Monday, May 7, 2012

Sustaining my teachers

I wrote recently about sitting on my hands (here and here). One of my reasons for that post was to renew my support of my gospel teachers at church. I raised my hand to sustain them, and I want to continue to sustain them.

But what can we do when we have a teacher who is sub-par (or who just bores us)? We don’t all respond to the same kind of teacher, I’m sure, so there are likely times when the person in front of the room isn’t our favorite.

Here are things I hope class members will do for me when I teach:

1. Prepare to come to class – read the lesson and come ready to learn something. It may not be from the teacher, but from another class member, or even just from quiet reflection on what has been said. But I hope students come to my class prepared to learn. (And yes, that also means bringing a set of scriptures (I don’t care what form!) and a copy of the lesson manual. Extra points if I’m teaching one of those Teaching for Our Times lessons and someone brings a copy of the conference talk! (Personally, I never know what talk we’re discussing until I show up; somehow it doesn’t get communicated very well in our ward. But at least now that I use my Kindle Fire at church, I can find whatever conference talk is under discussion.)

2. Volunteer to read and comment – there’s nothing worse for a teacher than inviting volunteers to participate and hearing crickets in response. Ok, it may be a lame question, but maybe your insight will drive the discussion in a positive direction. There’s one fellow in my ward who is particularly good at this – I love having him in class when I teach because I know he’ll say something cool.

3. Ask thoughtful questions – if the lesson is lagging or if there’s a question you brought to class hoping for an answer and it doesn’t look like you’re going to get it, ask the question. The worst that will happen is that you’ll get a blank stare. But the question might lead to an interesting and fruitful discussion. I’ve done this sometimes and had a fellow class member button-hole me after class for an extended discussion about my question.

4. Teach yourself the lesson you’d like to hear – if all else fails, you can always teach yourself the lesson while you sit in the classroom. Elder Eyring told a story a few years back about his dad’s doing this in sacrament meeting if a talk got a little on the dull side. I prefer to wait a while before leaping to this conclusion because if I’m teaching myself in my head, I probably won’t hear what others are saying in the discussion, and so I won’t learn anything from them.

I believe there’s value in showing up prepared for a class. It benefits me as a student and it also benefits the teacher. But sometimes there is a teacher we just don’t get much from. Hopefully that teacher isn’t instructing every week, and hopefully that teacher can get some in-service training. But even if he or she can’t, we can still sustain him or her by being present and ready to learn.

Some teachers do get better over time. I have a friend who taught a class I used to attend regularly. Initially I wasn’t all that thrilled going when he taught. But over time he introduced innovations to his lesson – he sought out information in other church publications to supplement what he was getting out of the shared manual; he did a better job of leading class discussions instead of reading from the manual; he became more confident in his own ability to teach. It was fun to watch the change in him, and it became fun to attend his class.

King Benjamin’s remedy for our earthly state seems to apply in this case, as well. If we are “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love” (Mosiah 3:19), we are more likely to be accepting of our teachers who might not be our favorites, and we might learn something along the way.


  1. I am not very good at reading the lesson ahead of time, but I always try to volunteer to read scriptures and answer questions. It is my way to help the teacher by participating in their lesson. I liked your blog post. I think it is very realistic about the types of teaching we may experience and what we can do about it. I like the idea that we don't have to sit helplessly bored and then complain about it.

  2. There is a particular teacher who teaches the TFOT lesson in our Relief Society who asks the cutest questions (I say cute because it's like she's teaching primary). Questions like, "Who is our prophet today?" or "What does President Eyring say we need in order to help us climb mountains?" - questions with an "answer", rather than discussion prompting questions. In her defense, I think she is very nervous teaching the lesson (she writes out her "lesson" word for word, and sometimes I feel like she is giving a talk, rather than a lesson). My point in all this is that she prepares her lesson and tries really hard to give a good lesson, but sometimes I just sit blankly when she asks a question because I guess I'm just so surprised that she asked the question.

    So now I am going to take your advice and answer her "lame" questions, and then continue on with my own insight (when prompted) rather than just sit and wait for someone to answer her question so we can move on. I have a hard time making comments in her classes because I'm not sure how to get my comment in when she "reads" her lesson and doesn't seem to try to engage the conversation - but that might just be because she doesn't know how to engage discussion, so maybe if I start it up, we'll get some discussion.

    As a teacher my favorite lessons are the ones where I run out of time before I have presented all the material in the lesson. Usually that means that the sisters had such a good discussion about the lesson that we didn't need to read every single bit from the lesson.

  3. Glapha, "I like the idea that we don't have to sit helplessly bored and then complain about it."

    Me, too. Although truth be told, I think my wife doesn't believe me when I say it. I really am trying to be more positive.

    Becca, I agree it's challenging -- especially the TFOT lessons; they are very tough to teach effectively. I'm glad you're thinking of ways to support your teacher. It may benefit the whole class.

  4. These are a really good series of posts for me. Since I read the first one a while back, I have been more aware of my participation in lessons.

    I am a bit of a blabbermouth, and when I have strong opinions about something I tend to voice them regardless of the appropriateness of the situation. (much to my later embarrassment) But I just can't stand having a lag in the lesson! When nobody else will answer a question or make a comment, and the teacher is clearly looking into a sea of blank faces, I feel like I need to do something!

    Anyway. I am hoping to be more in tune with the Spirit and comment when I am supposed to -- and leave the rest of it to myself!