“Mormon Teacher, Secular School: The Dilemma,” Ensign, Oct. 1974, 41–42
I looked down at that room full of upturned young faces, some eager, some happy, some bored, some almost rebellious, and I realized what a responsibility a schoolteacher has. These students would learn not only subject matter, but values and attitudes from me.
This realization came the first day I stood before a classroom, but only through additional years have I become more fully aware of the great influence of a teacher.
Does the Latter-day Saint teacher have an added responsibility because he or she has the gospel? Can the dual role of Latter-day Saint and schoolteacher create unique challenges? Are there ever conflicts between the Latter-day Saint teacher’s values and the material he is required to teach?
For me, the answer is yes. The next question is how I could handle the situation. First I needed to define my role. I knew that the role of teacher is not that of a missionary. Although I might be tempted to preach Church doctrine or to impose my own views, that would be a violation of my trust as a teacher. Parents of non-Mormon students would rightfully resent another’s religion being forced on their children in the public classroom. Similarly, Mormon parents would not want their children to be taught non-Mormon doctrine. The school classroom is not the proper place to teach such church doctrine, but it is the place to teach truth. Neither parents nor school system would resent that. This could be my philosophical ground as a teacher.
That which is true—no matter where it is found—comes from God. “The Spirit of truth is of God.” (D&C 93:26.) “And truth is the knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” (D&C 93:24.) So it is possible and also acceptable for me to teach universal truths.
I considered one of my roles as teacher to be that of teaching students to make evaluations and judgments. It is to teach the use of tools needed to make a living and to live with others. Although Christ taught that we should not be of the world, he realized the necessity of being in the world. And it is the role of the schoolteacher to help students better live in the world.
After achieving this understanding of the role of a schoolteacher, I found that many of my conflicts between being a Latter-day Saint and being a teacher solved themselves. But certain conflicts still arose and when they did, I tried to avoid altogether teaching that particular material on that concept. There are so many valuable and truthful concepts that not all can be taught in a single school year anyway. So I selected those that I felt would be most valuable. As an English teacher, I had a wealth of books to choose from. Many contained distorted views of life or ideas that are not uplifting. I avoided those and tried to select books that presented universally-accepted truths. I found that selection of materials is the best solution to a conflict of values.
But what if the curriculum requires a concept or material that conflicts with your values? For example, as a science teacher, you may be required to teach the theory that man descended from apes. Or the English curriculum may require a book that states that man cannot overcome his depraved nature and thus cannot be held accountable for sin. Or as the health teacher, you may be required to teach a detailed sex education program.
I found that the best approach is to teach the concept for what it is. Instead of teaching such concepts as accepted truth, I presented them as theories or views of certain men. The book on man’s depravity was by one particular author and may even have represented a school of thought. I presented that view to my students, but helped them see it in perspective and showed its relation to other opinions. If a certain concept must be taught, a teacher can, without passing judgment, help the students evaluate it in relation to universal truth.
The best weapon is approach. The subject matter changes depending on how the teacher approaches it. A teacher can discuss problems in relation to violence or sex and the discussion can become a valuable learning experience, depending on the approach.
Example is still the best teacher. As a Latter-day Saint teacher, one teaches that which he desires and that which will help his students become what society desires, by setting a good example. Students are most motivated by someone who lives what he believes.
Thus, through selecting worthwhile materials, identifying ideas for what they are, approaching concepts and materials in a way to uplift the students, and living as a good example, a Latter-day Saint schoolteacher can successfully play this dual role.