First Presidency Message

Only a Teacher


Thomas S. Monson

Only a Teacher

Often we hear the expression, “Times have changed.” And perhaps they have. Our generation has witnessed enormous strides in the fields of medicine, transportation, communication, and exploration, to name but a few. But there are those isolated islands of constancy amid the vast sea of change. For instance, boys are still boys. And they continue to make the same boyish boasts.

Sometime ago I overheard what I am confident is an oft-repeated conversation. Three very young boys were discussing the relative virtues of their fathers. One spoke out: “My dad is bigger than your dad,” to which another replied, “Well, my dad is smarter than your dad.” The third boy countered, “My dad is a doctor”; then, turning to one boy, he taunted in derision, “and your dad is only a teacher.”

The call of a mother terminated the conversation, but the words continued to echo in my ears. Only a teacher. Only a teacher. Only a teacher. One day, each of those small boys will come to appreciate the true worth of inspired teachers and will acknowledge with sincere gratitude the lasting imprint such teachers will leave on their personal lives.

“A teacher,” as Henry Brooks Adams observed, “affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” This truth pertains to each of our teachers: first, the teacher in the home; second, the teacher in the school; third, the teacher in the Church.

Perhaps the teacher you and I remember best is the one who influenced us most. She may not have used a chalkboard nor possessed a college degree, but her lessons were everlasting and her concern genuine. Yes, I speak of Mother. And in the same breath, I also include Father. In reality, every parent is a teacher.

Should a parent need added inspiration to commence his God-given teaching task, let him remember that the most powerful combination of emotions in the world is not called out by any grand cosmic events nor found in novels or history books—but merely by a parent gazing down upon a sleeping child. “Created in the image of God,” that glorious biblical passage, will acquire new and vibrant meaning as a parent repeats this experience. Home will become a haven called heaven, and loving parents will teach their children “to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord” (D&C 68:28). Never will such an inspired parent fit the description, “Only a teacher.”

Next, let us consider the teacher in the school. Inevitably, there dawns that tearful morning when home yields to the classroom part of its teaching time. Johnny and Nancy join the happy throng which each day wends its way from the portals of home to the classrooms of school. There a new world is discovered. Our children meet their teacher.

The teacher not only shapes the expectations and ambitions of her pupils, but she also influences their attitudes toward their future and themselves. If she is unskilled, she leaves scars on the lives of youth, cuts deeply into their self-esteem, and distorts their image of themselves as human beings. But if she loves her students and has high expectations of them, their self-confidence will grow, their capabilities will develop, and their future will be assured.

In the present turmoil of events, with crisis following crisis, it is especially important that master teachers look ahead and exercise their important functions as builders of the future. In two fleeting decades, those who are now kindergarten children will be young men and young women who are either assets to society or liabilities. The influence of teachers in fashioning personality and in shaping careers can hardly be overestimated. It makes no difference whether or not she or he is teaching literature or mathematics or science or any other subject of the curriculum. The teacher must win from students the faith that moves mountains. When the teacher succeeds, near miracles happen. Suddenly a pupil is awakened to an enthusiastic interest in some aspect of learning and begins to read widely without being urged. Another discovers in himself powers that he did not know he had. Another decides to seek better companions. In a flash of inspiration, still another makes a decision that leads to a lifetime career.

Unfortunately, there are exceptions to such teachers. There are those who delight to destroy faith rather than build bridges to the good life.

In the words of President J. Reuben Clark: “He wounds, maims, and cripples a soul who raises doubts about or destroys faith in the ultimate truths. God will hold such an one strictly accountable; and who can measure the depths to which one shall fall who fitfully shatters in another the opportunity for celestial glory?”

Since we cannot control the classroom, we can at least prepare the pupil. You ask “How?” I answer: “Provide a guide to the glory of the celestial kingdom of God, even a barometer to distinguish between the truth of God and the theories of men.”

Several years ago I held in my hand such a guide. It was a volume of scripture we commonly call the Triple Combination, containing the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. The book was a gift from a loving father to a beautiful, blossoming daughter who followed carefully his advice. On the flyleaf page her father, who was to become president of the Church, had written these inspired words:

“April 9, 1944

“To My Dear Maurine:

“That you may have a constant measure by which to judge between truth and the errors of man’s philosophies, and thus grow in spirituality as you increase in knowledge, I give you this sacred book to read frequently and cherish throughout your life.

“Lovingly your father,

“Harold B. Lee”

I ask the question: “Only a teacher?”

Finally, let us turn to the teacher we usually meet on Sunday—the teacher in the Church. In such a setting, the history of the past, the hope of the present, and the promise of the future all meet. Here especially, the teacher learns it is easy to be a pharisee, difficult to be a disciple. The teacher is judged by his students—not alone by what and how he teaches, but also by how he lives.

The apostle Paul counseled the Romans: “Thou … which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

“Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery?” (Rom. 2:21–22).

Paul, that inspired and dynamic teacher, provides us a good example. Perhaps his success secret is revealed through his experience in the dreary dungeon which held him prisoner. Paul knew the tramp, tramp of the soldier’s feet and the clank, clank of the chains which bound him captive. When the prison warden, who seemed to be favorably inclined toward Paul, asked him whether he needed advice as to how to conduct himself before the emperor, Paul said he had an adviser—the Holy Spirit.

Again the question, “Only a teacher?”

In the home, the school, or the house of God, there is one teacher whose life overshadows all others. He taught of life and death, of duty and destiny. He lived not to be served, but to serve; not to receive, but to give; not to save his life, but to sacrifice it for others. He described a love more beautiful than lust, a poverty richer than treasure.

It was said of this teacher that he taught with authority and not as did the scribes. I speak of the Master Teacher, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind.

When dedicated teachers respond to his gentle invitation, “Come learn of me,” they learn, but they also become partakers of his divine power.

It was my experience as a small boy to come under the influence of such a teacher. In our Sunday School class, she taught us concerning the creation of the world, the fall of Adam, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. She brought to her classroom as honored guests Moses, Joshua, Peter, Thomas, Paul, and even Christ. Though we did not see them, we learned to love, honor, and emulate them.

I return to the dialogue mentioned earlier. When the boy heard the taunts: “My dad is bigger than yours,” “My dad is smarter than yours,” “My dad is a doctor,” well could he have replied: “Your dad may be bigger than mine; your dad may be smarter than mine; your dad may be a pilot, an engineer, or a doctor; but my dad, my dad is a teacher.”

May each of us ever merit such a sincere and worthy compliment!

Discussion Helps

  1. 1.

    A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops. This applies especially to parents, school teachers, and church instructors.

  2. 2.

    Teachers are judged not alone by what and how they teach, but also how they live. Do we teach righteousness by the way we live?

  3. 3.

    To whom is President Monson referring when he says, “There is one teacher whose life overshadows all others”?

  4. 4.

    When we respond to the Savior’s call to “Come, learn of me,” we become partakers of his divine power.

[photos] Photography by Craig Dimond