Poll: the Ideal Visiting Teacher

For the past year, I’ve been the Visiting Teaching Coordinator in my ward, so visiting teaching is never far from my mind now.  Honestly, I haven’t always been a fan of visiting teaching–being the teacher or the teachee, but with the Relief Society President sitting next to me as I enter my reports each month, you can bet that my VT stats have gone way up, and I’ve learned to see the value and loose the guilt I’ve associated with this program.

This year, I’ve tried and failed at different ways to be a good visiting teacher.  I’ve used Spunky’s monthly VT lessons (coveting the lucky women who get her as their VT), and I’ve read and re-read Linda’s Chocolate Chips and Charity: Visiting Teaching in the Real World when I need a little inspiration.  I’ve seen that there are all sorts of ways to do this job to enrich our spirituality and those we’ve been asked to care for.

I think it’s assumed that we’d all like someone who is kind, thoughtful, and aware of our needs and schedules.  But, when it comes to visits, preferences vary.

Also, I’d love to see in the comments section how you get your visiting teaching done.  How do you make it work for you and the women you teach?

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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28 Responses

  1. Corktree says:

    Because of some issues in the last year or so with VTs, I’m still in a place where it’s been hard for me to let other women come into my home, but after feeling inspired by the potential in Spunky’s lovely messages, I recently requested to have a route again. And I got lucky in having the one women in my ward that knows my struggles as my companion and a woman on our route that I seem to have ample opportunities to serve, so I’m hopeful that it will be a good experience. People have tried to give me the “you need to let other people serve you” line, but I’m comfortable with my current set up. 🙂

  2. HokieKate says:

    I don’t care for the lessons, giving or receiving. They’ve always felt forced. If you want to come bring me cookies and chat for 30 minutes, you are quite welcome.

    I have not completed a visiting teaching assignment in at least two years, possibly more. I was given assignments without being asked if I was willing to complete them. Recently, however, the RS president asked me to be a wandering visiting teacher, basically an on-call companion to those who couldn’t get their companions to go with them. Since I hate making appointments, I said yes. That was two or three months ago, and I haven’t heard anything, so I like this assignment.

  3. MJK says:

    I selected “other” and wrote something similar to what HokieKatie said. I have been getting, and finally enjoying, regular visits from my visiting teachers for the first time in several years after moving to our current ward. They come by and chat for an hour or more and we enjoy just talking. Sometimes they mention the lesson but we don’t harp on it. We do talk about the church though and my current faith concerns and reasons for being inactive and they are great to talk to. Sometimes one brings her son and he plays with my son.

    I feel like they care about me as a person rather than a box on a checklist.

  4. Rachel says:

    I love VT, but it isn’t always easy. I make sure the RS Pres knows I need a partner and people who can stick to a schedule 🙂 I go the same Friday every month. I carve out that time as sacred and I try mightily to stick to it. Summers are always tricky but during the school year that works pretty well.
    Sometimes the messages take work (love the lessons here), and sometimes the sisters take work for me to try to love and find commonality with.
    I think I can only be a good VTer if I actually do know the person and she feels comfortable telling me about her ‘real’ self. That takes time.
    I prefer to go by myself–I think sometimes it’s easier to talk about personal concerns when talking to 1, rather than 2 people. If my partner can’t go, I’m all about going by myself.
    I have confidentiality issues–I don’t trust that what I’m going to tell most of the past VTers I’ve had for me would keep their mouths shut, so I tend not to reveal stuff. I imagine maybe others are the same??
    If I’ve had a really good relationship with people I teach or was taught by, I have asked the RS pres to please not mess it up because there’s real ministry going on there, not just statistics.

  5. Rachel says:

    Oh, and in the past when life has been particularly hectic, I’ve asked to only BE a VT but not have them. To me, if you’ve got a relationship there, it is reciprocal, and I could tell the sisters I visited that I needed help.

  6. Bettina says:

    Simply; I ask the women I visit what kind of visiting teaching they want and hope they are honest with me, ‘cuz what they say is what I do.
    As for visits to my home, I take whatever kind of visiting they feel is best or they feel physically able to do. I have a policy of never looking a gift horse in the mouth.
    When I was young with three little kids at home I had two visiting teachers in their mid-eighties. They could not have babysat my children or prepared a meal for my family, or counseled with me over emotional concerns if their lives depended on it. And they certainly were not my peers or involved in any stage of life that I was. It was about all they could do to drive to my house and come sit on my couch and chat. But that was, in my book, GREAT. I appreciated their goodwill and endurance and enjoyed the chat.

