RIP: Teacher Improvement

Well, apparently the Teacher Improvement Coordinator and Teacher Improvement Meeting are no more.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think improving the quality of teaching in the Church should be a huge priority. And: I loved having this calling. On the other hand, I don’t think I did a very good job improving the quality of teaching in our ward. I also wonder if this change wasn’t made to give the ward Sunday School Presidency more to do: I’ve been under the impression that they don’t do much.

59 comments for “RIP: Teacher Improvement

  1. December 7, 2006 at 7:14 pm

    I’d rather just read the Teaching book instead of going to the class. I rather like that book. I’ve never gotten a lot out of the official classes, especially the quarterly ones.

    I’ve always wished my husband could be in the SS Presidency. It seems quite relaxing in comparison to most other callings.

    Waiting for all the SS Presidency members to disagree with me…

  2. Anita Wells
    December 7, 2006 at 7:49 pm

    OK, I will–I’ve taught Gospel Doctrine for four years and never really suspected that the SS Presidency was doing much since I didn’t see them in action. These past few months that my husband has served as the SS president has opened my eyes. The SS has responsibility for not only the adult classes but all the teenage classes, the library, and finding substitutes. While not as demanding as some other callings, I’m sure, the administrative responsibilities of staffing classes, taking rolls and reporting attendance, and often substituting on short notice (like 2 minutes), besides trying to inspire teachers and keep up with the turnover has been pretty busy. We had our first ever Sunday School Social (the Sundae School party with ice cream sundaes) to create more of a unifying feeling among the teachers, because I’d never really felt part of an organization before, and discovered that I was the only female SS teacher in our ward and probably the guys didn’t care about being part of a bigger group. Anyway, my husband has been busy, especially with the new year coming and trying to staff/orient/supply the teachers, but I can see how in this calling it would also be easy to do little.

  3. Gilgamesh
    December 7, 2006 at 7:50 pm

    Julie,

    I woulod also hope that this would give the Sunday School Presidency more to do. It should also mean, however, that they should allow women to be Sunday School presidents.

  4. Anita Wells
    December 7, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    ps–in addition to presidency mtgs, they get to attend ward council and stake SS mtgs too. but i think being a counselor and not the pres would be pretty low intensity :-)

  5. Anita Wells
    December 7, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Gilgamesh–I believe women are allowed to serve as the SS secretary but under current rules the SS president and counselors must be male.

  6. Julie M. Smith
    December 7, 2006 at 8:04 pm

    One other note: it appears that there will be more information about teacher improvement at the leadership training broadcast in February.

    I can see the wisdom in putting teacher improvement in the hands of the auxiliary/quorum presidencies, because they are more familiar with the situation on the ground.

    I do think that, in general, the quality of teaching in the Church is dismal and I wish we did more to change that. However, I have no idea what that would be.

    I think the best advice to give teachers is to watch other teachers: steal what they do well (“Why is this lesson working so well at this moment?”) and learn from their mistakes.

  7. Kevin Barney
    December 7, 2006 at 8:26 pm

    I think this is a good decision. It always seemed like a make work kind of thing that got very low attendance and didn’t seem to have much of an impact on actual teaching in the ward.

    I was a SS President, and it was cushy indeed. I probably wasn’t doing the job right though.

    I agree that it’s silly women can’t be SS Presidents.

    And I also agree with Julie’s suggestions for teacher improvement. I have stolen ideas shamelessly over the years. I usually present things like that with a lot of confidence, because I’ve seen them work so I know they will work.

  8. December 7, 2006 at 8:33 pm

    “I do think that, in general, the quality of teaching in the Church is dismal and I wish we did more to change that. However, I have no idea what that would be.”

    I’m sure what you’re getting at here, Julie, is “I have no idea what that would be given the church’s commitment to teaching callings being carried out on a lay, temporary basis with a centrally correlated curriculum..”

    Were any of the italicized matters above changed in the Church, even minutely, our ability to concretely address the quality of teaching in the Church would dramatically alter (likely for the better).

    (Also: I’d like women to be able to be Sunday School Presidents. But then, I’d also like men to be able to be Primary Presidents.)

  9. SJL
    December 7, 2006 at 9:00 pm

    My understanding is that the quarterly class isn’t being done away with, just given entirely to the SS presidency. Am I wrong? The stake has told us that not only will they continue, but they will be emphasized much more, with the focus on teaching doctrine and not method.

    The stake is also discouraging any gameshow tactics in teaching, an idea with which I heartily agree. I think another problem is that we have “discussions” instead of sermons preached by the spirit. (“I’m going to need a lot of help today because I really have a hard time with this”….yawn…) I have no problem with class comments, but mostly its a series cliche questions with cliche answers, like a mind numbing catechism.

  10. SJL
    December 7, 2006 at 9:16 pm

    PS. I think women should be SS presidents as well. It would solve the problem of it being a laid back calling.

  11. December 7, 2006 at 9:32 pm

    After decades of serving as EQ president, as YM president, in three bishoprics, in HP group, on two high councils, etc., my husband has spent the past couple of years as SS president in our ward. He was released last Sunday (as was I) since we sold our home. Compared to many other presidencies, this certainly is one of the less demanding–and kind of fun for a change. We have joked that his calling entails only being in charge of “the bells.”

    As was already mentioned, however, my husband has probably taught “on the fly” almost half of the past 104 weeks in this calling. He loves teaching, though, so that has been a perk of the calling, especially when it’s adult gospel doctrine.

    The funny thing about this “news” is that we first heard this a couple of years ago at the Sunday School open house on temple square before General Conference. The general SS presidency didn’t exactly say that the teacher improvement position was being removed, but they DID say that the Sunday School presidencies were to be responsible for these duties, that they were to be done quarterly, and that the SS presidencies were to have a more serious responsibilities. Sam has been teaching these classes every since and I must say he’s done a fabulous job. He’s a great teacher and spent considerable time preparing these courses for the other teachers. Last week the bishop’s wife mentioned in a class that she learned more about teaching from one of his lessons last year than she had learned in any other setting. This meant a great deal because she is a wonderful teacher herself.

