“22: How Teachers Can Contribute to a Learning Atmosphere,” Teaching, No Greater Call: A Resource Guide for Gospel Teaching (1999), 79–81
“22,” Teaching, No Greater Call, 79–81
In addition to helping learners understand how they can contribute to a learning atmosphere (see pages 77–78), there are a number of things that you as a teacher can do to contribute to such an atmosphere.
Your own spiritual preparation contributes much to the learning atmosphere in the home or classroom. When you are prepared spiritually, you bring a spirit of peace, love, and reverence. Those you teach feel more secure in pondering and discussing things of eternal worth. When you are upset, preoccupied, angry, or critical and have not prepared spiritually, they may be less able to learn by the Spirit. (For suggestions on preparing yourself spiritually, see pages 11–20.)
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). You should seek to love those you teach—not only when they are easy to love, but also when they try your patience (see “Seeking the Gift of Charity,” page 12).
Each person you teach is precious in the sight of the Lord, and each person should be precious in your sight as well. Find ways to reach out to each person you teach (see “Reaching Out to the One,” pages 35–36). As those you teach realize that you love them and are concerned about them, they will learn to trust you. They will become more teachable and less likely to cause disruptions (see “Love Softens Hearts,” pages 31–32).
Your dress and appearance should not detract from the lesson. If you teach youth, you do not need to dress like them to gain their confidence.
If you are a classroom teacher, smile as class members enter the room. Greet individuals with a handshake. Tell them that you are glad to see them. Express appreciation for them. Just one or two sentences of warm greeting can put them at ease and help them prepare to learn.
You can also make family home evening and family scripture study special occasions by extending a warm welcome to each family member as you begin.
There will often be informal conversation and activity before you teach a lesson. One of your responsibilities is to bring that activity to a close and help everyone focus their attention on learning. This may include leading class members to their places or playing a recording of a hymn. It may require simply looking into the eyes of each person before asking someone to offer the opening prayer. Occasionally you may choose to offer the opening prayer yourself. (See “Beginning the Lesson,” page 93.)
Invite learners to think of things they can do to help each other feel loved and appreciated. By the things you do and say, those you teach can learn to show respect for one another. Your responses to questions can show them how to respond respectfully to each other’s comments and questions (see “Listening,” pages 66–67). Reassure them that all sincere questions will be welcome. One person’s questions may help you clarify principles that others also do not understand.
Learners may come to class for a variety of reasons. However, when they arrive you should help them focus with enthusiasm on one purpose: learning the gospel. You can do this by helping them see that the gospel will help them solve their problems, enrich their lives, and increase their happiness.
Encourage those you teach to come to class prepared to learn and participate. When they are striving individually to learn the gospel, they are more likely to contribute to the learning atmosphere during lessons (see “Helping Individuals Take Responsibility for Learning the Gospel,” pages 61–62).
Simple out-of-class assignments sometimes help, especially when they encourage learners to apply gospel principles in everyday life (see “Helping Others Live What They Learn,” page 74). When you give out-of-class assignments, you should usually give class members an opportunity to report later. This will help them understand the value you place on what they have learned and accomplished.
Everything we teach should point family members and class members to Christ—to His redemptive mission, His perfect example, His ordinances and covenants, and His commandments. Remember this as you prepare and present your lessons. It will bring a spirit of unity and hope to the learning atmosphere.
The learning atmosphere is enhanced when all present are interested in the lesson and participate in discussions and other activities. To help maintain a high level of interest and participation, use a variety of teaching methods (see “Teaching with Variety,” pages 89–90).
As you share your feelings, experiences, and testimony, others may be inspired to do the same. This will strengthen those who share as well as those who listen. New converts especially may need to see that in the Church we all teach and learn from one another, regardless of our level of experience. Each person has something to contribute. We listen to each other’s contributions so that “all may be edified of all” (D&C 88:122).
When children are criticized or spoken to in a negative way, they often feel inadequate or rejected. They may try to gain attention by disturbing other children or otherwise misbehaving. On the other hand, positive comments will help them understand that you expect the best from them. Recognize and thank them for the good things they do, and ignore minor problems. As you do so, they will begin to feel that they are accepted, loved, and understood. (For more suggestions, see the videocassettes Primary Leader Training and Teach the Child.)
Children need and appreciate rules and limits. Work with the children you teach to establish a few simple, clear rules (no more than three or four). This will help them govern themselves. Explain that following the rules helps everyone enjoy learning together. Also discuss what will happen when rules are broken. You may want to decide together on a signal for restoring order, such as the teacher standing with folded arms.
After you and the children have established a few rules, make a chart listing the rules. If the children cannot read, use drawings to show how they should act. Whenever a child breaks one of the rules, stop the lesson and calmly ask, “What is the rule?” Patiently wait until the child repeats the rule. Ask him or her to suggest how to follow the rule. Then continue with the lesson.
Keep the children busy and interested by presenting lessons that include a variety of activities. This is probably the best way to prevent disruptive conduct. When you teach, look the children in the eye; if you read out of the lesson manual, you may lose their attention. If children become restless, say things like “We need your best thinking to answer this question” or “Will you hold the picture for the whole class to see?” Ignore most minor disturbances, and try to shift the children’s attention to something else. For example, you could say, “You’re going to be interested in what comes next” or “Please raise your hand when you think you know the answer.”
Make sure the children know that you understand and love them, even in difficult times. Remember that they need understanding more than scolding, so be patient and courteous with them. As you do these things, you can help turn difficult situations into opportunities for them to learn. The chart on this page illustrates the difference between scolding and understanding.
Do not expect perfection from yourself or the children. Have a happy, positive attitude that helps the children know that you love them. Help the children see that problems can be solved harmoniously.
You always cause a disturbance in the class. I’m tired of it.
I know it’s sometimes hard to sit still, but you’ll have to do your very best for a little longer. Would it help if you sat here by me?
Why can’t you keep your hands off the other children?
It is tempting to tease other people, but we don’t tease. It keeps all of us from learning.
How can you be so thoughtless of others?
Sometimes you may feel like saying unkind things to others, but in our class we try very hard to be kind and thoughtful. Let’s try to help others feel the way we like to feel.
You’re not paying a bit of attention to me. Turn around immediately!
It’s hard for me to teach when I can’t see your eyes, so I need you to help me by paying close attention.
Stop this rowdiness! I won’t put up with it another minute!
Everyone seems tired and restless. Let’s stand up for a minute and stretch.