Early in my marriage, I served as a Sunday School president. I approached my calling very seriously (even though by then SS presidents were about as useful as the human appendix) and my counselors and I worked hard to try to improve teaching in our ward. I’ve really enjoyed teaching over the years, and have taught in Sunday School, Primary, Young Men’s and in my Melchizedek PH quorums. I even taught one Relief Society lesson when I was a bishop. (Ok, it wasn’t a whole lesson, but I was in the room and I got to teach!) I’ve never taught in Young Women’s, but I have taught Young Women in seminary and in youth firesides. And I’ve taught institute, as well.
I don’t know that I’m a great teacher, but I guess I’m entertaining enough. People seem to respond to my lessons enough that I keep getting asked to teach.
Here are a couple of things I try to avoid when teaching. When I’ve seen these things in other classes (or when I’ve realized I’ve been doing it in my teaching), I’m kind of turned off, and I figure other students are, too. This is my short list. Maybe you have others, and you’d like to share them in the comments:
1. Play “Guess what the teacher’s thinking.” Remember in Junior High (ok, I’m so old that we didn’t have the trendy “Middle School”) when a teacher would ask a question, you’d summon the courage to answer in front of your peers with a completely logical and reasonable answer and she’d say, “Well, that’s not what I’m looking for; anyone else?” It made you feel silly, didn’t it? (Well it made me feel silly, anyway.) The point of questions in a church class is not to test knowledge, but to foster discussion. Even if an answer is a bit off the beam of a teacher’s message, the teacher can walk back to his central theme and still acknowledge and accept the discussion as it comes.Well, that’s my short list. I’m happy to have you add your thoughts to the list.
2. Ask yes-and-no questions. See #1. If the point of questions is to foster discussion, how does a yes / no question do that? Furthermore, do we really expect anyone to say “No, we don’t believe in the Godhead?” I agree that a careful series of yes or no questions may work as a rhetorical device from time to time, but as a general rule, these are the wrong kinds of questions to ask.
3. Be Nephi (or any other scripture character). Avoiding this is a newer innovation for me in my teaching. In fact, I used to assume roles all the time. I used to say things like, “I can imagine what Nephi was thinking – here he was tied up on a ship which is about to go under the sea and his brothers are dancing and having a great time…” The thing is, I don’t know what Nephi was thinking. There are surely some who might have said of me, “I know Nephi. Nephi is a friend of mine. You’re no Nephi.” This issue came home to me a few years ago as I sat in a class taught by another entertaining gospel doctrine teacher who did the same thing. Except I thought to myself, “Nephi didn’t think that. He never said that.” And I realized that although I can liken the scriptures unto myself, I ought not liken myself unto the characters of the scriptures. I ought to let them speak for themselves.
4. Run overtime. There is nothing I have that will be more important to all the members of my class than getting out on time. If they can hear the bell or see a clock, they will worry about whatever they have to do next more than whatever fabulous ending I have planned for my lesson. Therefore, I need to plan to start my “big finish” (if I have one) early enough to be done at the end of class. (That said, it was entertainingly ironic a few weeks ago as our substitute gospel doctrine teacher ran five minutes over while discussing looking past the mark. As it happens, he had misunderstood what time class was supposed to end.)