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National Sunday School Teacher Appreciation Day

National Sunday School Teacher Appreciation Day honors Sunday school teachers across the United States, who teach in their local churches, for their dedication to their students and the life-changing impact they have on their lives. Gospel Light, a publisher of Christian literature, started the day in 1993. Each year, they announce the Henrietta Mears Sunday School Teacher of the Year Award. In the lead-up to the day, people nominate their favorite living Sunday school teachers, and ten finalists are announced. In past years, nominees have received certificates of appreciation and "God Made Teachers" lapel pins. Winners have received a trip for two to Hawaii, a commemorative trophy, and a gift certificate valued at $500 for resources related to Sunday school for their church. The rest of the top ten finalists have also received gifts. While the day is not an official holiday, it has been acknowledged on the Senate floor, when Minnesota Senator Rod Grams spoke of it in 1999.

Sunday school teachers are usually teachers at Christian institutions. Classes often take place prior to a Sunday church service, but may also take place during or after services. Children, teenagers, and adults may all take part in Sunday school classes. Sunday school teachers commonly are lay people in a congregation. In many denominations, the classes encompass catechism classes, where students gather knowledge in preparation for First Communion or Confirmation. During the early years of Sunday schools, large buildings were built specifically for the purpose, which had spaces for lectures as well as smaller classrooms. They were aptly named Sunday schools. When "Sunday school" is spoken of today, it refers less to buildings and more to the teaching itself.

Sunday schools began in England in the eighteenth century. They focused on the education of working children, who often had to work six days of the week, only having Sundays off. There was no other formal schooling for children of the lower classes at the time. In 1751, William King started a Sunday school in Dursley, Gloucestershire, and later encouraged Robert Raikes, editor of the Gloucester Journal, to start one in Gloucester, which he did. The students at Raikes' school could only attend on Sunday since that was the only day of the week when they didn't have to work in the factories. Students learned to read and write using the Bible as a textbook. Raikes wrote in support of Sunday schools in the Journal, and in response many clergymen supported them.

There were 200,000 children attending Sunday school in England by 1785. The Society for the Establishment and Promotion of Sunday Schools formed soon afterward and began distributing spelling books, New Testaments, and Bibles. Sunday schools took hold in many denominations, and with all ages—from infants to adults―and basic reading was a large part of instruction. Their roles changed to some extent in England when the Elementary Education Act of 1870 was passed. As the act provided schooling for all young children, Sunday schools were no longer the only place where poorer children could get an education.

In the United States, Sunday schools got their start when Samuel Slater started them at his textile mills in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in the 1790s. During the following century, along with a few others, philanthropist Lewis Miller came up with the Akron Plan, where buildings with a central assembly hall surrounded by small classrooms were built. In the United States, Sunday school had largely been held in the afternoon, but in the early 1930s, it shifted to Sunday mornings, being held before, during, or after church services. Behind it all, then and now, are Sunday school teachers, who impart religious and practical knowledge and values to their students. We show them our appreciation today!

How to Observe

Here are a few ways to participate today:

  • Do you remember who your Sunday school teachers were? Is there a particular one who had a strong impact on you? You could reach out to them and share your appreciation for them.
  • If you have children, you could enroll them in Sunday school. If they are already in Sunday school, you could have them give a gift, treat, or card to their Sunday school teacher.
  • Churches could show appreciation for their Sunday school teachers in a number of ways. A different teacher or Sunday school class could be featured in the bulletin or church newsletter every week or month. They could also be featured on a bulletin board. The congregation could be encouraged to pray for these teachers.
  • Check with Gospel Light about participating in the day. Nominate a teacher prior to the day and check to see who is given the Henrietta Mears Sunday School Teacher of the Year Award on the day.
  • Get free Sunday school lessons from Gospel Light.
  • Learn more about Henrietta Mears, whose namesake is used for the Sunday School Teacher of the Year Award. She was a respected Christian educator who founded Gospel Light.
  • Read a book about Sunday school such as Sunday School: The Formation of an American Institution, 1790–1880.

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