I Wish I Were Hot for Teacher

August 19, 2005    By: Kristen J @ 11:05 am   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

I think I’m going to die, literally. I know when too. It’s going to be this Sunday and it’s going to be in one of two places. The first place it could happen is right after the teacher in Sunday School asks us why we think it would be a good idea to have prayer in our lives. The second place it could happen is in relief society right after the teacher says, “Ok, who has quote number three?”

This is how it’s going to happen. First, my eyes will get a glazed and far away look in them. Second, my jaw will drop and slacken slightly. Finally, my heartbeat will slow; thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump…thump…thump………..nothing. Then I will start heading to the light where there will only be padded chairs, great organists, and fascinating teachers at church.

I know that it’s rude of me to criticize the teaching skills of good people who didn’t actively seek out the position of teacher and are probably doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. I know this but I’m still frustrated that church tends to be an exercise in boredom the vast majority of the time.

Lately it feels like it’s been a little worse than usual and it’s caused me to ponder what it is that makes a teacher good or bad. I don’t really want to talk about what makes a teacher bad, that’s too easy. What I want to discuss is what makes a teacher good. Here are a few examples in my life:

The first really great teacher that I know is my husband. Really, I’m not just saying this to get brownie points he is very interesting and engaging when he teaches a lesson at church. Geoff is charismatic, has usually done a lot of research, and tries to present the material from new and different perspectives. This is a good combination.

The next teacher that I really enjoyed was a sociology professor at BYU. I can’t remember his name but the reason I like him was because he was very open with us about experiences in his own life. One of my favorite stories from the class is about a family home evening he had with his wife and children. They were talking about their favorite things and he told his family that his favorite thing to do was roll around naked with his wife. I thought that was amusing.

Another great teacher I had was Mr. Harrison for World Historical Problems. He would do things like dress up as Rasputin and tell us all about Czarist Russia. We also learned about British Parliament by each taking a role and running our own parliament in class. We held a Middle East Peace Conference where we go nothing accomplished. It was a very stimulating class.

Then there was Mr Hansen my high school writing/lit teacher. He was a happy many who taught us to keep digging inside ourselves for something better. I have to say that I really didn’t appreciate him like I should have until my adult years.

I think my favorite teacher of all was Mr Webb my Marine Biology teacher. Not only did he teach us about clams and squid but he taught us how to laugh. When describing the anatomy of sea life he would always use memorable terms that high schoolers wouldn’t soon forget. For instance he would always refer to the colon as the “poop shoot” it’s a phrase I use to this day. He would let us play Jeopardy on Fridays if we got our work done and the class was allowed to kick any fellow student out of the class who was acting like a dork. You knew you were in trouble when the class started chanting “Get out! Get out!” at you. It was great!

I know that the majority of teachers I talk about here are people who chose to teach as a profession and have had training to become better teachers. Most church members have had no training and are doing the best they can. I want to become a better teacher myself so I’m asking you to think back on the teachers you have loved and tell me what made them so memorable to you.


  1. The Holy Ghost.

    Comment by Rusty — August 19, 2005 @ 11:32 am

  2. Actually, the best teacher I had was a design professor at BYU and our class sat around a table and talked. We had three hours and would spend about an hour critiquing our work and the other two hours discussing everything from movies to sustainability to real estate. As a designer this was important because we were able to see that almost everything is designed in some way and the principles remain the same.

    The best church teachers I’ve had are those who ask good questions rather than give good answers. The good answer might need to be said, but it’s much better when it doesn’t come from the teacher.

    Comment by Rusty — August 19, 2005 @ 11:37 am

  3. If you haven’t trained to be or are not a teacher by profession, teaching can be a real challenge. Part of it, I think, is the material. Especially for those who’ve been members forever, you’re going over the same material everyone has heard a thousand times already. The challenge for the teacher is to come up with a way to present it that will stimulate and bring the spirit as well.
    Part of it is also the class members. If your class is made up of people who won’t or don’t participate in the discussion, ask or answer questions, it makes it hard for the teacher to do anything but lecture. That’s the reason they hand out the quotes and ask the dumb questions- so that they can get participation, so that they can hear someone else’s voice besides their own.

    The best teachers I’ve had are the ones that are prepared, that have spent some time on the lesson, and add more to it than just what’s in the manual. They’re the ones that really care about the class, want to teach, want to reach someone somehow.

    Comment by bryan — August 19, 2005 @ 12:55 pm

  4. Most of the best teachers I’ve had are either professional teachers, or they have some job that requires public speaking–lawyer, news anchor, etc.

    I usually get really bored and frustrated if the teacher just stands there and speaks to the class, but one sister, who was a lawyer, was such a great speaker, I could’ve listened to her for hours.