    Anyway, SS presidencies are not the most demanding callings in the world, but the new responsibilities really opens up a great opportunity for service.

  12. m&m
    December 7, 2006 at 9:35 pm

    with the focus on teaching doctrine and not method

    I think the fact that doctrine is often not focused on enough is a huge part of any teaching problems that may exist. That, and teachers too often spend too much time talking and not enough time stimulating Spirit-filled discussions.

  13. m&m
    December 7, 2006 at 9:40 pm

    I think another problem is that we have “discussions” instead of sermons preached by the spirit.

    Funny…didn’t see that before I entered my comment. I don’t think one-way sermons are the answer. No teacher should have that kind of burden anyway. The best lessons I have been in are those where people are allowed to share their testimonies and thoughts and feelings related to the doctrine in the lesson. When doctrine isn’t the focus and/or when class members are not allowed to share their thoughts in way that fosters the Spirit (which means good questions need to be asked), classes usually aren’t very good.

    Because we have a lay membership, that’s all the more reason not to put the burden all on the teacher and to make lessons a group experience, IMO.

  14. SJL
    December 7, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    m&m
    I probably overstated my point. I love a good discussion as much as anybody, but good discussions usually come about when the teacher has a point, a thesis to which they are driving, instead of bouncing around randomly between scriptures and class comments. Good questions are the key, but only when the questions are geared toward bringing the class toward some insight–that ah-ha moment when the Spirit can testify.

  15. m&m
    December 7, 2006 at 11:27 pm

    14, SJL,
    I agree wholeheartedly. That’s why I mentioned “Spirit-filled discussion.” :)

  16. Lori
    December 7, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    In leadership meetings our bishop used to refer to the Teacher Improvement Coordinator as the TICK, though he never belabored the point, or drew analogies about blood-sucking, etc. It made for a light moment amidst the weightier issues (what do we do about all these callings that need to be filled, and about all these people who need callings, but who can’t be relied upon to fill all these callings that need to be filled?….)

  17. Julie M. Smith
    December 8, 2006 at 12:00 am

    Russel is right to read “teaching callings being carried out on a lay, temporary basis with a centrally correlated curriculum” into my comment, but I disagree that abandoning these would help:

    (1) lay: my guess is that professionalization in the church would be about pedagogy and ‘family sciences’, which wouldn’t help that much. More scripture knowledge would help, but I also feel that I’ve learned more on my feet in the last decade than I did in two years of grad school in Biblical Studies, so I don’t feel convinced that that even formalized academic scripture study would help.

    (2) temporary: my experience is not, unfortunately, that teachers automatically improve over time.

    (3) centrally correlated curriculum: we’ve had this conversation on the blogs before, but I think that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages because for every Jim F. out there there are 100 people who think that reading from Especially for Mormons is a good idea. Improving the quality of that centralized curriculum (esp. in terms of suggesting questions to ask) is another matter entirely.

    SJL, I linked to the letter and that’s all I know, but my understanding was no more quarterly meetings. I’m glad your stake is canceling the game shows. :)

  18. December 8, 2006 at 1:24 am

    Julie,

    “My guess is that professionalization in the church would be about pedagogy and ‘family sciences’, which wouldn’t help that much.”

    Well, this carries the discussion one step further than I meant to push it: specifically, if the church really did decide to incorporate some sort of professionalization into its teachings, how would such play out? You’re probably–and unfortunately–right that, absent any sort of well-developed sense of what kind of knowledge a teacher of Mormonism ought to have (the sort of thing which is elsewhere reflected in degrees in theology and scripture study), what would likely the happen is the rise of a CES-like bunch of “teaching experts” that wouldn’t have any truly postive impact on church teaching at all. But I wasn’t looking that far ahead; I was just suggesting that if there was a presumption that, when possible, the people who are called to teach should be those who have some (presumably professional) training or experience in teaching, then the possibilities for improvement increase dramatically.

    “My experience is not, unfortunately, that teachers automatically improve over time.”

    My experience is the contrary–people who are in teaching callings for a long time tend to get better at it. The ones who don’t get better at it are, generally speaking, the ones who don’t like the calling and don’t take it seriously. Combine this suggestion with the former one (that is, call people to teach who have some interest and/or background and/or training in teaching the material, and leave them in those callings for a decent length of time), and I think you’ll be likely to see a lot more creative and improving teaching going on.

    “I think that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages because for every Jim F. out there there are 100 people who think that reading from Especially for Mormons is a good idea.”

    I don’t really disagree; it’s just that centralized and standardized curricula too often become a crutch, especially when you’re dealing with teachers that wouldn’t often be in those callings in the first place if the first two criteria were taken more seriously (that is, with teachers who have no prior experience with nor any apparent interest in teaching the material).

  19. FGF
    December 8, 2006 at 1:37 am

    The problem with GD teachers is that we often act as nothing more than moderators, pointing to anyone with a hand up. This insures that the level of knowledge gained in class never exceeds the level of the most astute comments made. We do like to sermonize, and pontificate (me included) and I would submit that you need wait no longer than the next “open mic Sunday” for proof of that, or at least in every ward I’ve attended. Give me a teacher that teaches (even if it’s just one little thing I didn’t know before I came to class).

  20. Justin H
    December 8, 2006 at 1:53 am

    Re: #3: I’m the Sun Sch. president in my ward and we’ve been doing this since day one. There’s really nothing else for us to do!

