Don’t Lose the Whites of Their Eyes
March 1971

“Don’t Lose the Whites of Their Eyes,” Ensign, Mar. 1971, 66

Don’t Lose the Whites of Their Eyes

Ask any man or woman, or ask a child or a teenager. The vote is virtually 100 percent in favor of TWOB—Teachers Without Books. The positive worth of such a plan—teachers in direct eye-to-eye contact with their class members, rather than relying in a major way on eye-to-book contact—is difficult to calculate in terms of growth and increased effectiveness in teaching the gospel.

The teachers whose classes you have most enjoyed are probably those who have not displayed a book as a visible crutch. It soon becomes apparent that such a teacher projects personal warmth, enthusiasm, and a grasp of the subject matter not otherwise possible.

There is considerable evidence now available on how members of Church classes react to TWB—Teachers With Books.

A priesthood holder said of his instructor, “He’s a good friend of mine, and he’s a good man. He has taught priesthood quorums and groups for a long time, but I wish he would come to class really prepared. When I see that manual open in his hand, I always wonder if he doesn’t care about making it more interesting.”

A Relief Society sister said, “Our class leader reads from the manual most of the time. She justifies it by saying, ‘The author says it so much better than I can.’” God created teachers with warm, human voices and friendly eyes. Men invented printed pages, which are mute.

A fifteen-year-old youth observed, “I don’t go to Sunday School class. I leave after opening exercises. I don’t learn anything from the lesson. Our teacher gets his book in front of his face and acts as if he’s afraid to let us ask a question.”

A seven-year-old child put it this way: “Well, I try to be quiet even when she reads the lesson, but some kids don’t and she sends them out in the hall.”

Such comments have been repeated numerous times. Participants in Church classes want and expect eye-to-eye contact with their teachers.

While preparing to teach eye-to-eye, the teacher should prayerfully and thoughtfully study the manual, where the ideas and gospel principles have been identified and correlated. But when he begins the class, he should communicate the ideas with eye-to-eye contact. This does not mean discussing unrelated old army or missionary experiences; it does mean preparing oneself to teach the lesson material.

This is an age of concern about person-to-person communication. What messages are communicated to class members by a teacher who, after having made thorough preparation, does not have to rely on his manual in the classroom? Such a teacher communicates to his students the following impressions:

I’m prepared.

I’m confident.

I’m ready to listen to you.

I care about you.

I know the material.

I want to get involved.

I’m interested in your contributions.

I’m dedicated to teaching the gospel.

In daily life most people enjoy direct eye-to-eye contact with friends and associates. They are then more sure that the other person knows they are there and that he cares about them, their feelings, and their opinions.

It is important to teach on an eye-to-eye level outside the classroom also. Many parents have discovered that the best way to render a family home evening ineffective is to bring out the manual and move through the lesson word upon word, line upon line. Eye-to-eye communication, after thorough preparation, is always a must.

This concept of eye-to-eye teaching is not new. The Savior taught in this manner, drawing his followers close to him physically and speaking to them eye to eye and heart to heart. In our dispensation, as long ago as 1902, Church teachers were admonished to free themselves of their books in order to really reach and teach their students. (Children’s Friend, vol. 1, p. 188.)

Thousands of dedicated teachers use the eye-to-eye method of teaching. What do these teachers say about this concept?

One teacher wrote, “I wish I had tried eye-to-eye teaching long ago. Since I began using it, those in my class are benefiting as much as I am. I had another rewarding moment today when a girl told me she had enjoyed class so much she was going to bring her best friend next time.”

Another said, “I find I have to be more creative and allow more preparation time. I felt well rewarded today when, as the closing bell rang, one of my most difficult children said, ‘I hope that isn’t the going-home bell. Class sure went fast today.’”

An Aaronic Priesthood instructor said, “It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be; and for the very first time the boys paid attention and became involved in the lesson. Before, I had been so nervous that I guess I relied on the manual for security.”

Eye-to-eye teaching is needed by all ages and groups. Although many adults listen politely and may even return week after week to the class of a tiresome teacher, they too gain more when they are involved in the lessons.

Despite the obvious benefits from eye-to-eye teaching, there are still some Church teachers who resist. One teacher said she felt she was already a satisfactory teacher; she felt that her free agency was being taken away by such a challenge.

Another felt that making notes instead of taking the book to class was a waste of time. However, she did agree that speakers who use notes to help them remember ideas in sequence are more effective.

Many teachers who resist eye-to-eye teaching have never tried it, assuming either that it will not work or that it would be no more satisfactory than are their usual methods. Some may try it grudgingly, then may feel even gratified when it fails; they have fulfilled their own prophecy.

Once in a great while a teacher with a marvelous voice or imposing manner may be able to read all or most of a lesson and keep the attention of a class. However, before a teacher assumes that he is one of those rare individuals, let him ask himself if he would risk giving his class an anonymous questionnaire asking for an honest appraisal of his teaching with book in hand!

There are times when reading from the manual might be justified, such as to cite scriptural references or a short incident or excerpt that is especially effective. But teachers should beware of assuming the whole lesson can be taught in this way.

How can a teacher begin to teach eye to eye? He can give up old comfortable habits—never an easy task. He can give more time to preparation—never a painless endeavor. To teach without using the book requires effort. It requires more study and preparation. But serving the Lord by teaching his gospel more effectively brings inner peace and satisfaction.

  • Sister Rasmussen, a housewife and mother, is a member of the Primary general board and of the Priesthood Teacher Development Committee. She received her doctorate in educational psychology at Brigham Young University in 1968. She and her family live in Pleasant View Second Ward, Sharon East Stake, in Provo.

Art by Dale Kilbourn