Supervision in Teaching: A Case in Point

As teacher development director in my ward, one of my responsibilities is to teach monthly inservice lessons to priesthood teachers, visit their classes, and meet periodically with each of them to help plan and carry out personal teaching goals. The brother who teaches the priests is having difficulty holding their interest since he does most of the talking. What he has to say and how he says it leaves much to be desired. He needs help but is defensive about receiving assistance from me. I am a shipping clerk and probably know less about teaching than he does. What can I do?

“Please Come Clock My Class”

H. Keith Buhler

How can you score 40 out of 45 and still fail?

Before we discuss that, let me first explain that I’m a ward teacher development director and my best friend is a track coach. One afternoon, watching him clock his team triggered an idea in my mind: it might be revealing to clock my teaching team.

One Sunday during an inservice lesson to the priesthood teachers, I noted that it would be interesting to clock the priesthood classes and determine how much of the class time was teacher talk and how much was student talk. Following the lesson all but one teacher asked me to clock their classes. How could a ward teacher development director refuse that kind of invitation!

The first Sunday I went to the deacons. Upon sight of the stop watch, they were instantly noisy and eager for a foot race. The next week, the high priests were afraid I might ask them to run! Each of the priesthood quorums, except the priests, was clocked, and in each instance, as the lesson began, the class members soon forgot about the stop watch.

Though forgotten, the watch revealed some interesting facts. The priesthood teachers were surprised and alarmed to learn that in a 45-minute class period they were spending 35 to 41 minutes doing all the talking. Usually 40 out of 45 is a fairly respectable score, but in this situation it is a failing mark. There are far too many classes where the teacher does all the talking. Consequently he usually loses the interest of the class members. John, the priests adviser, was at one time a good example of this. Like the teacher in the case study, he did most of the talking. I had hoped for an invitation to clock his class, but he didn’t extend one. I asked the Lord to help me to help John and his unenthusiastic priests.

I received the answer I was seeking from the Lord one day while reviewing the new Doctrine and Covenants self-instructional material. I read: “President Lee is fond of quoting a phrase of B. H. Roberts: ‘A frequent recurrence to fundamentals is essential to perpetuity.’ Which is to say, if you want to perpetuate something that is right you had better stay with the fundamental principles.” (Self-Instructional Materials, vol. 1, p. 510.)

It was then that I realized the fundamentals essential to success for John and me had to be in the instructions I was given in assisting with his teaching. Or as someone else said, “When all else fails, follow the manual.” Inspired, I anxiously reread my manual and reviewed the basic principles there.

First I noticed that it was essential to understand “correct principles.” John was almost unaware of my stewardship as a teacher development director. He also obviously needed help with the basic teaching skills. After my next stewardship interview with the bishop, John was called to take the basic course. This 12-week course gave me an opportunity to teach correct principles and John an opportunity to discover them. Lesson nine of the basic course deals with supervision, and John became aware not only that he might be helped, but of how I could help him.

Then it’s vital to select goals that are consistent with correct principles. During the basic course I used the inservice filmstrip and record, “Selecting Goals,” which obviously helped because John later chose greater class involvement as a goal and stated that “clocking” his class might be a good idea.

My hardest job—but the next step—was preparing myself to be thought of as a source of help. I believed John knew as much about teaching as I did; but at the same time, I knew the Lord would bless me in my stewardship to help John.

The basic course had given both of us a chance to become better acquainted. What really established friendship was when I invited John to go with our group on an elk hunt in eastern Oregon. We had a great time.

My next step was to make myself aware of the lessons he was teaching so I could offer to help with appropriate visual aids and techniques. John didn’t use every suggestion but he did remark, “Hey, you can be helpful! Sometime I’ll have you clock my class.” The invitation to visit was still in the future, but John now considered me as a helper. And gradually he was ready to actually call on me for help. When he really knew I cared about him as a person and wanted to help him succeed as a teacher, he began coming to me for advice. He would call me on the phone at home or sometimes at work. On other occasions we would talk at church of ways to reach the hearts of the youth. It wasn’t long after that when John said, “I think I’m ready now … will you visit my class next Sunday and clock for me?” The long awaited invitation to help and visit finally came but not until I was viewed as a helper, a resource person, and not as one who was coming solely to check up on the teacher.

With these kinds of positive experiences, John found it much easier to give an accounting of his stewardship. He had been through the basic course, studied and discussed how I could help him personally, micro-taught, been supervised, student taught, attended a seminar following the student teaching experience, and reported to me on his stewardship as a training teacher. He was now ready, as the priests quorum adviser, to give an accounting of his stewardship to the bishop.

John stated that he enjoyed the stewardship interview with the bishop and that our previous goal selection visits made it easier for him. John rightfully felt that as a teacher he had made some progress and reported such to the bishop. He also mentioned that the funny little teacher development director with the stop watch had clocked him at only 25 minutes.

The bishop, who had seriously considered releasing John if his teaching performance didn’t improve, was overwhelmed.

I may not be the best teacher development director in the Church, and John may not be the best priests quorum adviser, but together we can give a far better accounting of our stewardship than we ever could standing alone.

Photo by Paul Proctor

H. Keith Buhler, an area director for seminaries and institutes of religion, serves as high councilor in Beaverton Oregon Stake.