  21. December 8, 2006 at 2:39 am

    Teaching G.D in the U.S. is quite different than teaching in Russia (or most likely other parts of the world) where gospel knowledge is new and still mostly at the beginner level. I think we all need to realize that the correlation is mostly for the benefit of those parts of the world where the basic gospel message is still new and most adults in the Church did not go to Primary or SS. Given that, I don’t think I would change the basic program but calling the best teachers your Ward has to offer is always a good idea – the one problem I see is that often, those excellent teachers need opportunities to develop other talents while someone else develops their teaching abilities. I do like the suggestion to watch good teachers and steal their ideas.

  22. m&m
    December 8, 2006 at 4:33 am

    I was just suggesting that if there was a presumption that, when possible, the people who are called to teach should be those who have some (presumably professional) training or experience in teaching, then the possibilities for improvement increase dramatically.

    I’m not sure i agree with this. I can think of teachers who bring the Spirit more powerfully because they are humble and scared and don’t trust themselves or their abilities one iota, and so they lean more on the Spirit to help them and put more into the preparation (esp. spiritual) lessons and lean more on those in the class to bring the Spirit in with their comments. Of course there are some skills that can help, but I think they are pretty basic and don’t require professional training for effectiveness. The key is to know how to keep the Spirit present, and even professionals don’t typically learn that. :)

    I think we all need to realize that the correlation is mostly for the benefit of those parts of the world where the basic gospel message is still new and most adults in the Church did not go to Primary or SS.

    I am not sure I agree with this either. I live in the heart of Mormonville and I love the correlated teachings. There is more power and potential for the Spirit to teach us if we teach the simply and pure doctrines — because each person can learn something different — whatever they need and are ready for — if that approach is taken. I have had some serious insights given as basic, pure truth is taught.

  23. Nehringk
    December 8, 2006 at 9:53 am

    One of the basic problems I have found is that despite all the sermons and counsel about reading and studying the scriptures, it seems that many members simply do not do it. My wife and I have both been Sunday School teachers, and we have both found it frustrating that many of the members are simply not familiar with the scriptures. That makes teaching much more challenging.

    I have taught Institute classes for a couple of years now and have been dismayed by the lack of scriptural/doctrinal knowledge among otherwise reasonably bright college students. I am also dismayed that the manuals seem to be content to make a few simple points rather than challenge students to wrestle with the scriptures and make a serious attempt to “liken them unto themselves.” On the other hand, I can understand why the manuals seem to be so “safe.”

    In addition, most of the contributors to this blog are highly educated, while many of the members who faithfully show up each Sunday are not. Perhaps our perspective is a bit skewed and our expectations too high. There are certainly moments when I realize I learn much more from the example of the humble during the week than from the teachings of the educated on Sunday.

  24. Sarah
    December 8, 2006 at 11:41 am

    I’m ambivalent on the loss of the “quarterly” Teacher Improvement meetings (as I’ve never seen one announced in my ward, I remain not-quite-convinced they happen — however, I’ve been in Primary for the last two years, so I miss a lot of stuff.)

    I remain, however, disappointed in the lack of quarterly Student Improvement meetings, in which members are challenged to make a plan for better Gospel Doctrine participation — reading the assigned scripture in advance each week, coming to the lesson with two or three questions about the material already prepared, learning to see and respond to the cues given to them by the instructor (i.e. figuring out when it’s not appropriate to transition the group discussion over to your experiences in the mission field with your heathen investigators and/or companions, which experiences the entire ward has already memorized.)

    Given how very impressed both the Primary and Sunday School teachers I know were, when I began requiring my CTR-8 class to retrieve scriptures from the library if they’d forgotten theirs, I am hard pressed to lay the blame for inadequate Gospel instruction solely on teacher preparation. I mean, I’ve also never been to a secular class, wherein the students were expected to do nothing at all (besides show up sometimes,) that worked out particularly well.

  25. Rachel
    December 8, 2006 at 11:56 am

    When my husband and I were put in primary we were being eaten alive by this group of 9 year olds. We do not have children of our own and with small families, no expericne with children at all. The TD Leader sat in the class with us and gave us some very helpful hints on how to work with the kids. She did not change our actual teaching strategy so much as how we managed their “problem” behavior and it really helped. For instance instead of saying, Joey, don’t lay of the floor we say : thank you to those that are sitting nicely in their seats. It really changed how much we could enjoy the class when we were not focued on the negative – we just did not know how. Now, the kids are still manics sometimes, but our little Jedi mind trick works and the children’s behavior has changed. Definitly glad for the TD Leader for that. I liked that she was there to help, and hear us vent too, because now we do not run out of the church screaming on sundays (as much:)

  26. Mike
    December 8, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    I think that by and large our lessons at church stink. Not all of them, but far too many of them. I attend meetings, mostly out of duty. I can relate to a friend of mine who sits there with her I-pod stuck in her ears for most of the three hours.

    The key to better lessons is to return OWNERSHIP of the lesson to the instructor. It has to be his or her own lesson from the depths of the heart. It is too hard to effectively teach someone else’s lesson, even if that someone else is the Prophet or a favorite Apostle. It is like reflecting borrowed light instead of shining forth your own light.

    Several years ago when I was the EQP, I felt inspired with the thought that what went on during that half hour in quorum meetings was the single most important aspect of my calling. More important than any leadership meeting or service project or home teaching. Initially I thought that I needed to find the best instructor. I asked the most capable men I could think of to teach. Some gave good lessons, but it seemed that even the best men only had a couple of good lessons in them. They all soon fell into the same rut of mediocrity. I was not satisfied and I did not feel that the Lord was either.

