“What can be done to make gospel lessons more interesting?” New Era, Oct. 1975, 35–36
Answer/Brother Charles R. Hobbs
One of my favorite aphorisms goes something like this: “The ideal teaching situation consists of Mark Hopkins sitting on one end of a log and on the other end a student.”
This remark originated from a speech delivered by General (later President) James A. Garfield in 1871. Garfield was a student of Mark Hopkins, the latter having served with distinction as professor of philosophy at Williams College for over 50 years. To President Garfield, Mark Hopkins was the symbol of great teaching. Interestingly, as I have investigated the life of Mark Hopkins, I have found that the paramount quality of his teaching was love.
From this and many other examples and personal experiences, I am convinced that the best way to secure an interesting lesson is for a student to sit on the “other end of a log” with a great teacher who exemplifies love. The first requisite then is to have the right kind of a teacher in the classroom.
None of us who are gospel teachers are as effective as we might be or ought to be. For this reason the Lord has blessed us with the teacher development and meetinghouse library programs. Through the participation of the teacher in the basic course, inservice lessons, supervision in teaching, and through appropriate use of instructional materials from the meetinghouse library, lessons can’t help but become more interesting. So may I suggest that all teachers and potential teachers, including youth, take advantage of teacher development classes and meetinghouse library services.
A common saying that I have heard expressed throughout the Church is: “It is not my purpose to entertain students but to teach the gospel.” When one stops to think about it, this statement is inaccurate. It probably even contributes to poor teaching. Let me show you why.
My American College Dictionary defines entertain as follows: “To receive or admit with a view to consider and decide; to take into consideration. To keep, hold, or maintain in the mind with favor; to harbor; cherish. To engage the attention of, with anything that causes the time to pass pleasantly.” And within a teaching situation we might add: to entertain is to make a lesson interesting, for the dictionary defines interesting as “engaging attention.” With these definitions, shouldn’t teachers make an effort to entertain students?
I have observed that frequently when a teacher announces he does not intend to entertain anybody, he is looking for an excuse for his lack of preparation.
Teachers should be cautioned not to entertain simply for entertainment’s sake or for amusement only. The stimulating ideas and techniques a teacher uses should be directed toward carrying out an objective that will change the lives of students. Gospel lessons should accomplish more than simply being interesting. They should change people’s lives and cause them to keep the Lord’s commandments. But I believe the way a teacher changes people’s lives for good is by entertaining them through spiritual, social, or intellectual experiences, and all of this, ideally, within a loving relationship.
We have been discussing what might be done with a teacher to make gospel lessons more interesting. But another requisite of an interesting lesson that comes off with impact is good students as well as a good teacher. Even the most qualified and best-prepared teacher can go down in flames if he has a classroom of incorrigible rascals who are bent on being the devil’s advocates. Every student in a gospel classroom has the responsibility of helping his teacher succeed. An unfortunate condition in all too many classrooms exists with some students who attempt to be self-appointed entertainers during lessons, disrupting, robbing everyone who is present of meaningful learning experiences. Interesting lessons call for attentive, contributing class members.
The ideal teaching situation to make gospel lessons interesting and meaningful is an outstanding LDS teacher on one end of the log—a teacher who knows how to entertain and love—and on the other end, students who are supportive, eager to learn, with reciprocating love for the teacher.