Teaching—A Calling We All Share


Ron, Mark, and Stan had grown up together. They had gone on Scout hikes together, worked together on youth service projects, knelt together at the sacrament table. Now they were seeing each other for the first time in several years.

“Mark, I hear you’re a bishop now,” Ron said.

“Yes, and I understand you’re an elders quorum president.”

They both looked at Stan. “What are you doing now?”

Stan hesitated for a moment. “Oh, I’m just a teacher,” he said.

“What do you mean just?” Mark asked. “You’re serving the same Master we are. And we’re all doing the same thing—trying to touch something deep inside that will make a difference. When you get to the bottom line, we’re all teachers!”

“Well, I enjoy my calling,” Stan said. “But it doesn’t seem as important as yours.”

“But I see it differently,” Mark said. “In reality, we all have the same calling. We just have different titles and we’re assigned different approaches.”

The Mission of the Church

From the Apostle Paul we learn that the Lord set workers in his church “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man.” (See Eph. 4:11–15.) A major aspect of that assignment, which we all share jointly no matter what our calling, is basically that of teaching. How else can we be perfected and edified and united, unless we learn how? And how can we learn without a teacher?

In 1981 President Spencer W. Kimball restated the mission of the Church—and teaching is an important part of all three elements (see Ensign, May 1981, p. 5):

1. “To proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” (Teaching is the primary activity of missionary work.)

2. “To perfect the Saints by preparing them to receive the ordinances of the gospel and by instruction and discipline to gain exaltation.” (Teaching and learning—and then application—are the primary ways in which the Saints are able to perfect their lives.)

3. “To redeem the dead by performing vicarious ordinances of the gospel for those who have lived on the earth.” (Much teaching and learning must take place before we can do genealogical research or perform temple ordinances—or before those in the spirit world can accept ordinances performed in their behalf.)

Each of us must personalize the mission of the Church in our own lives. We must make it our own mission. In the process, not only will we be building God’s kingdom, but we’ll also be building ourselves and our families.

Resources for Teachers

The leaders of the Church have long recognized the need for each of us to become more proficient teachers. Over the years the Church has given us many helps to assist us in our teaching. By using the helps listed below and seeking spiritual guidance in our teaching responsibilities, virtually any member of the Church can become a powerful teacher.

1. Teacher Development Basic Course. Probably the most fundamental resource is the Teacher Development Basic Course. In this twelve-week Sunday School course, the student learns how to prepare and present a lesson, foster good classroom behavior, and use effective teaching methods. The student is given an opportunity to teach a seven-minute microlesson. And, at the end of the course, he is invited to teach a lesson before a class in his ward or branch. The Teacher Development Basic Course builds confidence and teaches basic skills teachers need.

But the course isn’t just for those who have a calling to teach in the Church; parents, leaders, and youth—especially prospective missionaries—are also encouraged to take it. Anyone interested in enrolling in the course should simply ask his ward leaders for the opportunity.

One mother tells how meaningful the course was to her:

“Years ago, I was privileged to study the Teacher Development course, receive a diploma, and then teach the course myself. Oh, how I wished then that I had done so a few years sooner. If I had had that knowledge when my son’s teachers and others told me he was a troublemaker, I could have understood why—and perhaps done something more about it.

“What a wonderful program Teacher Development is! It was my privilege to teach it for six years. During that time I felt an incredible fulfillment, a great joy and happiness in my Church service. I was able to see, time after time, incidents where we could help our children overcome life’s little hurdles before they become such great big barriers.”

2. Teacher In-Service Lessons. As a follow-up to the basic course, all teachers in the Church should be invited to periodic in-service lessons. Teaching—No Greater Call is the resource for all in-service lessons. These lessons review the basic principles of good instruction; they also treat specific problems a teacher may be having with his or her class.

Virtually every teacher in the Church is part of an in-service program:

• Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthood quorum teachers are given lessons at quarterly stake priesthood leadership meetings. Instructors also receive in-service training in regularly scheduled meetings with quorum leaders.

• Sunday School teachers are taught in-service lessons by the ward Sunday School president at semiannual faculty meetings, at other faculty meetings held as needed, and during one-on-one visits.

• Relief Society teachers receive in-service instruction quarterly at Relief Society stake leadership meetings, monthly at ward board meetings, and in individual meetings. This instruction is given under the direction of the Relief Society education counselor.

• The Aaronic Priesthood quorum advisers are given a series of six lessons from the Aaronic Priesthood Quorum Guidebook. These lessons are taught by a member of the bishopric in Young Men committee meetings, held as needed. Though not technically in-service lessons, these classes serve much the same purpose.

• In Young Women, a member of the ward Young Women presidency presents an in-service lesson from Teaching—No Greater Call once a month in a presidency meeting. Where additional advisers are called, they are also included in this meeting. Teaching Young Women also helps Young Women leaders to give more effective teaching. It includes a list of additional lesson resources approved for Young Women with lesson plans and examples for making lessons exciting.

• Primary teachers have a special meeting once a month specifically for an in-service lesson; their instructor is the Primary in-service leader. They also receive one-on-one training from members of the Primary presidency and the in-service leader.

In-service lessons can have far-reaching effects. One teacher tells her experience: “One of the best lessons I’ve ever had in Church was at an in-service meeting. The teacher showed us how everything we teach ought to point us to God and help us return to him. That gave my lessons a meaning and a depth they hadn’t had before. It gave me a divine purpose I hadn’t understood before.”

