Thursday, February 4, 2010

More intructions for teachers

Russell T. Osguthorpe, General Sunday School president of the LDS Church, in a recent interview in the Church News talked about teaching and confirmed what I've been doing for years: Study the lesson, pray for inspiration, and teach by the spirit. What a concept! (This post is a follow up to an earlier post on this blog.)

There's been a fair amount of discussion recently about reminders regarding teaching in the church. I've reasoned for some time that "teaching from the manual" does not mean "ready, aim, read", but gives a teacher a lot of latitude in how to prepare and teach a lesson.

Like most people, I'm not wild about going into a class and having the class read together the entire lesson manual. That's not teaching, that's reading. Now I'm not the first to recognize that not all teachers are created equal, and for some, reading is the best we're going to get. And I'll try to be supportive and sustain those teachers, too, when I'm in their classes. But I much prefer someone who has carefully prepared a lesson around what the manual has to offer: studied the scriptures, read the manual, researched other pertinent talks or articles from church magazines, and perhaps, if it's appropriate, even included certain historical details and other commentary.

Brother Osguthorpe's recommendations allow for significant variance between a class of experienced adults and, say, young teenagers. And I say hooray, because I hope no one is trying to teach my 13 year old son the same way I'm being taught. (One of us is likely to be really bored, otherwise.)

And he allows for class discussion. To me, class discussion is discussion around the topic of the lesson, not hi-jacking the lesson time with a pet gospel question or issue. But discussion may reveal parts of the day's subject matter that require deeper examination, and a good teacher could agree to come back to those another week. The example he cites in his article is a class in which the teacher referred to her manual sparingly, and led a discussion consistent with the lesson, and who, at the end of the lesson, thanks the class for teaching one another.

I hope teachers will take Brother Osguthorpe's comments to heart and prepare well to teach in a manner that suits their class members and tailor lessons to their audiences. In fact, his whole focus is on improving teaching in the church and how that can be done. And I say, hooray! If we do improve teaching, our classes can be rich and rewarding discussions.

I will observe that I've been visiting a ward while traveling on business this past month. One of our teachers in particular did a super job of what Brother Osguthorpe recommends – preparing well and leading a discussion around the material. Class members were readily engaged, doctrine was taught and clarified, some questions were put off until later, and a red herring or two were thrown out in the discussion, but generally the class kept itself to the subjects at hand and was well taught. It was a pleasure to be in such a class.

I hope I can do as well the next time I teach (which will be in my Gospel Principles class this Sunday – yikes!).

- Paul


  1. I agree completely. I still don't understand what the big deal is about the idea that we should be teaching church doctrine in church. Isn't that what why we're in lessons in the first place? Just because we're supposed to actually teach certain subject matter, doesn't mean we have no latitude in how to teach it--which anyone who's been to school knows full well. Saying to a teacher, "teach about the battle of Gettysburg, in your American History class", that's not saying, "read from the textbook". The genius in teaching doesn't come from what you're teaching but, rather, how you're teaching it.

  2. I agree.

    I remember a few years ago (maybe six or seven now), my wife was called to teach in Relief Society. The RS president had mentioned that she was interested in lessons that "stuck to the manual" because at the time the pattern was to take the subject, ignore most of the prophet's words (whoever it was that year) and teach on the subject but using all sorts of other material.

    My wife used quotes from the manual and lots of class dicussion and, much to her own surprise, got rave reviews, not only from the RS president, but from class members.

    She's had the assignment to teach those lessons two or three times since; most recently called, according to the bishop, because "everyone knows what a great teacher she is".

    My wife actually doesn't much like teaching; she feels very uncomfortable in front of a group and doesn't feel she has a lot to contribute, and feels she doesn't express herself particularly well. Of ocurse others differ in their view of her. :-) I think the reason many do is because of the humble way she approches her lessons.

    I'm just glad Brother Osguthorpe (do we say Elder? He's not a member of the 70, but is a Gen'l president...) is thinking about ways to improve teaching in the church.