    Whatever my visiting teacher wants to do, I appreciate. I’m fine with it. And, at the same time, I hope those I visit who DO have definite preferences will be honest about what they hope from me. I hate it when a visiting teachee is dissatisfied with what we’re doing but doesn’t say anything to let me know she’d like a change of style/frequency/topic/etc… She can’t offend me by telling me and all it takes is a word or two from her to help us get it right for her.

  7. spunky says:

    I love this poll! Thank you for everyone’s kind words about the VT posts here.

    Because we have moved so much, I have had a variety of visiting teachers and companionship situations. In my current companionship, my companion is retired, never married and doesn’t drive. She enjoys ringing around to set people up for meetings I think in part because -not having a vehicle or a license- she can’t do meals and might not be able to get to people if they need immediate help, so the phone is her forte. I usually present the messages when we visit, but that is in part because I am fussy and sensitive about the message interpretations. I really like this set up; much more than I thought I would. The sisters we teach are very diverse and all at at different stages in life, so the set up has been really nice for me because it give me such wide variety in different family situations and styles. Its been a nice experience to be in a companionship that is complimentary and make visiting teaching into less than a chore.

    It seems like VTing in some wards and branches is an automatic assignment, and with this and inactive or less interested sisters, it becomes an obligation void of agency. I have never enjoyed this set up. I have been the “less active” companion and resented the VT/nazi companion telling me what to do, including bearing testimony of things that I did not believe (I still won’t do this). Later as the “strong” companion, I felt like it served me better to VT my companion, and with her and the 3 other sisters, I was stressed in feeling responsible for 4 families (home teachers were not going to any of them). I think that the unevenly yoked companionship can never help in making friends or inviting the spirit and makes people resent the assignment. I have grown to love visiting teaching, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes resent feeling obligated or overburdened in uninspired and difficult groupings. I think that getting away from these imbalances makes visiting teaching much more doable.

    • alex w. says:

      “It seems like VTing in some wards and branches is an automatic assignment, and with this and inactive or less interested sisters, it becomes an obligation void of agency.”

      That’s how it seems to be working out in my new ward, unfortunately. It’s an awkward situation to find oneself in. Especially when they’re trying to use a less-interested sister to contact another…

      • BethSmash says:

        Ooh! After I switched my records to a single’s ward from my home ward (and then proceeded to not go to church for a year) I got a call from the secretary asking if I had done my VT assignment. And I was like, obviously not. I’ve never even attended this ward. And she was really flustered – and told me the name and number of my presumably active (never really found that out) VT companion. It was like she expected me, a completely non-active person, to call someone I didn’t know to set up times to meet other people I didn’t know to visit them. Who knows, maybe we were both inactive. I just remember being really upset about that at the time.

  8. Starfoxy says:

    I don’t particularly care what kind of visits my visiting teacher gives, but I do prefer visiting teachers who are up-front about what it is they’re doing. I had some who would invite me to play dates, or out to lunch but neglected to mention that these weren’t just social activities motivated by friendship, but official VT visits motivated by duty. I would have enjoyed the lunches and play dates just as much if they had added “and we can call that our visiting teaching for this month” to their invitations, and it would have saved me some hurt feelings when the friendly visits and invitations abruptly stopped with a new assignment.

    • BethSmash says:

      How strange is it, that they can’t continue being friendly? I mean, if you’re spending time with people and having fun, you think you’d want to continue doing it, but it’s like, since it’s a “duty” that you can only do it in a prescribed way, for the prescribed time. sigh

    • Corktree says:

      I’ve had this happen, even after a certain woman was my VT for 2+ years. It was kinda depressing to feel like I had been deceived so badly – I really thought we were friends, and I even tried to be the one to invite, but she was suddenly too busy, and I was suddenly too liberal for her.

    • spunky says:

      I agree- I felt that way with a companion (since I wasn’t being visit taught). We had her and her husband for dinner, yet they never had us over. I just assumed it was because they were on a tight budget. After the companionships in the ward were switched around, I heard very little from her. I had been going to Relief Society for a time because she sat with me, but even that changed. Haven’t been back to relief society regularly since then. I think in a way I was blessed to learn to not rely on church as a place to make friendships.

  9. Caroline says:

    I prefer to be VT’d by people who don’t give lessons, and likewise, I prefer to not give lessons when I’m the VT. It just seems awkward to switch from social chatting to a didactic rhetoric.

    I don’t mind being visit taught at all, particularly if my VTers have kids near my kids age. Then they can just all play together while we talk — a good way to kill an hour. I do have a hard time being the VT when I sense that people don’t really want it. That kills my motivation immediately.

