer; and of all the prayers which enter heaven, and rise before the throne, we can readily conceive that none more speedily catch his ear, and move his hand, than those which one Christian pours over the religious zeal of another; since such prayers, like the aromatic incense which rose like a cloud before the mercy-seat, are compounded of many precious ingredients, bruised and burnt together, and all of divine appointment.