1. The lesson manual is not scripture – while our lesson materials may be inspired, they aren’t scripture, and they do not deserve to be revered as such. Scripture is scripture. The lesson manual is a guide for me, and often helps me sort out the direction for a particular lesson. Sometimes the manual has stories or explanations that are useful for the lesson I teach, and I use them. But I do not assume that because it’s in the manual, I need to say it. What works for you when teaching? What do the best teachers you know do?
2. We really teach scripture, not lessons. The text of the scripture is more important to me in my lessons than the manual. This principle was drilled into me by my CES coordinator when I taught seminary years ago. He urged us to rely on the scripture, particularly when teaching the Book of Mormon. I will study a scripture block multiple times (three, four, five?) while preparing to teach it. I’ll look up cross references, including my own. I’ll ask myself questions about the passages that I might not in my normal personal reading. And I’ll try to find answers to those questions as I prepare.
3. As a teacher, I’m entitled to inspiration if I am prayerful and if I listen. That can allow me to tailor a lesson to a particular class. (When I taught the Isaiah chapters in Second Nephi this past week to my son’s class of 15-year olds, I assume it was a very different lesson than the one they had in the “adult” class – at least I hope so!)
4. Regardless of what I teach, I tend to teach from my experience: what I’ve read, seen, heard, and felt as I’ve studied the scriptures. I’ve been around for a few decades, and we’ve lived in a lot of places, so I tend to have some stories to tell, and I tell them freely.
5. I’m happy to include commentary from other church sources as it occurs to me. For this week’s lesson on Isaiah, I consulted my old Institute manuals on the Old Testament to remind myself of the kings around during Isaiah’s ministry, for instance. I don’t exclude anything from my preparation phase of the lesson. That said, I’m not an Old Testament scholar. I don’t read every FAIR or FARMS article. And I don’t feel a need to in order to teach a Sunday School lesson.
6. I tend to over-prepare. I have (especially when I’m teaching youth) one or two things that I know I want to hit, and then lots else in reserve in case we have time to fill. When teaching adults, I do a similar thing, but I’m less strict about the one or two message idea. (With adults, I tend to offer a few things, figuring different class members may latch on to one or another.) I try to think about questions, discussion, ideas, scripture blocks, stories that will reinforce my main themes.
7. When I teach, I use notes to guide me, but use the manual very sparingly (and then only if there’s a quotation to read). (In priesthood I use the manual more because I do want to quote the words of the prophet we’re studying, but again for selected quotations, not for front-to-back reading.) What actually comes out of my mouth usually follows the outline I have, but I watch the clock carefully to be sure I have time to end on my terms, and I adjust in the middle as necessary, sometimes leaving out entire sections of the lesson. I try NEVER to run over. Period.
8. It’s not unusual for me to go “off script” in a classroom discussion with a story or personal experience. When I do this, I try to be deliberate, listening for promptings that it’s right to do it. My goal is to have whatever happens point to my one or two (or more) key points in the lesson.
9. I like to be in the scriptures. We try to read as much scripture as seems comfortable for the group. I’m not interested in reading the whole class period, but I want to teach the scriptures, not just teach about them. When I tell a story from the scriptures, I like to mix paraphrase and quoting, being clear where I quote. If I ask someone to read a longer block of scriptures, I’ll often interrupt to make a point or two along the way.
10. As much as I like to hear myself talk, I know not everyone (anyone?) shares my enthusiasm. So I try to foster class participation, either by inviting others to read or to comment / discuss. But I am also not particularly interested in discussion for discussion’s sake. I’d like to be sure the discussion is moving in a helpful direction, and I will try gently to move it that way if needed. If I’m really successful, I’ll find myself referring to class members’ comments later in the lesson while summarizing or making a point.