Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to sit through some really bad classes and some really good classes during church. The bad classes left me sleepy, somber, and longing to have that hour of my life back. The good classes, on the other hand, inspired me to dig deeper, become better, and try harder in life.
Some might argue that there are just plain ol’ bad teachers with subsequently bad classes. Bruce R. McConkie once said that;
“We come into these congregations, and sometimes a speaker brings a jug of living water that has in it many gallons. And when he pours it out on the congregation, all the members have brought is a single cup and so that’s all they take away. Or maybe they have their hands over the cups, and they don’t get anything to speak of.
On other occasions we have meetings where the speaker comes and all he brings is a little cup of eternal truth, and the members of the congregation come with a large jug, and all they get in their jugs is the little dribble that came from a man who should have known better and who should have prepared himself and talked from the revelations and spoken by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
For the most part, people come to class looking to be edified. Unfortunately, teachers sometimes do things that make it hard for that to happen in their classes.
I don’t believe that there are bad teachers. There are only good teachers that slip into bad habits subsequently annoying their class members. Everyone has something to offer to a classroom as long as they get a few things straight. When class members are annoyed, they stop paying attention or refuse to participate. I’ve noticed that the following 7 things seem to take place in our classes on a regular basis. If you want to be a great teacher, figure out a way to root these out of your system.
1. Start By Apologizing For A Lack of Preparation
This is the worst way to start your lesson off. Whether you just procrastinated til the last minute or your Sunday school president called you at 10pm on a Saturday night…it makes no difference to the class. All you do by telling them that you’re unprepared at the beginning of a lesson is give them a reason to check out early. I know you might be saying it because you want to garner some sympathy from those in the classroom so that they don’t think you’re an idiot, but announcing this doesn’t help your situation. It only impairs it. When you’re in a bind for last minute content, focus 100% of your time on crafting some deep and thoughtful questions. You can take 10 minutes, review the content, and jot down the most important thought provoking questions to ask the class. Then build off of their responses.
2. The Lecture Rant
Speaking of questions…I think it’s so funny how so many of us spend hours trying to conjure up a series of grandiose statements for our lessons while completely neglecting to spend time contemplating deep and considerate questions. It should be the other way around. Even when we do have ample time to prepare, we should still spend at least 90% of our time determining “the right questions” to ask for a lesson. The right questions will stir emotions and elicit thoughtful responses and personal experiences. These questions enable us to be “edified together” rather than listening to one person lecture or rant.
3. Botched Questions
Now that you know how important good questions are…it’s maybe just as important to actually ask those questions properly.
Rhetorical questions should be avoided at all costs. I can’t count how many times I’ve been sitting in class wondering if I should answer the teacher’s rhetorical question. Maybe worse than that is when I can’t figure out whether the question is rhetorical or not. “You guys think it’s important to keep the commandments…right?” Silence….ummmm….yes. Then there’s the times that we read paragraph after paragraph with the teacher eventually asking the repetitive; “so what do you think that means?” No one says it but everyone is thinking to themselves; “which of the premises did you want me to answer”? Then there’s the often used “guess what I’m thinking” questions. We go round and round until someone gets the right answer. Meanwhile, the 15 people that got the answer wrong just started checking their phones for Facebook messages and won’t be raising their hands the rest of the class, and maybe even for the rest of your tenure as a teacher.
4. The “I Don’t Care What You Have To Say” Tick
Have you ever generated the courage to answer a question or share a personal story only to have the teacher break eye contact with you, look at the clock, or start studying his or her notes? I have. And actually I’d say that this happens on a regular basis. Of everything on this list, it might be the thing that annoys me the most. You know what it tells me? It says to me…that what I have to say isn’t very important and that you’re concerned that my response is going to dig into your lecture time. You’re worried that you might not be able to drop that climactic statement on the class that you’d been preparing all night because now… the “time is running out”.
Most teachers use the time while people are commenting or responding as “down time” or as an opportunity to look ahead in their lesson and “find their place”. There’s a good chance that it’s not the teachers intention to offend the commenter. The problem is that this teacher is placing more importance on what he is going to say next instead of truly listening to the comment and building off of it. President Eyring said that;
“You may have had the experience I have had of noticing that not very many people during a conversation listen carefully to the other person. Generally they are focusing on what they said last or what they will say next.”
Again, it’s usually not intentional…but it is detrimental.
5. Because I Have to “Cover” Everything In The Lesson
Your job as a teacher is not to cover the lesson but to leave people better than you found them in the short time that you’re with them. The only way to do that is by building an atmosphere in which the Spirit can operate on people unrestrained. By “trying to cover everything” you’re actually suppressing things that the Spirit might have wanted to teach.
6. No Love For A Fearful Comment
Remember that time you thought you gave a really thoughtful comment, and when you were done…the teacher kind of just moved on without saying anything at all? It kind of made you feel lame didn’t it? The greatest teachers I know always take the time to acknowledge, appreciate, and build off of others comments. This behavior encourages more comments and instills confidence in the class members. No one wants to look dumb when they raise their hand. It’s the role of a good teacher to ensure that this doesn’t happen regardless of what comes out of a person’s mouth.
7. No Respecter of … Time
So your teaching Sunday school in the Relief society room. You think you’re on a role and you’re feeling good about yourself. You know your time has come to a close…but you really wanted to get to that big spiritual statement you thought of last night. You know…the one that’s going to shake the earth with spiritual power. You’ve just got to get it out before class is over but those pesky class members have been using up all your time. Then at 5 minutes after the hour…you drop it on them…and guess what? No one even heard you.
I’ve heard it said that the spirt leaves the room when the class is over. That’s not doctrine but it has always felt true to me. When I’ve run over my allotted time, I can tell the class is not the same. Plus, the relief society presidency is giving you the stink eye through the windows on the closed door. In 5 minutes, you just turned a potentially good lesson into one that is now irritating to people just because you had to get to that last statement. It’s not worth it. Save it for another time. Make sure that you keep an eye on the time or ask someone in the class to be your “time-keeper” so that you never break this rule.
We’ve just gone from start to finish in a classic Sunday school class. All of us are teachers in some way and at some time. All of us want to do a good job and facilitate spiritual experiences for others.
Eliminate these 7 habits and become a legendary gospel teacher.