    And I agree with Bryan above.

    Comment by Susan M — August 19, 2005 @ 2:19 pm

  5. I find the best teachers are those who ask stimulating questions. The ones that make you think differently than before.

    The questions I hate the most, and it reflects on the teacher, is “and what did Brother Brown have to say about that?” and we are suppose to learn by looking at our manual and repeating what’s there.

    In general the worst teachers are in the H.P. quorum!

    Comment by don — August 19, 2005 @ 2:57 pm

  6. I dont know Don, I think a lot of the visual aids the sisters use is to make up for the actual content of the lesson.

    Comment by Kristen J — August 19, 2005 @ 3:39 pm

  7. I think it’s interesting that we require the people who teach our children for a living to go through extensive training in the art of teaching before we consider them qualified–but we usually think that teaching adults is an automatically-acquired skill. For instance, in most universities, no teaching-related training whatsoever is required to become a professor. Just as at our church, professors are expected to just be able to figure it out as they go.

    I’m not sure this is a good system. Teaching adults successfully is really a difficult thing to do. One important lesson that training for adult instruction would convey is how important it is to be your own kind of instructor. Most adults have had tons of teachers over time and they will get bored and stop listening if you have the same teaching style as every other instructor they’ve ever had. So you’ve definitely got to find your own style. Part of what this means is that you need to question every single standard practice that you’ve learned from other teachers. Does this teaching practice work for you? Does it fit with your teaching goals, style, and philosophy.

    Let me give an example of what I mean by this. I’ll talk about my church teaching approach, which is different from my teaching-undergrads approach. At church, my aim in every lesson that I teach is to achieve two things. First, I want to help everyone in the room (myself included) see the idea of the lesson from multiple different perspectives. Second, I want to find and make explicit the connections between each topic and Christ–or, if there aren’t any connections, I won’t teach the topic.

    With these two aims in mind, would it be reasonable for me to do the common church teaching technique of asking class members to list ways of applying the topic in their every-day lives? This is obviously a reasonable thing for some teachers to do–but it has no real connection with my two teaching goals. If I were to include such a list in a lesson I taught, then, I would be carrying out an activity that has no direct relevance to my goals. And I would be making myself less distinctive–and therefore more boring–as a teacher.

    So, I guess, my point here is that part of what goes into making a teacher different from the background noise is deciding what you won’t do as a teacher.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — August 20, 2005 @ 11:06 am

  8. See here. :p

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 20, 2005 @ 11:24 am

  9. …sorry. Couldn’t resist a little snark at your title.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 20, 2005 @ 11:26 am

  10. Changed just for you J.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 20, 2005 @ 11:41 am

  11. Stapley- Oh you little…why I oughta! Actually when I put the title up I kept thinking that were sounded correct but I kept second-guessing myself and put up the wrong one.

    Roasted Tomatoes- Thank you, thank you, thank you, that is the kind of comment I’ve been looking for. I really liked the two aims to your lessons it’s definitely a starting point.

    Comment by Kristen J — August 20, 2005 @ 11:56 am

  12. Perhaps the error in teaching lies with our inherent, western presupposition that all truth and understanding can be delineated and argued. Then, when someone is supposed to ‘teach,’ we our able to label this person as to whether or not they are ‘qualified’ by this inherent standard. But what if we have it all wrong. What if real truth can never be taught, but only experienced? At least that is how the eastern world has seen it for nearly 5,000 years or so.

    Confucius himself, when asked question by his students, would only give corners of the truth in order to push his students into finding out the answers for themselves. If the instruction becomes too dogmatic, then the individual will never see the light for themselves, because their circumstances can be so different from the ‘approved’ answer that it simply doesn’t fit their contextual reality.

    So really, I think it would help if we examined our preconceptions of how to acquire truth in the first place. Then, perhaps we could find a way to speak to individuals, instead of repeating and repeating the same material and wondering why more people don’t ‘get it’.

    Comment by Jason S. — August 20, 2005 @ 4:43 pm

  13. Interesting, could you give me an example of how this might be accomplished at a Sunday School lesson?

    Comment by Kristen J — August 20, 2005 @ 8:30 pm

  14. I’ve had a lot of good teachers. Also a lot of sucky teachers. The best teachers are the ones who get a discussion going, so we teach each other, the ones who make you feel comfortable enough to ask hard questions, to reveal yourself with fear.

    I hate, hate, hate being read to. I can read. Do not read the lesson to me.

    Sometimes a teacher will try to entertain, but they won’t get to the heart of the lesson. It’s tricky teaching. I can’t do it myself, I get too scared.

