When Teacher and Text Aren’t on the Same Page

When Teacher and Text Aren’t on the Same Page

I would consider it unethical to advocate spiritual principles that I didn’t believe or hope to be true.  At the same time, I recognize that when I teach at church, I am serving as a representative of the institution.  People do not come to church to hear my personal opinions. It would be inappropriate for me to contradict the text I am supposed to teach.

Stepping down, either by seeking a substitute or by asking for a release from a calling, may be a justified strategy to avoid teaching material that rubs the wrong way, but I have never used this option.  Frankly, I appreciate the opportunity to teach when the subject matter is sketchy because then I can frame the message to be less offensive.

Here are some of the more difficult lesson plans I have taught at church and the strategies I used to balance my personal, feminist ideals and my obligation to represent the institutional church.

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Three Weeks to Practice Before I Preach

Three Weeks to Practice Before I Preach

About three weeks ago, I was asked to prepare a talk about teaching children to understand, based on a conference address by Cheryl A. Esplin, Second Counselor of the General Primary Presidency.  Sister Esplin taught:

Teaching our children to understand is more than just imparting information. It’s helping our children get the doctrine into their hearts in a way that it becomes part of their very being and is reflected in their attitudes and behavior throughout their lives. -Cheryl A. Esplin Reference 1

Sister Esplin spent a good portion of her talk discussing spontaneous teaching moments but also reminded us that:

Just as important are the teaching moments that come as we thoughtfully plan regular occasions such as family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and other family activities. -Cheryl A. Esplin Reference 1

With four very young, lively and unpredictable children, there is quite a bit of spontaneity in my life. And chaos. So it is ironic that I was asked to emphasize teaching children to understand through these non-spontaneous teaching tools like family home evening and family scripture study. 

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A Memorable Sunday School Class

A Memorable Sunday School Class

I have a testimony of preparation. I spend a great deal of time preparing my lessons.  I do not believe that “winging it” brings the same results.

However, I also believe that the Spirit sometimes redirects a classroom to an unexpected place if the teacher has the flexibility to let the Spirit take the reigns, even if it means setting aside her carefully prepared notes.  My most memorable Sunday School class experience was a spontaneous moment like this when I was a teenager in a class of 16 and 17 year-olds.

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It’s Time for Sharing

There’s a new Bloggernacle blog out that I wanted to highlight today. “It’s Time for Sharing” is a new blog for Primary teachers and leaders. As time goes on, they hope to cover all the Nursery, Sunbeam, CTR, and Valient lessons along with sharing time and singing time ideas. The goals of It’s Time for Sharing are to

  • Keep Christ as the focus of our lessons
  • Invite and incorporate the Spirit
  • Be scripture-based
  • Teach solid principles without relying on ‘cute’ or ‘fluff’
  • Promote active rather than passive learning
  • Adapt lessons according to the children we teach
  • Reflect the varied personal experiences of children around the world

Jeans, of Beginnings New fame, shares a little about the origins of this new blog,

“It’s Time for Sharing” got a start when Karen Spencer and I gave some of the go-getters a little encouragement, as they commented on my other blog (Beginnings New) – the original post & their comments is here.

Jessica asked a simple question: hey, is there something like this for Primary? The Primary manuals are also, in some places, outdated or not applicable to a more ethnically diverse Primary, and how are sensitive and progressive Primary leaders and teachers making appropriate adaptations and updates? I wasn’t aware of anything out there – the “lesson helps” niche is stuffed with fluff, which I guess has a market but doesn’t really spiritually nourish either the teacher or the learners, no matter how old they are.

As a counselor in a Primary presidency, I feel like part of my calling is to minister to the spiritual needs of ALL the people in Primary. As I often say, “we’re all children… just different ages.” Sometimes Primary can be an isolating calling, and having a community of folks to talk things over with on a deeper level than “what clip art should I use” can help in that effort. Teaching plain doctrine elegantly and creatively to young people is tremendously satisfying and it emulates what the Savior did on many occasions. Primary is about helping people be stronger disciples of Christ, no matter how old they are, and I think there’s definitely room for us & the conversations we will generate out there in the Bloggernacle. Those are some of my hopes for the Primary “sister site” to Beginnings New at its launch. It has been a lot of fun being part of the behind-the-scenes excitement pulling it together VERY fast over the last 2 weeks!

