We have a lot of teachers around here. I am guessing that at least half of our perma-bloggers are somehow involved in teaching and probably huge chunks of our readership are or will be. Personally, I teach once a month in the Elder’s Quorum, a calling I greatly enjoy. The EQ enjoys a demographic closeness that Sunday School lacks, which makes teaching easier and more relaxed, though there are costs due to the narrowed experiences.
I ran across a talk by Elder Oaks from conference a while back and thought I’d throw out a couple quotes from it as a reminder to myself. Perhaps they will be a good reminder to you too.
…I have sometimes observed teachers who gave the designated chapter no more than a casual mention and then presented a lesson and invited discussion on other materials of the teacher’s choice. That is not acceptable. A gospel teacher is not called to choose the subject of the lesson but to teach and discuss what has been specified. Gospel teachers should also be scrupulous to avoid hobby topics, personal speculations, and controversial subjects.
Now I struggled with using the manual a fair bit when I was teaching the manual lessons. I preferred to use the scriptures and sometimes found myself only barely referencing the words of the prophets. Obviously, there are worse things than that, but part of the point of the lessons is to get to know the prophets. You don’t get to know Nephi by reading Alma, and you can’t get to know Grant by reading Luke. I find it somewhat easier with Teachings for our Times because I have the whole talks to work with.
Here’s President Kimball emphasizing that to be a teacher is to be a guest.
He has been given an authoritative position and a stamp of approval is placed upon him, and those whom he teaches are justified in assuming that, having been chosen and sustained in the proper order, he represents the Church and the things which he teaches are approved by the Church. No matter how brilliant he may be and how many new truths he may think he has found, he has no right to go beyond the program of the Church.
What, in this case, is the program of the Church? I am guessing it means to stick to the central doctrines of the Church, skip the discussion of the second anointing, free masonry, and the details of polygamy in the 19th century. Skip the politics and the travelogues. No calls for the immediate imposition of the United Order or impeachment of elected officials. You are a steward given a job to do. And the job is to teach the basic doctrine in a way that invites the Spirit.
Teachers who are commanded to teach “the principles of [the] gospel” and “the doctrine of the kingdom” (D&C 88:77) should generally forgo teaching specific rules or applications. For example, they would not teach any rules for determining what is a full tithing, and they would not provide a list of dos and don’ts for keeping the Sabbath day holy. Once a teacher has taught the doctrine and the associated principles from the scriptures and the living prophets, such specific applications or rules are generally the responsibility of individuals and families.
Yes, well, isn’t that the truth. It is all too easy to dream up great rules that other people should live by…
Lastly, here’s President Hinckley on the big one:
We must … get our teachers to speak out of their hearts rather than out of their books, to communicate their love for the Lord and this precious work, and somehow it will catch fire in the hearts of those they teach.
Sometimes I do okay at inviting the spirit, but oftentimes I fall short. The purpose of the lessons is to learn the doctrines, but it is far more to help us develop the desire to obey the commandments so that we can gain personal witnesses. And so the real goal is to bring in the Spirit. I think my haphazard performance here is lack of prayerful planning as much as anything. One can often see how a lesson outline will progress and can incorporate those things, such as bearing specific testimony, that bring the spirit. But too often I prepare the lesson at the last minute to do this like it deserves to be done.
So enough blogging, I need to start prepping my lesson…