  10. TopHat says:

    Our ward has VTing groups (or “clusters” since “groups” aren’t allowed anymore) and that’s very nice, except my current group only meetings every 3 months. I know lots of women would love that, but as a young mom and nursery leader, I need to see adult people a little more often than that, so it’s not really meeting my needs. I voted for the lesson-every-month option just because I’d like to see someone every month, not necessarily because I want a “lesson.”

    • Maureen says:

      I’ve never heard of groups or clusters. It seems odd to me that they would be disallowed. Maybe not required, but if that’s what works for some then why forbid it? In fact, having severe social anxiety myself, it oddly seems a viable option for me.

      I’ve been having trouble with VT recently. I was fine without monthly visits and lessons, but knowing my VT teachers were there anyway. But recently they’ve tried to up contact (probably due to my apparent “inactivity”) and it’s been freaking me out. The thought of one on one (or possibly two on one) intense focus on me, highlighting my problems (or just me in general) is overwhelming.

      But if I could just be the wall flower of a small group meeting (nothing so large as RS), I can imagine thoroughly enjoying a spiritual discussion. Plus, having too toddlers myself on top of my anxiety I don’t get out much, and in some respects I do miss the community. I just can’t handle being the focus of attention or large socially expecting crowds.

      • TopHat says:

        It’s useful because we live near a pretty high-crime area and meeting in groups helps some of the older ladies (and us younger ones as well) feel safer when they visit teach. Each cluster meets at a different time, so if you get a new job or something, you can move to a different group that fits your schedule better.

  11. BethSmash says:

    I find it awkward to be a visiting teacher. I feel like we stay too long, but am not sure how to leave gracefully. I find the transition to the lesson odd. I’d much rather just chat, except for that I’m an extremely liberal person and feel like I have to watch everything I say in my conservative area – which is probably not good for me, since I’m not letting them necessarily know ME, but just this front of churchy goody two shoes me. Does that make sense?

    I have always liked people who visit me. Whether it was in my home ward (where me and my mom shared a VT who was wonderful and awesome and of the baked goods and cards and chatting type every other month or so) AND I even liked my single’s ward VTs where we generally just met after church for 15 minutes, spent 10 catching up on life and 5 on the lesson. Since we were all incredibly busy with school and jobs making it impossible to meet during the week. No awkward pauses there, no wondering how to leave… or rather, get them to leave because I’m in charge of making dinner for my family. Although… now that I think about it… even though it was easy, I guess I didn’t feel all that connected to them. More like a check on a box. But I still liked it, I liked feeling like I had helped them accomplish something. And the catching up (although quick) was great!

    OOH! As a side note, my very favorite home teachers EVER were a husband and wife ‘team’ (I’m not sure if his official companion was busy, inactive, or if they were really just together or what) but they used to come by and just chat with me and my mom. And I felt like there was a connection to them. I totally would have felt comfortable calling him for a blessing if I had needed it when i was younger.

  12. Tama says:

    I have never cared for the program. At BYU, VT other students was very awkward. None of us really knew who we were, or what we were doing, but we went through the motions of actually pretending we could help each other with our trials. To some extent, we could, but mostly, we were all on the same boat, trying to row ashore without paddles.

    I do not care to be VT in my home. It makes me feel like a box on a checklist, every sympathetic smile seems forced, and I really don’t need any more cookies in my life. As for doing VT, I can’t say I am willing, for all the same reasons.

    However, my position on VT is that it really does enrich some peoples’ lives. Some women love to have a visitor, no matter their intentions or duty to be there. Some women love to feel like they are accomplishing an assignment. Some women love to think that they are getting an extra star on their forehead for getting into heaven. Some women just truly love the lessons and feel inspired by them. Some women really do like cookies. I think that is fabulous. If it makes your life better, it most certainly should stay a part of it.

    If, however, a woman wants to opt out (such as I), it would be nice be be respected for that decision, instead of instantly triggering an inquisition by the brethren. Not wanting to participate in VT does not make one a bad person. I give and serve and volunteer in many ways. VT is not one of them. But all the other ways I serve in my community seem to be for naught, when it comes to the church, and that is frustrating.

    So, VT may have its place, but that doesn’t mean it has its place in every woman’s life, either on the giving or receiving end. But, my mantra is: if something makes your life better, keep it. If it brings you down, it’s time to toss it.

  13. Alisa says:

    In my 13 years in RS, VT has mostly been a very negative experience. Beginning in college, I thought I could tell my VTs stuff in confidence, only to find that it spread like wildfire through the RS. The next year I have VTers who never contacted me initially, but then after months pretended like I had been the one avoiding them, even though I had no I idea who they were. For the rest of college, I agreed to be a VT, but refused to have VTs because I did not want to be disappointed.

