Teaching Combined Classes - Please Help


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Two to three times a month I end up teaching all of the primary kids from 6 to 12 because the other teachers don't show up. It is really bothering me!!


Our primary has a few challenges - we have a smaller primary and more than half of our kids are really inconsistent attenders. Some are on every other week schedules with divorced parents, some are semi-active.


I teach the older Valiant class - boys and girls combined, the 9, 10, and 11 year olds. My class has 15 kids that come at least once a quarter. It's all over the board, though. Some weeks I have 2. Some weeks I have 10 or 12.


The other primary classes are similar. The class just below mine is the CTR 7 and Valiant 8 kids in one class. They have a husband-wife couple teaching their class. They are gone a lot. Sometimes they text me the morning of, sometimes they just don't show. However, there are a lot of sibling pairs that are split by the two classes and having them combined is a LOT more trouble than just the age range.


The class below that (CTR 6) has a few kids but my daughter is the only one that is there every single week. So, whenever her teacher doesn't show up they send her with me. I don't mind having her if it's just her - and the alternative to send her with the class younger than hers puts her with a sibling and that causes problems.

This past Sunday I had all 3 classes. It was only 5 kids combined, though, so I wasn't too worried about it. I spent a little bit of time during sharing time (yes, our class time is last, don't even get me started on how much our primary presidency does NOT follow the handbook) modifying my lesson to work for the different age range and number of kids. Then just as our class started, they brought in a 6-year-old that had just showed up.

I work really hard to prepare fun, engaging lessons. We were learning about Simon Peter and I had graphic novel templates from 7 stories from the scriptures about him. Scriptures under each panel so each child was supposed to take a story, read the scriptures that went with it, draw the story, and then explain it to the class. The kids from my class did it in 10 minutes. I tried to help the other kids but it took almost the entire time. I was frustrated because I felt like I planned a quality, engaging lesson just to have the kids from my class sit there for 20 minutes waiting for everyone else to finish. Didn't get to most of the stuff I wanted to.

So, help me out here. Do I just need to be more flexible? I've been a primary president before so I really do understand how hard it is when teachers don't show. My way of handling it,though, was to go ask for a volunteer in Relief Society and hand them a lesson manual. It wasn't ever hard to find a volunteer, it kept the classes separate, kept them learning from their own manual, and had a side benefit that I didn't have very many no show teachers. For some reason, teachers don't think anything of missing if another teacher has to pick up their slack but knowing someone will be pulled out of relief society makes it harder for them to feel good about just flaking out.

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This is the Primary president's problem. She needs to do a few things:

  1. Explain to her teachers in no uncertain terms that it is THEIR (the teachers') responsibility to secure substitute teachers in all but the most emergency-level situation.
  2. Instruct the teachers to start their substitute search with the parents of the children in class.
  3. If #2 is unsuccessful, the teachers searching for substitutes can call down a list of members who have volunteered to try to help out in such situations. The Primary president should solicit such offers by passing a sign-up list around the Relief Society and the adult Priesthood quorums. (She will need to vet the list with the bishop before using it, of course.)
  4. Every week, check that all teachers are available. If they are not, she and her counselors need to go find people to teach the classes. This is no small priority; if no other substitutes are found, bishopric members generally should be rushing to teach the classes. (Obviously, the president or her counselors themselves should be acting as substitutes, when possible.)
  5. When such a situation does occur, it is the Primary president's responsibility to see to it that the offending teachers are informed, kindly but in no uncertain terms, that they MUST get a substitute when they will be gone.

If you have a good relationship with your Primary president, I encourage you to discuss the above principles with her. In any case, I would also stronglyh advise you to tell your Primary president that constantly taking in other students is highly disruptive to your class and makes your lessons much less effective.


Primary president can be a tough calling, no doubt. In my mind, the only ward-level callings that are obviously more demanding are bishop and Relief Society president. (High priest group leader sometimes vies for that position, too.) But this is why the calling of Primary president is so key. The woman who holds this position really needs to step up to the organizational challenges it presents. Not to put too find a point on the subject, but the spiritual welfare of the children is very much at stake.

Edited by Vort
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Yes, you and I are definitely on the same page. My husband is the bishopric counselor over primary and that was how he explained it should work when the primary president was called. THEN the Stake Primary President came to do training and told her he was wrong. If a teacher doesn't show up, she should send them with another class because then at least they are getting a lesson that was prepared in advance. My husband even asked the stake primary president in person because he thought the ward primary president must have misunderstood.