3. Teaching—No Greater Call is a resource book prepared by the Church for all teachers. Its aim is to help teachers “improve both the spiritual … and technical aspects of gospel teaching.” (P. iii.) The following nine units treat one hundred topics in specific, practical, helpful ways: Preparing Yourself, Understanding Those You Teach, Preparing Lessons, Preparing the Classroom, In-Class Teaching: Essentials, In-Class Teaching: Enrichment, Preparing and Using Teaching Materials, Fostering Good Classroom Behavior, and “The Pay That Doesn’t Come in an Envelope.” (Teaching—No Greater Call is available at Church distribution centers, stock no. PXIC064A, $1.50.)

Those who have used Teaching: No Greater Call have learned how truly helpful it can be. An elder who was assigned to give a talk was having difficulty fitting it all together. “Then my wife suggested I flip through Teaching—No Greater Call for ideas. I picked it up and began to skim. And there I saw a description of my problem: I was trying to be too complicated. The book helped me simplify my ideas and enliven my presentation. I feel it made all the difference in the world to my talk. If teachers would consistently use the ideas in Teaching—No Greater Call, they’d never give a boring or uninteresting lesson.”

A Cultural Refinement teacher had a similar experience when she was preparing a lesson on learning. “I wanted to really get the sisters excited about learning. But I couldn’t get any ideas on how to do it.”

Then she began to read Teaching—No Greater Call, and she came across a section called “Using Comparisons.” The section told how we can teach more effectively if we compare the known with the unknown. Faith is like a seed, for example, or repentance is like soap.

“That was my answer,” she said. “By comparing things, I could open doors in their minds and get them excited.”

She had a little wooden Russian doll that was hollow inside and opened in the middle. Inside the doll was another, smaller doll that was just like the first. And inside the second doll was a third, and so on, with seven dolls in all, each a little smaller than the one in which it sat.

“I decided to compare learning to that doll. I took the doll to class and invited a sister to open it up. We all saw the delight and surprise on her face when she found the second doll inside. I asked her to open the second doll—and on until finally she got to the smallest doll. It was fun for all of us.

“Then I said, ‘Learning is like this doll. The more you know, the more you learn there is to know. And the more you learn, the more exciting it gets.’

“That was one of my most successful lessons ever. What made the difference? It’s easy to say: Teaching—No Greater Call.”

4. The How Book for Teaching Children is prepared especially for those who work with children up through age eleven. It contains a wide variety of helpful material, from instruction on how to teach with the Spirit, to tips on lesson preparation, age-group characteristics, attention getters, variety and involvement, classroom management, and using questions, stories, and music in the classroom. (The How Book for Teaching Children is also available at Church distribution centers, stock no. PBIC0223, $.50.)

Here are a few tidbits from The How Book:

About understanding the need for a high level of self-esteem (see pp. 5–7): “Each child has three important needs you can help fulfill: (1) He needs to love and be loved. (2) He needs to feel important in the class. (3) He needs to successfully contribute to the class.”

Questions a teacher can ask in evaluating his or her lesson (see pp. 9–11): “What was successful today? What could have been improved? How can I make these improvements? Were there sufficient involvement activities for all the children to participate and successfully contribute to the class? Is the class improving in self-discipline?”

A member of a Primary Presidency tells how helpful The How Book has been to her: “One of my responsibilities is to do sharing time with the children. We have fifteen minutes during which we participate in an activity together and learn a gospel principle. One thing that’s really helped me in that assignment is the age-characteristics chart in The How Book. The chart tells the interests and abilities of children at each level of their development. By following the information on the chart, I’m able to plan activities that are appropriate to the ages of the children. One presentation can be adapted to several different age levels. I think I’d be lost without it!”

5. Library Resources. The meetinghouse library is an excellent source of teaching materials. All of us can use the library, no matter what our specific assignment may be. Ward leaders and teachers may use it. Home teachers and visiting teachers may check out materials for use in their callings. And parents may use the library’s resources for their family home evenings and other teaching needs.

The library, with its wealth of material, has proven helpful for people in a variety of ways:

“When I have a talk to give, I borrow the indexes for the Church magazines from the library. I look up the subjects I’m interested in (or assigned to talk about), and note which magazines they’re treated in. Then I check the appropriate magazines out of the library and prepare my talk. It’s great!”

“I teach elders quorum, and I’ve found that the brethren are more attentive if I couple good discussion with some effective visual aids. The librarians can provide me with everything I need. I give them a list in advance, and they have the items waiting for me when I arrive at church.”

“We had an in-service lesson to help us learn how to use the library. They showed us how to use all the machines, and that’s made people more comfortable with trying to use them in their classes. But the thing that impressed me most was the fact that I could make transparent copies on our copy machine. Now I use it sometimes to copy pictures for use when I teach a new song. It has added a new dimension to Primary singing time.”

The Commission

We have our commission. We know that teaching encompasses much of the mission of the Church. We know that we are responsible to help fulfill that mission by teaching our family and others. And we know that the Church has given us many helps as we seek to better fulfill our role as teachers.

The Savior gave Peter an important commission on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, “Feed my sheep.” (See John 21:15–17.)

That command can be applied to all of us. We’re the Lord’s Latter-day Saints—and a saint, by precept and by example, is a teacher. By personalizing the mission of the Church in our own lives, progressing in our understanding and practice of teaching, we will become increasingly valuable servants of the Lord. And eventually we will not only feed the sheep, but we will be able to help them feast as well! (See 2 Ne. 31:20.)

[photos] Photography by Marty Mayo

Jay A. Parry, a free-lance writer, teaches Sunday School and serves on the Research Committee, Church Curriculum Department.