Teaching No Greater Call Series: Thoughts on becoming a better teacher
Guest post by Crystal
Crystal will graduate in May with her Masters degree in Education from William Woods University. She is always eager to try new things, from carriage driving to belly dancing. She loves horses and spending time in nature and with her husband and son.
I will never forget the incredulous feeling I felt the first time I was called as a Gospel Doctrine teacher. Surely there must have been a mistake. I did not feel prepared, ready or knowledgeable enough to teach that class. I looked at the Bishop and told him that I would take a week or two to pray about this before I could give him an answer. When I accepted the calling the following Sunday there was no sense of peace or readiness; in fact I felt terrified when I stood up to teach that first Sunday. Looking back there were two things that got me through those first few months of teaching: study and prayer. As I relied on those habits, I gained confidence and grew to love that calling. To this day teaching Gospel Doctrine is hands down my favorite calling. I want to share a few insights that helped me to grow to love that calling and to become a better teacher along the way.
The most important part of my preparation was prayer. Pray, pray, pray. Have a prayer in your heart when you study the lesson and when you teach the lesson. Many times, especially teaching Gospel Doctrine, I didn’t feel 100% confident in how to present the material. I felt scared, sick to my stomach, and like I wanted to run away right before the lesson started. These were times for me to know that I had prepared as best as I could, and that I had to trust and rely on the Lord. In Luke 12:12 we are reminded to “…take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” I sincerely pray and ask for help and guidance before each lesson.
Along with prayer, I read, researched and studied the materials, making notes and checking a small group of websites for additional insights. I also looked at the material from a historical perspective, which increased my understanding and added depth to the lessons. I made sure to underline which questions I wanted to ask the class, and often felt inspired to change the wording to make the questions more personal. I added my own questions to ask as well.
As I prepared and taught these lessons, I realized the best classes happened when I saw myself less as a teacher and more as a discussion facilitator. Find ways to apply the lesson or gospel principles to our individual lives today, and ask questions to get the class to apply the lesson to their own lives. How do we put it into action in our lives? How do we live it? How do we make it personal to us? How can it improve us? Get away from asking questions that generate the standard Sunday school answers. So many lessons I’ve read in handbooks only ask those types of questions. Nothing will make a class fall asleep faster than repeating the standard “Read your scriptures. Pray. Go to church” types of answers.
I have found that sharing a personal story or struggle from my own life opens up the doors for others to share their own experiences. Jesus taught by examples and parables. He related gospel principles to those around him in a way they could relate to. When we share how what we are teaching has helped us, or how we have struggled with it, or how we have incorporated it more fully into our lives, these are the moments when we can bear testimony of the gospel in action in our lives. I find the sharing of a personal story or struggle often brings the spirit and can help the class pay attention. As a side note, I personally try to stay away from Mormon myths and faith promoting stories because they often:
- Can’t be validated.
- Aren’t personal narratives or examples.
- Have been heard before.
Don’t be afraid to be honest in your teaching. When a teacher has admitted that they don’t fully understand or struggle with something, it allows other people to realize that they aren’t alone if they have a similar struggle or feeling. I will never forget a lesson about the temple where the teacher told us that it wasn’t his favorite place to go, he went because his wife loved to go, and he loved her so they went together. This information grabbed my attention; I sat up taller in my chair and realized that I wasn’t the only person who felt that way. Before that lesson I had wondered what was wrong with me, as it seemed that every other person I knew within the church would rather be in the temple than anywhere else. I learned a great lesson that day, and it was about a lot more than the importance of temples.
As a teacher, recognize that everyone learns differently, has unique personalities, and is in a different place on their journey in life and the gospel. Lose the idea that we are all alike and should react or feel the same way. Think about the individuals who will be in your class. Many of us don’t fit the standard LDS mold. Remember that as you prepare and teach the lesson. Jesus loves you where you are. You are enough. These are some of the messages that I want to share as I teach. Think about how you want your class to feel after a lesson. I want mine to feel enlightened, loved, and hopeful.
Finally I want to mention introverts – people who listen more than they talk, may prefer to sit alone or interact one on one, and who find social interactions to be exhausting. I am introverted. I prefer to sit on the edge, not in the middle of the group. Recently I was called out in front of a large class by a new teacher who objected to me sitting alone and off to the side. I went along with it and moved into the group (she was elderly and had just been called as a Relief Society teacher) but inwardly I wanted to flip my chair over and walk out of class. I did not participate in class discussions that day. I was hurt and uncomfortable. Here are some suggestions for helping introverts feel more comfortable in your class:
- Let me sit alone in the corner-I don’t want to sit with the big group!
- Don’t surprise me by calling on me unexpectedly in class. If I have something to share I will raise my hand.
- Allow time in lessons for people to ponder and think in silence. Don’t be so quick to fill this quiet space.
As I close my lesson, I try to find a way to bear testimony of what we have been discussing. All along, when I pray as I study, or in the lesson when a personal story is shared, or a quiet pause for reflection is given, remember that the Holy Spirit testifies of Christ and of the truthfulness of what is being taught. Seek ways to bring that influence into your lesson. I hope these ideas might be helpful. I know there are others not mentioned here, and I look forward to hearing and learning what works best for you.