    For two years in my downtown SLC ward, I had VTs come on 2 occasions. Now I’ve been in my current ward 5.5 years, and have been visited 0 times, and not even told who my VTs were. I have had some positive experiences doing VT myself in this ward, going every month for a few years and really making a difference in some sisters’ lives, I believe, who needed support. But then my companion moved, and one of my teachee’s husbands began pseudo-creepy comments on my blog (not too creepy, just like “You look really cute in that picture” kind of stuff), and I decided I was done and wouldn’t go out solo anymore. I guess I missed my companion too much, who was the only friend I really had in the ward. Also, I work FT, and so my availability is super inconvenient to everyone else, which is probably why no one ever asks if they can come see me. They rather be with their husbands in the evenings and on the weekends.

  14. madhousewife says:

    I prefer my VT to visit or at least contact me once a month. I don’t need treats (although I certainly wouldn’t turn them down), and I don’t need a lesson (though I wouldn’t turn that down, either). I just want to visit and know that they remember me.

    Just so we’re clear, I would totally take treats in lieu of a visit or a phone call, but I’m just saying they’re not necessary.

    Like Caroline, I also find it awkward to switch from chit-chat to a formal lesson. I would just as soon not give a lesson, but sometimes it’s a convenient way to end the visit when the social chit-chat is not going so well.

    • spunky says:

      I agree– lecturing someone in their own home is weird and I don’t feel comfortable in doing it. I prefer just asking if they read the message and what they thought about it. If they ask me what I thought of the message, I am honest, which means I don’t always speak well of the topic. If they haven’t read it, I ask them if they want to read it together, leaving it up to them. I do believe that that spirit directs, and I do pray for specific direction in regard to the sisters, and if that direction has nothing to do with the “assigned” message, I skip it.

      I haven’t made treats for visiting teaching in years, but am considering it next week, just because I am craving chocolate chip cookies. Do people like this? I’ve never really had visiting teachers who did this, so I am not sure?

      • BethSmash says:

        Regarding treats:
        It definitely depends on the person. I would LOVE it. I would try to find out if they’re allergic to anything, or a practicing vegan though.

  15. Amy says:

    As a RS president who does visiting teaching, I enjoyed hearing all the perspectives on visiting teaching. Especially since I feel completely inadequate in some ways, because visiting teaching has always been a struggle for me. I have learned, that, with as much change in people moving in and out or other issues, that the routes are ever-changing. And when you have to make changes in several routes, it starts to spill over and affect even more VT routes. I have had sisters complain to me about this, but most of the time, there’s just not much I can do.
    I am starting to appreciate that the spirit of the program is to love and appreciate each other. I always say that the messages aren’t necessary. They are good, but my opinion is that it’s better to know more about the person and keep the visit to a reasonable time, rather than to have the message as the focus. But, it can be a good way to start talking, if that is an issue as well.
    I rarely care for visiting teachers, and since I can choose, I have my best friend assigned to me. since we see each other often, and that’s who I would call for help anyway. And I try to do that in situations if that works. Our statistics are low in my ward right now, and I am trying to do what works easiest and best for people as much as possible. I want to make VT an enjoyable and doable experience for at least some of the people involved. There will always be the situations that are a little more difficult, and I am grateful for the sisters who are willing to tackle the challenges. But, it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all type of program.
    Thanks again for the ideas and perspectives. I am going to keep these things in mind as in this next week, I’ll be making some more changes…

  16. CatherineWO says:

    I agree with Amy, that VT is not a one-size-fits-all program. I have had some great experiences (both as the teacher and the teachee) and some really awful experiences. It is most positive when the focus is on people, not numbers. Overall, my positive experiences outway the negative. Several of my closest life-long friendships started with Visiting Teaching.
    I do want to say one thing about treats though. I have struggled with food issues all my life (emotional, allergies and now celiac disease), and I have always hated it when VTs brought treats, with the exception of my current VT who is also celiac and always asks me or my husband what I’m currently eating before bringing food. One of my daughters is also celiac and had a VT a few years ago who brought a non-gluten-free treat every month. I was there one time she stopped by (on the last day of the month), stood on the doorstep and said, “I know you can’t eat these, but maybe your husband will eat them and I don’t have time to really visit so I thought this would do instead.” Really, it would have been better for her to never have come at all.

    • BethSmash says:

      Sigh – she could have taken the time she used to bake the treats – to ACTUALLY visit. And if you’re gonna bake, be courteous enough to find out what the person can eat, and if they like getting treats as presents in the first place. sigh.

    • Amy says:

      That is a bit insensitive. I can understand the just not knowing and bringing a treat. But knowing and then bringing it and saying she doesn’t have time to visit…you’re right. I would’ve rather that person just didn’t come at all. Even if she got to mark down a visit…Sheesh!

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