    I complied a list of 40 possible instructors, this in a small ward with attendance less than 20 in EQ meetings. I had in mind that maybe there might be a latent Lowell Bennion or Gene England lurking somewhere in the quorum and I was going to awaken them. I would pick a name off my long list and call the guy up and ask him to teach. I would tell him that the Lord had a message for him to deliver. It only takes a few hours to actually prepare a lesson. But, I told the instructor, to take a couple of months to prepare their hearts to teach. In their quiet moments each day, they were humbly to ask the Lord what message they should teach in their lesson for the EQ.

    I offered to help them with any research on a specific topic they might need and in a couple of cases they took me up on the offer. I gave them maximum scheduling flexibility and said that I would pencil them into a specific week in a couple months. But if they needed more time or had to work that week I would change it. I gave them every chance to gracefully flake out of the assignment. I only wanted instructors who really had been touched with a sincere desire and actually had something to teach. I also promised them that I would not ask them to teach again for at least another year. This was their one and only opportunity to instruct the quorum.

    I called them up every couple weeks to gently check up on their progress, trying to not apply any real pressure and a bit more often when their time drew close. I chatted with them about how their preparation was going. I found that this required keeping about 8 or 10 guys in a state of preparation constantly, requiring about as much effort if not more than the home teaching duties (even though I delegated that to my counselors as much as possible). If we got to within 4 days of the lesson and the guy wanted more time or flaked out during my final call, then I took that as my signal that it was my turn to teach. If a guy flaked out several times I would give him more space until he asked to be released from this assignment. I always assumed that any instructor might not be ready and I constantly prepared myself in a similar fashion.

    I honestly didn’t like attending EQ meetings before, they were such a duty and a pain. But with this new approach I started looking forward to them because we had powerful lessons. One guy had just moved in and unkown to me, he had recently been released from jail for beating his wife. He was humbled beyond description and in therapy and they were trying to start over. What he had to say about how to get along with your wife was anything but boring. How conflict starts small and escalates. A new member gave his very first lesson on faith and it was one of the best lessons on the subject I have ever heard. He died of AIDS later that year and you would never know what he was facing from that lesson. A rather inactive guy gave an enlightening lesson on why people go inactive. Another one of the best lessons was called: An Innoculation Against Inactivity. It basically stated that unless you are grounded in Christ you would eventually be driven out. We had a lesson on the relationship between aggressive missionary tactics and low retention. I can remember several of these lessons even after almost a decade.

    From Jan 1997 I kept careful track of it. As a measure of flakiness or rather how much “risk” I was taking, I taught 12 times and one of my counselors taught 3 times out of the 46 weeks that we had lessons in 1997; nearly a third of the time. The other 6 weeks were conferences or ward meetings. For the first six months attendance went up and down randomly. I was discouraged but considered it a moral victory because the quality of the lessons was much better. Then attendance started to creap up steadily. Then it had doubled and week-after-week it continued to climb from the 20’s or lower to the 60’s range. We had to move into the gym. The foyers and parking lot emptied out of EQ stragglers and sluffers. People would almost mob me with questions of who is teaching today and what are they going to say. I knew of a couple of not-very-active guys who came out to only one hour of EQ meeting and not sacrament meeting.

    I wish this story had a happy ending. But the next year we were forced to impliment the new Brigham Young manual and the current pattern. I knew in my heart that it did not have the flexibilty that my quorum needed and I could not see how I might inspire my quorum and give ownership to instructors under the framework of this plan. Since I lacked faith that the new plan would work and actually believed it would not, I turned this responsibilities over to a new counselor who had a positive attitude about it. I told the SP privately that if attendance fell drastically, I was going right back to what worked. I was soon released, perhaps for other reasons.

    Attendance was below 20 again within 2-3 months of the adoption of the new pattern of teaching. The new EQP, when he first noticed the slip, asked me to be the quorum instructor because he thought that it had been me who was the author of prior success. In tears he begged me to “breath the life back into the quorum lessons.” I did not want to see what I considered my legacy of better quorum attendance disappear so swiftly. I put aside thoughts of I-told-you-so and humbled myself before the Lord and gave those lessons everything I had in me. But I just could not put my heart into it in the same way as when it was my lesson. I really struggled with it. We have never had consistently decent lessons since then. From time to time I am asked to be the instructor and I give it my best. This year I was released because my work schedule of every third Sunday creates too many substitutions and too much confusion in the Quorum Presidency as to who is teaching.

    Many conclusions can be drawn from this experience. For me the reason we have crappy lessons is because we, as a people and as leaders when it is our turn to lead, choose to let other things be a greater priority. Institutional needs of control and conformity are thought to be so much more important than any and all other considerations. Maybe they are.

    Wake me up for the resurrection.

  27. Douglas Hunter
    December 8, 2006 at 8:15 pm

    The teaching in the church is as good as we make it. One thing that is coming down the pike is a new blog dedicated to teaching that aspires to have discussions of the Sunday lessons and also ongoing discussions about teaching. We hope it will become a good comunity and resource for teachers.

  28. Julie M. Smith
    December 8, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    One thought: While I haven’t before cared that women couldn’t be SS presidents, if it is the case that the SS Pres. will be in charge of teacher improvement, then it seems like a problem to restrict from that calling the people in the church most likely to have had professional training and/or experience with teaching, particularly of children. Imagine your current SS Pres. teaching the Primary teachers how to do a better job with the Sunbeams and see if you don’t agree with me here.

    “One of the basic problems I have found is that despite all the sermons and counsel about reading and studying the scriptures, it seems that many members simply do not do it.”

    I quite fighting that battle a long time ago. I read aloud the entire passage that I am going to discuss with the class and then discuss it. (This only works if you discuss a passage in depth, but I think that’s what we should be doing anyway.)

    #26: thank you for sharing that story with us. I agree with you that the Pres. of the Church manuals are extremely difficult to teach from–for new, old, and in-between members.

