“In the Classroom, in the Home,” Ensign, Oct. 2002, 63–65
How do you invite the Spirit of the Lord into your classroom? What can you do to keep your students’ attention? How should you respond when a class member answers a question incorrectly? What if you’re nervous about teaching in front of a class?
Members of the American Falls Third Ward, American Falls Idaho Stake, are discovering answers to these and other questions as they participate in the Church’s Teaching the Gospel course. The 12-week course, first introduced in September 1999, is designed for all Church members, whether or not they currently have a teaching calling. “Every person in the Church is going to have the opportunity at some point to teach someone else,” says Michael Crockett, ward teacher improvement coordinator. “If you’re not teaching right now, someday you will. And when you have high-quality teaching, you’re going to see the effects in so many ways.”
Both ward leaders and members say they have indeed seen the positive effects of the program. Fewer teachers are simply reading out of the manual. They are engaging class members in discussions. They are employing easy techniques to keep class members’ attention. And, most important, they are focusing on loving their students and bringing the Spirit of the Lord into the classroom.
Brother Crockett cites the elders quorum as one example. “The elders quorum usually does things a little differently than the Relief Society,” he notes with a smile. “We tend to say, ‘Here’s the lesson; I read over it last night; we’ll just discuss it.’ But over the last two months, two people who had been through the course taught in elders quorum, and both implemented things we had discussed in class. They came to me after class and said, ‘How did I do?’ They had made an effort to do something different than they had normally done.”
As more ward members have completed the course and started practicing what they have learned, interest in the program has grown. Evan Call, first counselor in the bishopric, says that after the first session of the course was completed, “I had people coming to me and volunteering, ‘Can I take that class?’”
The course is designed so that the principles and techniques taught can be applied in all kinds of teaching situations—not only in a Church classroom but also in family home evenings, missionary work, and home and visiting teaching.
Kelley Call was serving as a den mother when she was asked to participate in the course. “My first thought was, ‘I don’t need to be here; I’m not teaching on Sunday,’” she recalls. “But as I went through it, I realized I do teach, every week. I need to teach these boys correctly, and I need to show them love, which is one of the things we’re learning in the class.”
Steve Tolman says he’s used the methods he has learned not only in his calling as a teachers quorum adviser but also during family home evening. For example, he uses object lessons more often now, and he changes his approach more frequently during each lesson to retain the interest of the class. He’s found that the young men he teaches are more involved in his lessons, and at home, his children are enjoying the increased creativity he brings to family home evening. “I’ve done lots of new things I never did before,” he says. “It makes it more fun.”
Even the most experienced teachers can benefit from the course. “Some teachers, especially those who’ve been teaching for a long time, find their comfort zone and don’t move beyond that,” says Primary teacher Kryst Krein, who is also a member of the stake Sunday School presidency. “The class teaches you to take a step back and look at how you’re teaching. You can always improve.”
Andra Driscoll agrees. “I have a degree in special education and elementary education, so I know how to teach in a regular classroom,” she says. “But when you apply secular ways of teaching without using the Spirit, it doesn’t work. You really need to learn how to teach the gospel.”
The class is also helpful for members who may be hesitant to teach. “A lot of times there are people you’d consider for a teaching calling, but they express fear about teaching,” says Brother Crockett. “These are some of the people you want to put in the class. It really gives them encouragement.”
Brother Crockett has found that the support of the ward bishopric is a key factor in the success of the program. “This program won’t work if it doesn’t start with the priesthood,” he says. “In our ward the bishopric has been the driving force from the beginning.”
Evan Call has been an enthusiastic proponent of the program since the ward first implemented it in January 2001. His short-term goal was that every Primary and Sunday School teacher participate in the course, in addition to a member of each of those presidencies. He hopes that eventually every adult member in the ward will have attended.
The bishopric makes it easy for current teachers to participate by formally calling and setting apart substitute teachers to fill in for them while they take the course. After the 12-week course has been completed, the substitutes fill in for other teachers who are asked to participate in the next session. And when the substitute teachers are sustained in sacrament meeting, the purpose of their call is announced—further increasing ward members’ awareness of the course.
Ward leaders have found that, as recommended in the course guidelines, holding the class during Sunday School and keeping the numbers small contribute to the effectiveness of the course. Limiting the class to 10 members helps facilitate class participation, they say. And the time slot seems to fit everyone’s schedule. “I would say that holding the class at any other time would not be as successful,” says Brother Call. “You’ve got to prepare for it and have substitutes who know they’ll be there for the duration. But with enough planning and preparing, it works.”
The Course Instructor
As Brother Crockett teaches the course, his enthusiasm for the material is evident. On one particular Sunday, he introduces the topic of the lesson with a simple visual aid and asks questions of the class members, immediately involving them in a discussion. And he acknowledges in an affirming way each class member’s comments. “He models what he teaches,” says Sister Driscoll.
Although Brother Crockett is an experienced gospel teacher himself, he and other ward leaders emphasize that an effective teacher for the course doesn’t necessarily need to be a polished teacher.
“It’s the material,” says Brother Call. “When you go with the attitude ‘I want to participate; I want to learn,’ you’ll learn. It’s all in the manual.”
When teachers use the manual, they learn right along with the students, says Brother Crockett. “As we start discussing, the students are able to share a wealth of information. Everybody’s able to share what they know and feel.”
A Vital Interest
When describing the teacher improvement program to the membership of the Church during the October 1999 general conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “Each of us has a vital interest in the content and effectiveness of gospel teaching. We want everyone to have great gospel teachers, and we want those teachers to help all of us find our way back … to our Heavenly Father” (“Gospel Teaching,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 78).
Members of the American Falls Third Ward are finding more and more “great gospel teachers” in their midst as they participate in the course and practice what they have learned.
Steve Tolman summarizes the importance of the course: “A good lesson taught by the Spirit increases the testimony of those who hear it,” he says. “As the world continues to go its direction, we need to have stronger testimonies. As teachers become trained to teach with the Spirit, they can help increase the testimonies of those who hear.” And countless Church members are benefited as a result.