At a stake conference some years ago the late President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., made a significant statement to teachers and a promise to youth:
“Youth of the Church are hungry for the words of the Lord. Teachers, be sure you are prepared to feed them the ‘Bread of Life’—which [is] the teachings of Jesus Christ. If they, the youth, will live up to his teachings, they will have more happiness than they ever dreamed of.”
Having in mind that many who are called to teach in the Church organizations have never had formal training to teach, nor is it required, how, then, are they to be prepared?
The law of the Lord is given to us by revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” (D&C 42:14.) How is the teacher to get that Spirit?
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
“For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matt. 7:7–8.)
Thus spoke the Master to the multitudes who came to be taught by him.
In years gone by I have had the experience of being under the influence of many teachers, a few of whom made a profound impression upon me during my growing-up years and also later when I was a teacher. One of these, Howard R. Driggs, left those who were taught by him some lasting lessons, particularly as he drew examples of good teaching from the record of Jesus, the Master Teacher. Jesus pointed the way in these principles of good teaching:
1. The Master had a true love of God and God’s children.
2. He had a burning belief in his mission to serve and save mankind.
3. He had a clear and sympathetic understanding of human beings and their vital needs.
4. He was a constant, earnest student. He knew the “law and the prophets.” He knew history and the social conditions of his time.
5. He could discern truth and was uncompromising in upholding it.
6. His simple language enabled him to reach and hold hearers from every class and condition.
7. His creative skill made the lessons live for all time.
8. He led people to hunger and thirst after righteousness.
9. He inspired active goodness—a desire to apply the gospel in uplifting service.
10. He demonstrated his faith by living it constantly and courageously.
The Lord’s instruction in the law, previously quoted from the Doctrine and Covenants, gives three distinct essentials for one to become a builder, which means a leader or a teacher or a missionary:
“Again, I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.
“… teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.
“And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit.” (D&C 42:11–13.)
Thus, here are indicated the first essentials to becoming a teacher: first, the call and ordination by proper authority; second, the command to teach the principles of the gospel; and third, the injunction to live to be an example to all whom the teacher would teach.
Then follows the final essential that cannot be learned but must come by the Spirit. It is a vital qualification if one would be a teacher in building the kingdom of God: “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” (D&C 42:14.)
I have had the good fortune to have had as eternal companions in my home two great teachers. From what I have seen demonstrated by them in their teaching and example, and from what I have learned in my own experience as a teacher and as a church leader, there are several important lessons to be learned.
Each of these teachers, called to teach, was given the gift of the Holy Ghost at baptism as a comforter and a guide. Each was called by one having authority.
Hands were laid upon the head of each of these teachers, and each was set apart for a definite work and blessed that while she held that position, she would receive direction, inspiration, and discernment according to her need, if she were faithful and if she sought the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord. The following actual experiences in the lives of these two inspired teachers will illustrate how divine blessings are obtained through faithful service and how precious lives are molded by the efforts of one who teaches by the Spirit. I would like to take two examples from their “books of experience,” as it were, for others to pattern after.
One of these, a choice daughter of a noble lineage, received as a young girl a blessing under the hands of an inspired patriarch, in which she was counseled to “be diligent in applying thy mind to faithful study. Seek the Lord in earnest prayer and thy heart will be filled with joy and satisfaction with the work thou wilt accomplish. Thou wilt have much delight in teaching the little folks and in watching their development into youth and maturity. The love thou shalt win from them will be ample reward for thy labors.”
The blessing pronounced upon the head of this teacher was later to find beautiful expression in the fulfillment of that blessing. She was young and she loved life. Many times there were temptations, but always there would come before her the faces of the little ones who trusted her. She knew she had to live worthy of that trust.
A young man in uniform told of an experience he had with this teacher, whom he characterized as the “best teacher I ever had—she trusted me.” It had been one of those trying mornings. The young teacher had left the class discouraged, wondering if anything had been accomplished. A young boy from her class, quickening his step to walk by her side, said, “I sure liked the lesson this morning.” Then, looking longingly at a beautifully bound volume of the Life of Christ that she was carrying, he added, “If I had a book like that, I could answer some of the questions too.”
“Would you like to take mine?” she asked, offering it to him.
“Oh, could I? Thanks!”
With almost a caress he took the book. The look on his face said much more than thanks. She learned later that he came from a large family where there were no books, no pictures on the walls. He was hungry for the things contained in that book. He brought it back to her the following Sunday, carefully wrapped. He had read it through, and it was not soiled nor harmed in any way. Yes, she had trusted him.
The other of my lovely companions had her mission likewise foretold in her young womanhood when she was promised in a sacred blessing that “as thou art called upon for service in the Church, thou art to respond thereto in all humility. In that service, joy shall come unto thee for thou art to know and to understand the word of God and to have power to teach it unto others. … thou art to be a messenger of peace and to bring joy and appreciation unto many homes. Thou art one to bring cheer unto the sick. Thou shalt help remove the burden from the hearts of those who have sinned, and thy voice shall bring comfort and hope to those who are weary and heavy laden, and thus direct them to Him, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This other great teacher extended her service far beyond the classroom as she instilled into one lovely young girl qualities that were to blossom into beautiful womanhood. She turned what could have been stark tragedy in this young girl’s life into beautiful accomplishment. She guided the footsteps of a motherless and later an orphaned child into beautiful girlhood, then courtship, and then temple marriage. I once wrote of this teacher:
“She has the key that unlocks many a child’s heart. She has the ability to teach the teacher this secret. Her conversation with a child is a beautiful thing to hear. Her skill and understanding are born of a lifetime of knowledge and application of child psychology. She is constantly reaching out to the child who is not understood.”
Not all teaching is done in the classroom. A true teacher is always in character. She is her pupils’ teacher wherever they see her. Their eyes are upon her as such.
There is opposition everywhere in the world, “even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” (2 Ne. 2:15–16.)
“Lovest thou me? … Feed my lambs” were the words spoken by the resurrected Lord unto Peter. (John 21:15.)
What a privilege is given teachers who are called and set apart by those holding authority from Him to feed his lambs. Blessed will be their lives, for, as President Clark said, “The love they win from them will be ample reward for their labors.”
Yes, these teachers can bear witness to the truthfulness of that statement. Contacts begun in a small classroom have grown through the years into friendships that transcend the teacher-student relationships. These friendships have been nurtured through a mutual love and understanding both of each other and of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ that first brought them together. Such are the “ample rewards” that come to those who accept the challenge: “And ye shall teach!”
In a recent lecture, a nationally known speaker concluded with three significant declarations to emphasize the work of a teacher:
“The teacher is the human sculptor whose business it is to mold the living clay.”
“Young people are particularly malleable, and with proper teaching can be taught correct principles.”
“If you want to change the face of the world, you must change the hearts of men.” (Dr. Carl S. Winters, Salt Lake Tribune, March 24, 1971.)
My prayer is for all teachers to sense not only the importance of their callings, but also the great opportunities for improving the minds and the hearts of men.