  29. December 8, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    Mike, that’s a powerful experience; sorry it intended so negatively for you and the quorum. I’m sure there’s a lot your story that you didn’t have time to go into, but I can provide testimony to the effectiveness of at least one aspect of your program in a different context. Some years ago, in my in-laws’ ward in Michigan, the bishopric had somehow worked out a system whereby members of the ward were asked to prepare a Sacrament meeting talk a full four or five months before they were assigned to give it, with follow-up reminders regularly provided. Moreover, they did not assign topics (though, if I understood how things worked correctly, they did request that the members inform the bishopric of their topic and perhaps share a little of their talk a month or so before their speaking date). The talks, from what I observed and heard about, were consistently whole orders of magnitude superior to the usual sacrament meeting fare.

    I have no idea what kind of obstacles might exist to other wards adopting this program; maybe stake calendars normally prevent that kind of long-distance planning. If so, that’s a loss. I’ve never known any other ward to work so hard at and focus quite so much on creating opportunities for good talks and sermons.

  30. Julie M. Smith
    December 8, 2006 at 11:34 pm

    One more thought: the old joke goes that the only people who are expected to be competent when they begin a new calling are the financial clerk and the organist. We won’t tolerate financial irresponsibility, but we expect it from teachers. We don’t expect or allow our organists to learn on the job from their mistakes like we do with teachers–we expect basic competence before they begin. I can’t think of any categorial or doctrinal reason for this: frankly, I’d rather have an incompetent clerk waste my money than an incompetent teacher waste my time and I’d rather wince through the opening hymn than through an entire lesson.

  31. m&m
    December 9, 2006 at 2:22 am

    Julie,
    Julie, have you found that teachers don’t have basic competence? I seriously can’t think of a teacher that didn’t have some level of competence, even if I haven’t necessarily connected with all of their styles. How does one measure competence anyway? Is this one of those “you’ll get the job if you have experience but no one will give you experience” kinds of catch-22s? A key way to develop competence is to have someone take a chance on someone who doesn’t necessarily have a typical teacher profile, isn’t it? Where else is someone going to develop competence in teaching unless they have degrees or professional experience? And is the professionally trained always going to be the best teacher? I don’t necessarily think so. Someone can take organ lessons or a finance class; it’s a touch harder to find such training for teaching, esp. gospel teaching, unless one is a teacher in the Church already. ;) I guess I’m struggling to get a sense for how you think teachers should be prepared for such callings.

    One thing I have seen done that I think is effective is to ask a potential teacher to sub a time or two to give it a test run. I think that’s a good technique before issuing a calling formally.

  32. December 9, 2006 at 3:16 am

    m&m:

    Why do you want discussions? I understand your desire to have the Spirit present during the lesson; do you feel it is only present if there is a discussion? Suppose a teacher does nothing but lecture—could that still be edifying for you? Do you think there is a trade-off between a class member’s I-just-thought-of-this comment as opposed to a teacher’s I-spent-several-hours-preparing-this comment?

    JMS, #28:

    One possibility is for the SS president to ask someone else to do the training—and that person could be anyone in the ward: male, female, teenager, bishop, nursery leader, etc. I know that many will see this as “their responsibility” and not delegate it, but….

    Nehringk, #23:

    Like Julie, I stopped fighting that battle a long time ago. In particular, I stopped worrying about and nagging the class for not having read the lesson. (The day I made this decision was when I went to another GD class and the teacher “disciplined” the class by making us read the entire lesson verse by verse, insisting that he would not teach until everyone had read the lesson.) I decided to try to give students a reason to study the lesson beforehand by preparing lessons that reward the prepared. When I make a lesson plan, I have in mind the student who has read the lesson, not the student who hasn’t read. (That doesn’t mean that I purposefully try to leave the non-readers behind, mind you.)

  33. December 9, 2006 at 3:18 am

    [darn closing tags!]
    [Now fixed.
    You’re welcome, The Helpful HTML Fairy.]

  34. m&m
    December 9, 2006 at 4:28 am

    Brian,
    My experience has been that I get more out of a class when I and others are allowed to share their thoughts. As class members vocalize their own testimonies and experiences, the Spirit can testify to them in a unique way. Why not invite multiple testimonies and points of view and possible applications (which is the main focus of the lessons anyway)? While I love a good lecture from someone who really knows his/her stuff, that is not what I go to Church for. I attend other classes for that need.

    I also think there is potential danger with a teacher who “spent several hours preparing” (possibly setting themselves up as a light, rather than being a vehicle for the Spirit). Even in discussion-orientation, a nervous teacher or an anxious “leave me alone so I can get through my material” teacher easily can quelch the Spirit and opportunities for sharing and reflection that can really add a lot. We are there to figure out how to apply the scriptures to our lives, to recharge our batteries for the next week of day-to-day life of trying to live the gospel in the midst of the mundane, not necessarily needing one person’s lecture, even if it is a good lecture. I don’t see that as the purpose of the classes.

    That said, I think the preparation comes into play to keep the lesson on track, to ask valuable, thought- and Spirit-provoking questions, and to support whatever direction the lesson might take. My experience has been that all my preparation in teaching has not been to share all that I learned (that’s the blessing of being the teacher, is all the learning), but to have done enough study that when comments are made, I have quotes and such that can support and reinforce and doctrinalize different directions a lesson might take, or different points that would be best brought out, as directed by the Spirit. The Spirit has helped in that preparation, and the best lessons were where the preparation added that last touch but was not the focus. I have also used quotes to steer things back on course (the Word of Wisdom lesson I taught a couple of years ago quickly got to personal pet philosophies and all it took was a quote to bring things back on track). The Spirit can help a teacher prepare for contingencies like that, while also finding material that will add to, but not take over, the direction the lesson will take.

