Teachers in the Church come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some have been LDS for many years and have a great knowledge of the gospel, while others are new members and are still learning. Some have a natural talent for teaching while others must learn how to teach. Everyone who is called to be a teacher can improve their skills. New teachers can emulate those who teach well.
What differentiates the best from the rest? Here are a few characteristics that make teachers stand out as being great:
They have confidence
Confidence comes when you know that you are in the right place, doing what you are meant to do, and when you want to be there. You truly believe that you will benefit your class members, and that through the Spirit testimonies can grow, faith can be strengthened, and lives can be changed. It’s clear to students when teachers feel confident in what they’re doing. Great teachers know their material well, not just for each lesson: they know the gospel. Thorough preparation leads to added confidence.
They share life experiences
Class members can relate to the principles being taught as the teacher shares personal experiences that pertain to the lesson, such as having experienced a trial and getting through it by relying on the Lord, or having a prayer answered, being healed by a priesthood blessing, the joy of being sealed to family in the temple. Personal experiences help to put learning into context, and the class can see that the doctrine or principle being discussed can be used in everyday living. Great teachers understand how the gospel can be applied to life.
They understand each student’s motivation
Each class member has a different reason for being at Church. Each is at a different stage of gospel development. Some will be able to reconcile what they are learning with daily life and will be motivated to live what they learn. Some are present because they have to be: their testimonies might be weak – they are struggling. Some are seeking, wanting an answer to a problem. Great teachers help everyone in the class to connect what is being discussed with how to live.
They are real people
Some teachers don’t want to show their vulnerability or fallibility. They want to answer all the questions and do all the talking. When a question is asked in class, a great teacher will invite the class to answer. They encourage the class to look for the answer in the scriptures. They aren’t embarrassed to admit that they don’t know something. Teachers who genuinely connect with students are the ones who aren’t afraid to show emotions in class, who can admit that they aren’t in fact the repository of all knowledge. They don’t mind letting the class see when they are touched by the Spirit.
They are willing to learn
Great teachers study the gospel as well as the lessons to be taught. They read around the topic being taught. They study how to be a good teacher. They observe and learn from excellent teachers. They don’t tell the class how incapable or unknowledgeable they are, unless they add that they want to improve, learn and grow.
They try new teaching methods
Teachers want class members to try new ways of living, so great teachers are willing to try new ways of teaching, not always using the same method. If a new method fails, they continue to experiment with other methods. Teaching styles that work well can be used again, but students remember more when taught by various methods. Here are some ideas.
They focus on what’s important
Great teachers strive to bring class members to Christ. They want to help the class strengthen their faith, and their commitment to living the gospel. They teach class members how to apply gospel principles. They don’t try to use all the material in the lesson. Great teachers aren’t afraid of feedback and are willing to change. They realise that members who habitually come late to class or spend time talking in the foyer instead of attending class have a larger issue which needs to be remedied. It might require a change of teaching method, or more participation from the class during lessons.
Great teachers rely on the Spirit for guidance as they prepare the lesson. They ask the Lord what their class needs to hear. They rely on the Spirit while they teach, to help them have confidence, to be guided to say what the Lord wants them to say. Great teachers are like President Marion G. Romney who said, “I always know when I am speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost because I always learn something from what I’ve said.”1
Great teachers invite the Spirit to teach.
1 (Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975], p. 304)
By Collette Burgoyne
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