The Perfect Teacher


Fourteen-year-old Jason said the closing prayer at the conclusion of our Sunday School class. It had been one of my most successful lessons, and I kept my eyes shut a moment longer to add my own words of gratitude. The boys unfolded their lanky bodies from the chairs and ambled out of the classroom.

Jason paused as he passed me. “That was a good discussion, Sister Udy. It really made me think.”

I smiled. “Thank you, Jason. I enjoyed it, too. I’ll see you next week.”

I packed my lesson book and scriptures into my tote bag and made my way along the congested hallway toward the foyer.

“Sister Udy! Sister Udy!” A voice rose above the babble. I turned to see Brother Richardson, the Sunday School president, frantically waving at me as he tried to maneuver through the crowd.

“Sister Udy, I’ve been wanting to talk to you, but I haven’t had a chance,” he said as he guided me into an empty classroom. You’ve been doing a wonderful job with your Sunday School class.”

“Thank you.” I smiled.

“That’s why we feel we can ask you to take another student,” he continued. “You know that the Housman family recently moved into our ward, and we really haven’t known where to put Deedra until now. We think she would fit well into your class.”

“Deedra?” I stammered. “But she must be at least eighteen years old. Shouldn’t she be in with the adults?” Or in Primary? I thought. Anywhere but in my class.

I knew about Deedra—knew that she was intellectually impaired and that she talked out loud during the sacrament and sang all the hymns at the top of her lungs. I knew that some girls made fun of her. The boys simply ignored her. What would this eighteen-year-old girl have in common with a class of lively fourteen- and fifteen-year-old boys?

“You know that there are no other girls in my class this year,” I reminded Brother Richardson. “And the boys tend to be a little rowdy at times. Don’t you think Deedra might be more comfortable somewhere else?”

Brother Richardson smiled reassuringly. “No, no,” he said kindly. “We think that you will be the perfect teacher for Deedra.” He looked at me expectantly, then added, “Of course, it’s up to you.”

I sighed. “Of course Deedra is welcome in my class.”

Brother Richardson beamed. “I’ll tell her parents,” he said happily. “She’ll be there next Sunday.”

I knew she would. Deedra was never absent. My heart sank as I thought about the lesson I had already been preparing for the next class. How could I ever keep the boys’ interest if I had to teach on Deedra’s level too? The boys were used to lots of questions and discussion of scriptures. Deedra couldn’t even read.

Maybe she won’t like the class. I comforted myself with the thought. Then they’ll see that it is wrong for her.

The next Sunday morning dawned bright and fair, but the beautiful day failed to lighten my spirits. My prayers were perfunctory—my heart just wasn’t in them.

After Sunday School opening exercises, I hurried to my classroom. Deedra was already there, horn-rimmed glasses tilting crookedly across her freckled nose.

Deedra’s face broke into a wide grin when she saw me. “Hi, buddy,” she said as she bounced out of her chair to give me a hug. “Can I help you?”

I smiled in spite of myself. “You can move the chairs if you want. I like them in a big circle.”

She was busily moving the chairs as the boys walked in. They looked at her warily. “Here,” said Deedra, pointing to Jim. “You can sit in this one, buddy.” She set the chair down. Jim sat. One by one, Deedra assigned each of the boys a seat. Then she sat herself down, facing the boys. She smiled at me. “I did a good job,” she said.

“Yes, … thank you,” I replied. I introduced her to the subdued boys and began my lesson.

Deedra was quiet while the boys responded to the questions. The discussion became animated as the class attempted to determine the function of each member of the Godhead.

“And what does Jesus do?” I finally asked Deedra. She looked up. “He loves me,” she replied.

I stopped for a moment, stunned. “That’s right,” I said. “He does.” I slowed the pace of the lesson, aiming more questions at Deedra. She responded simply but with unerring accuracy. She knew the things that mattered. I pointed out to the boys that her answers were correct, even if they weren’t what we expected. The class ended before we knew it, and Deedra gave me a hug as she left. This time I hugged her back.

I can’t say that the following weeks were easy. Often Deedra became bored, and sometimes the boys grew restless. But gradually they loosened up and began to exchange friendly banter with Deedra, who could hold her own.

“I want to sit next to Jim,” Deedra announced one Sunday. Jim’s ears reddened as the boys teased him, but he good-naturedly made a place for her. After that, Deedra always sat with the boys instead of across from them. Whoever was her choice for the week would share his scriptures with her and be on her team if we had a game. No one ever complained. Deedra was as much a part of the class now as anyone else.

January was almost here, and most of my class would be moving on. I sought out Brother Richardson.

“Would you like me to keep her another year?” I asked.

He gently smiled at me. “You’ve done a good job with Deedra. But I’ve already spoken to her and her parents, and we think she’s ready to go on.”

A feeling of disappointment overcame me. I hadn’t realized just how much I had grown to love Deedra, with her cheerful spirit and ever-ready hug. “I’ll miss her,” I said sincerely.

“I told you that you were the perfect teacher for her,” Brother Richardson said.

“No,” I said softly. “I was the one who learned the lesson this year. It was Deedra who was the perfect teacher.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Dikayl Dunkley