    In short, I see lessons as dynamic experiences that take a life of their own. As a teacher, that is an exhilarating experience (albeit challenging…one of the hardest skills to teach is how to facilitate so that the lesson doesn’t fizzle into speculation or contention or rambling comments)…to come prepared but to leave fed by those who participated as well as by what the Spirit confirmed in what I ended up sharing. It’s a group thing, not all about the teacher. That’s what Sacrament meeting talks are for. :)

  35. December 9, 2006 at 9:44 am

    Julie,

    “One more thought: the old joke goes that the only people who are expected to be competent when they begin a new calling are the financial clerk and the organist. We won’t tolerate financial irresponsibility, but we expect it from teachers. We don’t expect or allow our organists to learn on the job from their mistakes like we do with teachers–we expect basic competence before they begin.”

    Hey, we’ve had a whole thread about this before! It’s right here. As I wrote then:

    “I’ve been called to many different positions over my adult life, but one area of service I have never had a single calling to is music. I’ve never been asked to play the piano, lead the choir, conduct the hymns, or run singing time in the primary. Why? Because I can’t do any of those things…I have no skills in that area….[But] this dynamic does not hold for teaching; we do not necessarily call only those with teaching skills to teach. I’m a professional teacher; I’m probably not a world-class one (that would be Jim), but I do know I can do a better job than many of those who all too frequently simply alternate between monotone readings from the manual and endless strings of embarrassing non sequiturs. Moreover, everyone else knows it too. And yet there is no expectation that I will always, or even usually, be given teaching callings. Why don’t music callings work that way? Why aren’t we told, for example, that if we don’t feel the Spirit during a musical number, it’s because we didn’t listen with appropriate gratitude, the same way we are reminded that a failure to feel the Spirit during a lesson is a reflection upon our poor participation, not the teacher’s poor presentation?…In short, why does “excellence” (or “genius,” to refer back to Jim’s original post) raise its head in one area, but not another?”

    The ensuing thread was a good one. Check it out.

  36. Julie M. Smith
    December 9, 2006 at 11:20 am

    Re #31:

    Perhaps in an ideal world, a person who hadn’t taught that age group before could some online instruction (like they do for clerks) or face-to-face training (one on one or a class) with someone from the stake. We do something like this now for temple prep, do we not?

    There are some very basic things such as not apologizing at the beginning of a lesson (that sucks the energy right out of the room), not asking adults questions with obvious answers, not lecturing for 20 minutes to 4 year olds, etc. that could be quite helpful. You would think people would know this stuff, but I see it happen again and again and again. Why should we suck up valuable lesson time having people learn ‘on the job’ (risking the continued attendance of people terminally bored and when some people seem unable to figure out why their lessons don’t go over well) when we could simply tell them: do not under any circumstances begin a lesson with a definition from the dictionary.

    BrianJ, not that that is a bad idea, but that that gets us right back to having a teacher improvement coordinator, which is what (for whatever reason) they just did away with.

  37. Kevin Barney
    December 9, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    I agree with FOF in #19. Discussion is good, and I always encourage it (though I have a personal policy against ever putting anyone on the spot), but if that is *all* a teacher endeavors to accomplish the potential for actual learning will be severely constrained. I’ve heard Brother Jones’ stories for years, and hearing them over again is not enlightening. My goal is always for everyone, even the high priest who has spent his whole life in the Church, to actually learn something during class, even if it is a small thing.

    For instance, when I subbed for the GD lesson on Psalms, we had some class discussion, but it was in the context of my providing actual information to the class. I just assumed that no one knew anything about the Psalms whatsoever, which probably isn’t that far off of the mark. So I approached it with the journalist’s questions: what are they, who composed them and when, for what purpose, how do we read them (basics of Hebrew poetry), what are your favorites, etc. Then, as I recall, we went through one or two in detail (I think maybe Ps. 24, which is a particular favorite of mine). The information I conveyed was pretty basic. But whenever I do this, it feels like people are just starved for it and lap it up, the way our cat does when he is thirsty and we refill his water bowl.

    I have found that people want to actually learn something in class, and I try to meet that deeply felt need. If no one in class knows anything about the Psalms, and if all you do is try to elicit class commentary, then no one is going to actually learn anything about the Psalms in that class.

  38. m&m
    December 9, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    Kevin,
    I agree with you. I never meant to imply that the teacher shouldn’t try to teach, too. I just don’t think that should be the whole focus. A balanced lesson is best. If that didn’t come across, I apologize (not that you were directly responding to me anyway, but thought I would clarify that).

  39. m&m
    December 9, 2006 at 5:13 pm

    Julie,

    Above you said, “One thought: While I haven’t before cared that women couldn’t be SS presidents, if it is the case that the SS Pres. will be in charge of teacher improvement, then it seems like a problem to restrict from that calling the people in the church most likely to have had professional training and/or experience with teaching, particularly of children. Imagine your current SS Pres. teaching the Primary teachers how to do a better job with the Sunbeams and see if you don’t agree with me here.”

    The letter to which you linked said this, though:

    Priesthood and auxiliary leaders should:

    Orient each new teacher in their organizations.
    Provide ongoing instruction and support for teachers in their organizations.

    It seems to me, then, that Primary leaders will be orienting and training and supporting teachers in Primary, not the SS pres.

    I think that could also get to your other concerns. It doesn’t take much to give teachers a few basic pointers, like “don’t lecture your four-year-olds for 20 minutes.” I think having auxiliary leaders do teacher improvement is great because those who are closest to the organizations and most familiar with them will be doing the training. It sounds like rather than being from the stake, the trainers will be leaders in the ward. They know most what needs are and can help teachers immediately, rather than waiting for someone to come from the stake. Unless, of course, I am misinterpreting the letter.

  40. m&m
    December 9, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    One last thought: It seems to me that if people are terminally bored, that’s not always the teacher’s fault. I agree that teaching needs to be done welll, but even in this last Conference there was the reminder that getting something out of class isn’t always about the giving. Appropriate receiving needs to be done as well.

