A Teacher’s Gift


At a special dinner one evening I listened to a noted microbiologist who had just returned from five years in the Orient. During his speech, he picked up a fork from the table, looked at it intently, then asked, “Do you realize that only one-fifth of the people in the world eat with forks?” Incredible, I thought, glancing down at my own fork—so common a utensil to me and so long taken for granted.

Through an open door my eyes rested on a baby grand piano in the adjoining room, and I asked myself, What percentage of the world’s population have had the opportunity to play such an instrument? My mind went even further—how many organs are there in the world and what percentage of the world’s people have had the opportunity to play an organ?

Suddenly I realized as never before that there are really few who enjoy such a privilege, and I asked myself how I, who was born and reared in the wilderness of Idaho, one of ten children of a widowed mother, could be so blessed as to enjoy this privilege. I knew that my opportunities were the result of many generations of people who cared about the basic values of life; people who cared about God, about freedom, about education, about the good and beautiful things in life.

Once I tried to express my gratitude to my aged mother for caring so much that she provided at great sacrifice rich opportunities for my development. I felt helpless to ever be able to repay her. She smiled and said with astonishment in her voice, “Why, don’t you know, Ruth, how you repay? You care as much and more for the next generation.”

In trying to determine what truly is the teacher’s gift, I would stress the word care. A teacher is one who cares, not only for those who look to him for guidance and direction, but also for what he has to give them.

A teacher cares about truth. He searches after truth. Sir Isaac Newton, the great eighteenth century scientist who discovered the universal law of gravity, said, “If I have seen further (than you … ), it is upon the shoulders of Giants.”

The whole purpose of life is to enable man to advance and progress toward perfection, which is achieved only through knowledge of and obedience to truth and the laws that govern truth.

One who sincerely studies seeks to determine the laws that govern the natural relationships in life of things concrete or abstract, whether these studies be related to any of the sciences, to the arts, to religion, or to life itself. The greater the knowledge we obtain, the greater regard we have for those laws of relationship and the more extended our vision becomes, inspiring us to obedience and projection. Man does not have the power to repeal these laws. He only destroys himself in attempting to do so. All of significance, and life itself, verifies the existence of governing law. It behooves all of us to climb on the shoulders of great men and learn from them the laws and the importance of obedience to laws.

When a great teacher speaks, you can hear the echo of giants in his voice, transmitting wisdom from many ages. He is not an authoritarian declaring self-innovated laws, but a channel through which truth can continue to new generations. The searcher for truth becomes the proclaimer of truth. Truth carries with it great responsibility—it must be given away in order to be kept. We magnify it and ourselves as we share truth with others.

How should we teach? “Teach ye diligently,” we are instructed, “and my grace shall attend you.” (D&C 88:78.) The teacher’s language should be truly the language of the spirit, and through diligence, we are promised we may have the Spirit of God in us. Diligence is a word with many overtones, all of which have to be included for glorious fulfillment. To be diligent, we must be obedient to wise counsel and truth, faithful in their execution, and consistent and enthusiastic in their repetition. Diligence requires our complete involvement in an orderly pursuit of our goals. The rewards of diligence, we are told, are knowledge, intelligence, victory, and even glory.

Let us pursue further how we should teach ourselves and others. The Lord has made it quite clear that he has given us the pattern in all things. His pattern of creation specifies that he “created all things … spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.” (Moses 3:5.)

Perhaps this great creative process is beyond our ability to understand, but there can be an important application in our lives. Let us substitute the word physically for naturally. If we follow this pattern, before we create physically—as on a keyboard with our hands, or on paper with a pen or pencil—we must create spiritually.

How can this be done? Can we gather together in our minds all that we have been told, all that we have studied, all that we have learned through experience regarding certain principles? Can we gather all these things together and create an image (in our minds) in which we can see and hear the execution of these principles before we perform them physically? Can we relate, in our minds, these principles to that which has gone before and that which is to follow? Can we see from the beginning to the end in our own minds? If we can, we are in the process of spiritual creation. This is especially true if we have added a knowledge of relationships and vision. Remember, something has to be created within us before it is created physically.

But there is still more. There is a spirit in man. To reveal that spirit requires much more than execution; it requires understanding, and this understanding must constantly grow.

This brings us to the greatest consideration of a teacher’s gift: How shall I teach that I may bring understanding to myself and others?

Theory, principles, doctrine, law—these we should learn. The broad application of them occupies many years of our lives. But our lives must be in harmony with these important concepts if we are truly to understand. A few years ago a young student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia was performing miserably for his teacher. The teacher stopped the student and said, “I think I know how your room looks this morning—your bed is unmade, your clothes are on the floor, and litter is everywhere.”

“How did you know that?” the student asked sheepishly.

“Because your music sounds just like your room looks,” was the firm reply. “Go home. Make your bed and clean up your room, and then perhaps you will be able to clean up some of these muddy passages and cloudy interpretations.”

How can we clean up the muddy passages and cloudy interpretations in our lives that we may obtain the greatest of gifts—understanding? We are told that, in addition to theory, principle, and law, we should learn “all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand.” (D&C 88:78.) These truths have been repeatedly given to us; perhaps we need to listen to them with our hearts. We must turn to the basic values in life, and we must learn better each day to cherish God and each other. We must build reverence for life and human beings.

Pablo Casals, the great cellist who has combined supreme creativity with uncompromising humanism, and who is still active in his nineties, talks about the uniqueness of man and his opportunities, and he expresses concern that we take them so lightly.

“Sometimes I look about me with a feeling of complete dismay,” he says. “In the confusion that afflicts the world today, I see a disrespect for the very values of life. Beauty is all about us, but how many are blind to it! They look at the wonder of this earth—and seem to see nothing. People move hectically but give little thought to where they are going. They seek excitement for its mere sake, as if they were lost and desperate. They take little pleasure in the natural and quiet and simple things of life.

“Each second we live in a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all of the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed there has never been another child like you. And look at your body—what a wonder it is! your legs, your arms, your cunning fingers, the way you move! You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must cherish one another. You must work—we all must work—to make this world worthy of its children.” (Albert Kahn, ed., Joys and Sorrows: Reflections of Pablo Casals [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970], p. 295.)

Pablo Casals has given us the challenge to “make the world worthy of its children.” This is the teacher’s challenge. He seeks after truth. He proclaims truth. His life is an example of truth. He must share this truth with others, as one who cares.

Sister Barrus is professor and head of the Department of General Education in Humanities at Ricks College, Rexburg, Idaho, where she has three times been voted outstanding professor of the year. For thirty-five years director of organ studies at Ricks, she now serves as organist and Relief Society cultural refinement leader in Sugar City Ward, Rexburg North Stake.