“Only” a Teacher? Think Again!

Contributed By Sister Jean B. Bingham, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency

  • 9 March 2017

Michael Worthington, right, calls on a student in his class as Philip O’Melveny raises his hand in Copperton, Utah, on Sunday, February 26, 2017.  Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.

Article Highlights

  • A teacher is a nurturer who inspires and encourages others to live to their fullest potential.
  • A teacher speaks and acts in love.
  • A teacher is a role model who looks for the good in others and strives to improve.

“There is no more important responsibility than starting someone on the path that leads to exaltation.” —Sister Jean B. Bingham of the Primary General Presidency

Editor's Note: Sister Jean B. Bingham was called as Relief Society General President in April 2017, after this article was written and published.

When someone asks, “What is your calling in the Church?” do you answer, “I’m only a Primary teacher?”

Only a teacher! There is no more important responsibility than starting someone on the path that leads to exaltation. To teach the doctrines that help children feel the love of their Heavenly Father and lead them back to Him is a sacred trust and great privilege.

What is a teacher?

1. A teacher is a nurturer who inspires and encourages others to live to their fullest potential.

Everyone is a teacher whether they realize it or not. Children watch and learn from those around them. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, other family members, neighbors, even strangers influence a child’s perception of the world around him or her.

We know that “parents have the first responsibility for the … spiritual welfare of their children” (Handbook 2, 11.1) and are charged to teach them “to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands,” and “to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord” (D&C 68:25, 28). This is a sobering responsibility, but one parents cannot shirk, regardless of their teaching skills.

Megan Ray smiles as she lets the senior Primary children leave for the day in Copperton, Utah, on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.

Jacob Pendelton raises his hand during his Primary class in Copperton, Utah, on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.

Lily Ray leads the Copperton Ward senior Primary in a scripture reading in Copperton, Utah, on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.

However, at the October 2016 general conference, Elder Robert D. Hales reminded us: “[Parents] should not worry that we are not professionally trained gospel teachers. No training class or manual is as helpful as personally studying our scriptures, praying, pondering, and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will lead you along. I promise you: the calling to be a parent includes the gift to teach in the ways that are right for you and for your children. Remember, God’s power to influence us righteously is His love. ‘We love Him, because He first loved us’” (“‘Come, Follow Me’ by Practicing Christian Love and Service,” Oct. 2016 general conference).

2. A teacher speaks and acts in love.

Love is the most important element in effective teaching. Our teaching skills may not yet be well developed, but when a child feels loved, he or she will internalize the gospel principles that are presented. Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher, provided the perfect example of teaching with love. He taught in the language of and at the level of understanding of His hearers, using stories and illustrations that came from their own environment.

A child may not remember all of the doctrine he or she is taught in Primary, but will remember how he or she felt. Lisa Burns of Culver City, California, attended religious instruction classes from another religion from a very young age. As she grew, she had many questions about the puzzling doctrine she was being taught and was labeled a “troublemaker” for voicing her thoughts. Lisa was invited to Primary for the first time when she was 9. She recounts, “I instantly felt peace and love and acceptance.” In class, as they discussed the relationship between Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father, Lisa asked, “Aren’t God and Jesus the same person?” The teacher lovingly answered that Jesus is the Son of Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost is a spirit and the third member of the Godhead. “I KNEW it!” Lisa exclaimed in excitement, receiving validation of what she had known in her heart to be true. Now, as a long-time convert and current stake Primary president, Lisa looks back at her early experiences and affirms, “Primary was my first exposure to the Church. Primary is where I first felt the Holy Ghost. Primary is where my teacher LOVED me.”

3. A teacher is a role model who looks for the good in others and strives to improve.

Often we think that teachers are “born, not made.” However, one of the gifts of the spirit is to “teach the word of knowledge” (Moroni 10:10), and we are encouraged to seek for and develop those gifts. Through personal experience, mentoring by seasoned teachers, and observing the examples of others, each of us can increase our talent and capacity to teach.

The Church provides supplements to parents’ teaching in Primary, Sunday School, and youth classes. Nearly every Church member will be called to serve as a teacher in one or another auxiliary, so we all have the responsibility and privilege of learning how to become more effective teachers. Materials in Teaching in the Savior’s Way provide wonderful insights and resources to help us improve and gain confidence in teaching.

Parent or Primary teacher, our joy and obligation is to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to every child. As we learn to value that opportunity, we will become ever more competent and fulfilled in our efforts. We will surely look forward to the day when “all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (3 Nephi 22:13).

Helam Lee plays a matching game to learn “Choose the Right” as Megan Ray looks on in Copperton, Utah, on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.

Michael Worthington teaches his Primary class about the Apostasy in Copperton, Utah, on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.

Gage Pendelton holds up a card as he and other senior Primary children play a game to memorize “Choose the Right” in Copperton, Utah, on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.

Michael O’Melveny grins at his teacher during a lesson on the Apostasy in Copperton, Utah, on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.

Megan Ray leads the Copperton Ward junior Primary in singing time in Copperton, Utah, on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.

Rachel Worthington smiles at one of her students as he sings in Copperton, Utah, on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.

Sarahann Villanueva, center, sits with her Primary children during the junior Primary singing time in Copperton, Utah, on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.

Michael Worthington smiles at his Primary class in Copperton on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.

John Partida teaches his Primary class about the Apostasy in Copperton, Utah, on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo by Hans Emond Koepsell.