  41. Naismith
    December 9, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    My ward is near a college campus, including student family housing. So it’s a “newlyweds-and-nearly-deads” ward, with a few of us in between. For Sunday School, we have two gospel doctrine classes along the lines noted above. I teach the nearly-deads.

    We have a fair number of converts in our ward, but by the time they go through a year of Gospel Essentials and a few months of family history, they get often get callings in Primary or other places where they are not at my class.

    It’s a blessing and challenge to teach a class that includes two stake patriarchs, a dozen former bishops, and some former stake presidents. As I have prayed about the needs of this class, it is clear that they have a need not to be bored by hearing the same things over and over again, and that kinda drives a lot of what I do.

    I can pretty much assume they were exposed to the material, because they’ve been around for a while, and even if they were converts, most were converts from a Christian tradition.

    I spend about 4-6 hours per week preparing the lesson. I’m pretty conservative with sources, using mostly just General Conference talks and Ensign articles. Last year in church history, when we were discussing missionary work, I read some journal entries from early missionaries to serve in our area (1897) which many of them had never heard before.

    So when I taught Psalms, I had prepared 20 minutes about Hebrew poetry and the background, etc. But we had a returned missionary or something that went over, leaving me only 25 minutes for my class. I spent 2 minutes on that stuff and then let folks share their favorite psalms for the remainder. About half of the psalms were ones that I thought were important, and I added my comments, but it appeared to be class-driven since they were suggested by the class.

  42. Julie M. Smith
    December 9, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    Re m&m in #39: the letter also said that the SS Pres.

    ” * Assume the responsibilities previously held by ward teacher improvement coordinators.
    * Assist priesthood and auxiliary leaders in orienting, instructing, and providing ongoing support for teachers.”

  43. Razorfish
    December 10, 2006 at 12:50 am

    I think we’ve all seen the consequences of an unskilled gospel doctrine teacher – the second hour turns into “a house of pain.” People start skipping the class to gossip in the hallway etc, and the class turns into a blackhole that sucks the life force out of the members. Yes, we should be supportive, helpful, and assist the discussion with our own insights and contributions, but let’s simply agree some people are more gifted at teaching, and I personally believe collectively we are much better off letting the best teachers fill those callings.

  44. December 10, 2006 at 12:55 am

    OK, so….

    Does this memo mean that the regular “Teacher Development Class” in my ward isn’t supposed to be happening?

    Or does it simply mean that different people are responsible for its operation?

  45. December 10, 2006 at 1:16 am

    m&m, #34: Thanks for responding to my questions. In #38, responding to Kevin Barney, you say, “A balanced lesson is best.” I think I understand what you meant, but to clarify: balancing what and what?

    JMS, #36: “BrianJ, not that that is a bad idea, but that that gets us right back to having a teacher improvement coordinator, which is what (for whatever reason) they just did away with.” The value is flexibility. Permanent Teacher Improvement Coordinators usually tried to train all of the various teachers. Hopefully, a SS pres will ask different people to train different groups throughout the year (i.e. act as a coordinator instead of a trainer). There might also (hopefully, hopefully, hopefully) be more personalized and one-on-one training.

  46. m&m
    December 10, 2006 at 4:26 am

    45, Brian, balanced in that the teacher can teach but involves the class in a meaningful way. Application is more important than jsut giving ‘wow’ information. Facilitation is more important than a lecture, even a good lecture. Share insights, sure, but dominate the lesson, no. It bothers me when a teachers wants nothing more than to share all that has been prepared without caring about what students say. But I also don’t like a teacher that comes without any thought to structure or organization or anything that can make the discussion meaningful and give it a solid context and invite the Spirit from the get-go — and make sure He can stay! :) Does that help?

    Julie, coordinating sounds like a good priesthood responsibility to me. But it sounds like the work in the trenches will be done by those in the organizations. Sounds very consistent with the way things run anyway, so I don’t understand why there is a fuss about this.

  47. m&m
    December 10, 2006 at 4:38 am

    p.s. Brian, I also get uncomfortable when outside material is brought in because the teacher thinks the scriptures and words of the prophets aren’t sufficient or are too boring. It’s too easy to forget we are vehicles for the Spirit, not teaching to be unique sources of information. The Spirit teaches best when doctrine is taught. Don’t get me wrong, I *love* learning new things. I confess to gobbling up a GD class years ago where the teacher brought in a ton of extra info. But it was not conducive to discussion nor to learning for many people for whom it was all just too much. There’s a time and place for different things, and Church classes are not supposed to be about novel info. They are supposed to be about applying gospel principles to our lives and pondering the basic truths of the gospel.

  48. Julie M. Smith
    December 10, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    Re #44:

    I’m not sure about that, to be honest with you. I suspect all the details will be forthcoming at the training broadcast.

    BrianJ, good point.

    m&m, I don’t know that anyone is fussing.

  49. December 10, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    m&m: yes, that does help me understand your position. Thanks.

    JMS: since many of us will not be attending the upcoming training broadcast, I trust that there will be a future write-up…?

  50. Julie M. Smith
    December 10, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    BrianJ,

    This one has a pretty big net–you could probably go:

    “This Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting will focus on gospel teaching and learning. The following are invited to attend: General Authorities; Area Seventies; stake, mission, temple, and district presidencies; high councilors; stake, district, and ward or branch auxiliary presidencies; bishoprics; branch presidencies; high priests group leaders and assistants; elders quorum presidencies; all Church Educational System administrators, seminary teachers, and institute instructors.

    Teachers in local quorums and auxiliaries may also be invited to attend the broadcast where distances and other circumstances permit.”

  51. December 10, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    Oh, well if GAs are invited then I guess I can go!

