Coming on the heels of an amazing video I found, where Taylor Mali talks about teaching, using the line, sarcastically, “The problem with teachers is, what’s a kid gonna learn from someone who decided that his best option in life was to become a teacher?”, I have been thinking about teaching, especially teaching in Church, and Sunday School classes.
I honestly try not to complain too much about Sunday School, I try not to be arrogant or elitist about it, but it’s hard sometimes. Especially since I am studying to be a teacher. I have had classes and trainings to make me a good teacher, it’s going to be my job; I’m going to do it professionally.
But at Church, they hand you a teacher’s manual and say, “You can teach this.” Or, “If you’ve got the Spirit, you can teach just fine.” Which is a terrible way of thinking for several reasons.
1. Teaching is a profession. People go to school to learn how to teach, and they take classes and trainings and in-services for the rest of their careers to maintain a professional level of teaching. Yet, in the Church, we expect anyone to teach, and the only thing they need is the Spirit. Would you ask someone who is not a doctor to perform open-heart surgery, with only the Spirit? Ridiculous! Not that we don’t believe that God couldn’t guide someone through open-heart surgery through the Spirit, if necessary, but we wouldn’t ask someone to do it just because.
2. It diminishes the profession of teaching. By believing that anybody can teach, if they only have the Spirit, then we lose respect for those who choose to be teachers and go to school for years in order to teach. This just adds to the lack of respect or understanding that teachers get. People seem think that if they can’t hack it as whatever they want to be, they’ll become a teacher. Teaching is seen as a fall-back plan. No one would want to be a teacher on purpose. And so people become teachers without putting in the effort required to be a GOOD teacher.
So we get a lot of bad teaching in Sunday School classes because the teachers aren’t trained well enough to teach, or think they don’t need to be. We get long boring lessons where the teacher reads out of the book the entire time, or we get teachers who are enthusiastic and fun, but have no substance behind their gimmicky teaching.
I feel bad sometimes, thinking this way. I want to pay attention in class, I want to feel a part of the class, but it’s hard when the teaching method is an impediment to the actual lesson.
And the same thing applies to talks in Sacrament meeting. Too many people are not trained any more in rhetoric, in organization of ideas, in setting up an argument and proving it. We get too many talks that are just rambling along hinting at a point but never actually reaching it. Again, I feel terrible sitting in church mentally criticizing the teachers and speakers and secretly wishing they had called me to teach instead. And I try not to be arrogant about it, but I really wish I could give some quick lesson to everybody on how to give a speech. Occupational hazard, I guess.
Where does that leave us? How do we improve the teaching in our Sunday School? How do we raise the respect for teaching in our Mormon culture, which believes that all one needs to teach is a quick prayer? I don’t know, but something needs to happen. No wonder kids don’t want to go to early morning Seminary classes, or any of their other classes. We need to help develop a culture of learning, of enjoying the learning process simply for the sake of learning. And we all need to be trained teachers, know how best to keep an audience’s attention, how to engage them in the lesson so that “all may be edified of all” (D&C 88:122).