    There was this young, well, there is this young guy in our stake president (he could be my son), but he has the knack of touching the individual, looking at you and making the lesson personal. That is good teaching.

    Comment by annegb — August 21, 2005 @ 7:24 am

  15. Kristen, I’m probably belaboring my point here, but I feel just strongly enough about this to try to restate it. I think it’s important for adult teachers to be different from each other–that there be a diversity of perspectives and goals. So I’d be disappointed if you were to adopt the same two goals that are my focus. What I think is perhaps a good idea is for each person to figure out what makes her tick, as it were, in terms of teaching. Then, get rid of any habits or teaching practices that don’t fit those central goals. If everyone follows her own star in terms of choosing teaching philosophies, we’ll have a diverse array of different teachers each with distinctive techniques and approaches. So, we’ll be less bored and we’ll learn more.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — August 21, 2005 @ 1:10 pm

  16. I think you are spot on with this one, RT.

    Using my patented analogy technology, let me compare teaching to playing basketball. It is always a good idea to work with your personal strengths. If you are 6’11” and 290 lbs. it might be a good idea to play your offense close to the basket and thunderously dunk the ball as often as possible. If you are 5’11” and fast and a sharpshooter it is a better idea to hang around the perimeter and shoot threes or look for ways to drive (or feed the ball to you big man). Maybe you are somewhere in between.

    In any case, the point is that there is no single “right way” to play basketball. There are many right ways. The best idea is to recognize what you are best at and emphasize that. At the same time, recognize what you are not good at and de-emphasize that (until you get better at it at least.)

    When I taught early morning seminary the other teachers were shocked at my style. I would have 20 freshmen at 6 AM and we would break out the scriptures only and read them and discuss them and compare ourselves to them and make jokes about life etc. It was just me, them, and our scriptures. But that worked for me. My attendance was great and we had lots of fun. Most of the other teachers had tons of game and activities and bribes and candy. That worked for them but I saw no need to do anything than what I did best.

    I think adult teachers would all do well to find their thing and emphasize it rather than try to fit into a mold that might not fit them well…

    Comment by Geoff J — August 21, 2005 @ 1:22 pm

  17. The colon is the “poop chute”, a veritable fecal viaduct.

    Comment by Kut — August 22, 2005 @ 5:49 am

  18. Bryan, Anngb and Don, Personally I think most of us stick to the manual as not to be labeled heretical and also to avoid the contention that comes from stepping away from the FP approved material (which incidentally are the exact reasons I like to occasionally go off subject a bit – I’m sure it irritates the heck out of some; others who have a low boredom tolerance like myself probably enjoy the banter).

    Roasted Tomatoes, I was quite sure throughout most of my undergrad, the Uni actually trawled the universe Shanghaiing the most boring individuals they could find; gave them a crash course in the relevant disciplines and inflicted them upon us students. And yes arrogance tells me I could lecture better than nearly all of them.

    And yes Stapley, I do not care for grammar and a sentence in my opinion, can start with And. Grammar is like dress, when it really matters one should make an effort, e.g. Church and Job interviews, dress to the nines; amongst friends and in the house dress down. Likewise professional reports should be grammatically perfect or as close to it as possible; however, emails and bloggs should be free and easy. Anyway I must go and get off my friend (or is it ‘I must go and get off, my friend’).

    Comment by jeraldo — August 22, 2005 @ 8:45 am

  19. I have found that the best lessons I give, and the best lessons I hear, are the ones where the teacher asks good questions. In my lesson prep, I usually spend more time focusing on questions I am going to ask than on anything else. Once the class figures out I’m not looking for a pat answer, but am asking in all seriousness, the discussions get rolling.
    If I can’t ask good questions, then the lesson drags for all of us, me and the class.

    Comment by alamojag — August 23, 2005 @ 11:26 am

  20. Good point alamojag. I think the key is what you settle for in answers. When you indicate that pat and shallow answers won’t do, everyone wakes up and gets interested. It’s like they suddenly realize “Oooh, we might actually start talking here!”. In my case I usually try to do that by trhrowing a monkey wrench into a pat answer.

    On Sunday I taught in High Priests. I asked “what is the real goal of our parenting”. A distinguished HP that was old enough to be my father said “The objective of good parenting is to teach our children our values”. I said: “That sounds pretty good, but…” Then I brought up section 93 where it says the wicked one takes away truth and light through the traditions of our fathers. I pointed out that everyone teaches kids their values, so that is not much of an objective in itself. Suddenly all these seasoned men woke up and we were engaged in a thoughtful and engaging discussion.

    I suspect that keeping the class awake is really 75% of the battle.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 23, 2005 @ 11:37 am