Jenni B. states,

My experience as a mother, school teacher, childbirth educator, and graduate student of psychology have taught me that people of all ages–even tiny babies–know and understand far more than we give them credit for. I refuse to dumb-down lessons just because my students are young. They are honest enough to ask questions if they don’t understand. They are hungry for truth, and I am trying to offer as much sustenance as I can.
A few months ago I had the idea for a blog like this–and was delighted to find others with similar ideas with whom I could join forces–so that teachers who have greater experience or time could share our lesson ideas with those who may not have so much.

If you are in Primary and want some more ideas on how to approach lessons, check them out! And if you are full of great ideas, they’re looking for more bloggers and guest posts.

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If You Chance to Meet a Frown

If You Chance to Meet a Frown

I teach nursery. It’s a nice place to be: snacks, dancing, and simple lessons focused on basic gospel principles. No one in the back is raising their hand and bringing up Adam-God. In fact, no one raises their hands at all.

I’ve been teaching in the Primary for only a short time: I taught Sunbeams from January-July this year at which point I was asked to be the nursery leader. Nursery is unique in that the new lesson manual does not have enough lessons to fill an entire year: it is expected that you’ll repeat lessons and go out of order. However, for my own ease of lesson-planning, I’ve been following them in order. This past Sunday I came to I Can Be Happy.

Immediately, due to the very similar coloring page/handout, I was reminded of the Sunbeam lesson I taught earlier this year: I Have Feelings. I sat down and re-read both lessons. If you are familiar with the Primary lessons, you’ll know that the Sunbeam manual used to be used for both Sunbeams and Nursery until the new Nursery manual was published in 2008. I was curious as to what the differences were in the lessons. The “I Have Feelings” lesson asks you to “Assure the kids that everyone feels happy, sad, angry, or frightened at times.” The “I Can Be Happy” lesson only mentions the feeling “happy.” It’s not just that everyone has feelings, but that there’s a “should” about being and looking happy. The introduction for the teacher states, ”

Our Heavenly Father wants us to be happy; the plan He created for us is often called the “great plan of happiness.” Although adversity is an important part of life, we can choose to have a positive outlook, and our cheerful attitude can help others be more optimistic as well.

I’ll fully admit that perhaps they simplified it to focus on happiness because nursery is for younger kids than sunbeams, but I felt like the curriculum was pushing the “Look happy! God doesn’t want you to be sad!” guilt and shame that I’ve heard in other lessons and talks in church. I didn’t want that. And, having a nursery-aged child myself, I know that learning that other emotions are ok is definitely at that age level. So I modified my lesson.

I always start with a scripture story. Since the manual didn’t provide one for me, I went with a church history story that I thought exemplified having many feelings and emotions.

Emma Smith from the Gospel Art Book

We all sat on the ground and I showed the kids a picture of Emma Smith. I told them that this was Emma Smith and she was married to Joseph Smith. Sometimes they were very happy together. And sometimes they were sad. There were times that Emma was scared or mad and that’s ok. We are all like Emma Smith in that we all feel happy, sad, angry, or scared. It’s not ok to hurt people because of our feelings, but we can have the feelings. It’s ok to cry or stomp our feet or jump up and down in excitement. We try to be soft with ourselves and the people around us.

For our “game”, we rolled a die I made beforehand with feelings, happy, sad, scared, angry, surprised, and shy, on each side and we acted out the emotion that each kid rolled. After that short game, I passed out this coloring sheet of faces with emotions and we colored them before our snack time.

It went well and the kids enjoyed it. I loved the opportunity to bring in a story about a woman for the kids to learn about. And I loved the message: we all have feelings and those feelings are valid.

Have you taught nursery or Primary? How have you modified lessons to include women or better suit the demographic you teach?

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