However, I think you just have to look at the results. It's not unusual for all but 1 or 2 teachers to not show up in our ward. A few years ago when I was primary president in the same ward we rarely had teachers not show up and certainly not multiple teachers each week. I've observed it with many primary presidents in multiple wards and the results have been consistent. Dump a class on another teacher because their teacher didn't show and the teachers think it's no big deal not to show up; pull a substitute and it doesn't happen very often.

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I was going to suggest Vort's #3.  But if the overall activity of the ward is that low, then there is a problem with the ward.  I'm not sure how to help with that without being there.  But definitely elevate the issue.  That's what the ward structure is there for.

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  • 1 month later...

I have seen it done both ways. I have experienced both ways. My biggest problem as a sub was having the activity I needed to teach the class. I now teach 2 classes of CTRs at the same time. Most of the children I have taught at one time or another. I prepare for 10 children. I have had as many as 14 in this class. That was a combination of 3 classes. (4-6) I always fix a coloring page. The LDS site is just great. I adjust teach. If I prepare a lesson using a fixed activity for the 10 and I get 12 children then I bring out the coloring page. I then ask one of the Leaders to make copies for me, please! The way alot of the lessons are set up I can use the other activity for another lesson or send them home the following week as review.

Our 4 year olds have had alot of subs this year. I have worked with alot of these sisters or brothers that do sub in this class. They know I have something if there is not something already prepared in the manual. :)

Since I have taught in several of the classes I have a file full of clipart pages and coloring pages from the LDS site. All Church approved materials. I went through and donated extra copies to the Primary Leaders.

Suggestion : Collective Primary File for Clipart and coloring pages that can used for the subs. This can help your subs prepare for a class quickly.

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I've worked in Primary before.  It is not the Stake Primary Presidency's decision on what to do about absent teachers.  That's under the authority of that specific ward's Primary President.  The Stake President only steps in if the ward President is not meeting certain Primary goals or if there's a complaint filed at the Stake level.


I suggest the Primary Presidency tailor their process to what the Ward needs.  In my ward, absent teachers find substitutes from 1.)  parents of the children, 2.) cub scout den leaders, 3.) Relief Society volunteers (we have a list).  In emergency situations when substitutes are not found, either the Primary Presidency or the counselor to the Bishopric assigned to Primary step in.  This rarely happens.


That said... I also suggest that when you plan your lessons, you need to plan with flexibility.  When I taught CTR 8, I had a binder for each of my kids that we decorated as our Lesson Journal.  The binder has 48 sheet protectors in it, one for each Sunday. So, each Sunday, I either have things they color, things they cut out, or hand outs and such that they paste into a sheet of cardstock and then they write their own thoughts about the lesson on it together with all the Bible verses we used in the lesson.  At the end of the class, they put the cardstock in the sheet protector for that week.


It may seem like this process is not very flexible... but when I plan it, I already think about what to do when there are extra kids, etc.  Now, when we have extra kids, they, of course, don't have binders.  So, instead of giving them their own stuff, I ask them to help the kid that has the binder make his journal sheet.  And I continue on with the lesson.  There was a time when I got combined with another CTR class because the teacher had to go home.  It didn't matter, I gave the exact same lesson and the other class helped my class with their binders.  Sometimes, I have a role-playing thing going.  I already figure out during planning how to adjust the roles if there are only a few kids that show up or if there are more than the normal kids that show up.


Hope this helps.

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All the above suggestions are great. I must remember Anatess's binder idea. Sometimes you need to lower your standards.sometimes leaders are called who are seriously flawed. They lack initiative, intelligence, basic knowledge of how the church works - yep I am describing myself many times there! The Lord calls the hapless to serve until they get better, which means they maybe serving for a long time! I once taught young adults where one of the young people kept disrupting the class and insulting others, really drove out the spirit. Teachers kept resigning. All the other teachers took a passive approach, tolerated the nasty little demon for a whie and then quit. I took an active approach. Spoke to both parents, and the Sunday school coordinator, didn't make a bit of difference, actually made things worse. Nasty little demon hid in the bathroom ( I was thrilled!). Now the nasty little demon is inactive, not working, living at home with parents. If I had hung on, and eventually quit, I bet demon would have made more friends and eventually changed her ways! My bad. Most of the time in the church you just have passively wait it out. Yes leaders are inefficient, disorganized and incompetent - that's why God called them!

Edited by Sunday21
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