    (kidding, of course—and thanks for the info)

  52. m&m
    December 10, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    Being concerned about (male) SS presidents being in charge of teacher improvement sounded like fussing at some level. I probably should have chosen a different word than “fuss” though…came across too strong. Sorry ’bout that.

    I’m interested to see how this all plays out. We have teacher improvement classes going on in our ward today, so I wondered if they got the memo…. Or maybe they are already implementing the new approach?…

    Hopefully, a SS pres will ask different people to train different groups throughout the year (i.e. act as a coordinator instead of a trainer). There might also (hopefully, hopefully, hopefully) be more personalized and one-on-one training.

    It seems that the letter implies that the SS Pres. won’t be doing the training. Am I wrong on that? (The letter seems to imply that ward coordinators weren’t supposed to be training, either. “Assisting” with training is not the same thing as performing the training.

  53. Julie M. Smith
    December 10, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    “We have teacher improvement classes going on in our ward today, so I wondered if they got the memo….”

    Oh yeah? I can top that! Our ward called a new TIC today. I guess they didn’t get the letter . . .

    “It seems that the letter implies that the SS Pres. won’t be doing the training. ”

    The letter states that the SS Pres:

    “Assume the responsibilities previously held by ward teacher improvement coordinators.”

    and one of those responsibilities was to do the training. However, I think that the leadership broadcast will probably clarify all this in detail.

  54. Mary B
    December 10, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    I’m a teacher improvement coordinator in our branch. We got the word this week. After meeting with the branch president I sat down with the Sunday school president and we figured out, now that quarterly T.I. meetings are out, when teacher improvement teaching would happen for current teachers (he’ll support leadership meetings held and run by organizations per the handbook—they can ask whomever they want to teach those on a case by case basis), how and when he would do the one-on-one teacher mentoring when requested, and what would happen to the “Teaching the Gospel” class that is still part of the program and that I have been teaching (I’ll be released and called as a Sunday school teacher teaching, alternately, the T.T.G. class and the family relations class.)

    All the bases will be covered, it will require four less meetings a year for teachers as leadership meetings become the venue for inservice, and it will eliminate the challenge we’ve had of getting the Elders Quorum and Relief Society, in ward council meetings to coordinate their schedules and topics for Teacher Improvement meetings.

    It will streamline the process and give the Sunday school president, who’s a capable guy, more hands on opportunities to work on the quality of the teaching in our branch. Once all the quirks and old traditions are worked out of the system, it should work for us.

    By the way, teacher improvement coordinators, under the old system, were not responsible for teacher training in quarterly teacher improvement meetings. The handbook was clear that that was a responsibility of the various presidencies. The coordinator was simply the main resource person (who usually got asked to teach the teacher improvement meetings and was happy to do so since it fit into her/his support role.) The responsibilities for teacher inservice will continue with presidencies. Training of new teachers will continue under the auspices of the Sunday School’s “Teaching the Gospel” course.

  55. m&m
    December 10, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    Julie,
    Oh yeah? I can top that! Our ward called a new TIC today. I guess they didn’t get the letter . . .

    LOL. That’s funny.

    I know we are going in circles, and maybe I’ll just have to be patient, but the letter indicates that the training will be done by auxiliaries presidencies, doesn’t it? Or is the “ongoing” stuff something that already happens, and up till now the TIC did the quarterly stuff? I’m not in the know on how this worked before, so I’m interested in understanding, if you feel inclined to explain. :)

    Oh, wait, I just saw Mary’s comment. “By the way, teacher improvement coordinators, under the old system, were not responsible for teacher training in quarterly teacher improvement meetings.” That is what I thought was going on. Coordinating is different from training, or should be, I guess…. I would have a hard time visualizing the SS Pres. doing training for the auxiliaries, so that makes sense to me.

  56. Julie M. Smith
    December 10, 2006 at 10:14 pm

    When I held this calling, I personally taught all of the quarterly meetings. I worked with the aux leaders to determine a topic. I also helped on a case-by-case basis with struggling teachers at the invitation of the aux presidents.

  57. Mary B
    December 11, 2006 at 9:42 am

    You are right, Julie. The teacher improvement coordinator’s willingness to take initiative and help leaders stay on the ball with those regular improvement meetings and coordinate them was pretty vital to seeing that it happened in most organizations. It’s one ball that gets dropped easily by presidencies because it’s ongoing and not “urgent”. And presidencies were very happy to hand the teaching of those meetings to the coordinator who had more time to think about it and prepare for it, and to call on him/her for one-on-one mentoring for struggling teachers.

    It will take some determination and organization and thinking outside the old box in order for the presidencies and bishoprics to keep the ball rolling and figure out how they will cover inservice work and mentoring with teachers now that the gadfly teacher improvement coordinator is gone. But I think they’ll figure it out.

  58. Carol F.
    December 12, 2006 at 3:20 am

    Mike #26, what you did was amazing and was truly a magnifying of your calling, it seems. I agree with all of your comments. I just spoke in Church for the first time in four years. I was pleased to be asked and had several thoughts immediately pop into my mind about which I could speak and was immediately discouraged by being given a topic. Luckily, the topic wasn’t too far off and I was able to make my points, but it would have been more cohesive if I could have run my theme along the way I had been preparing it in my mind since last Christmas. I can see how effective it would be to allow individuals to speak on what life has taught them. One solution might be to have the teachers meet before each quarter with the list of future lessons from the manual and allow them to choose the lessons that they feel most strongly about.

  59. SJL
    December 17, 2006 at 9:17 pm

    This thread is probably dead, but I wanted to add one thought.

    Why can’t we get rid of Sunday School and have church be a 2 hour event? What is taught in SS that couldn’t be taught in EQ, RS, etc… And more wards could use a single building. How often has this idea been floated? Is there a ban sunday school movement out there I should join or am I alone?

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