When Moroni was abridging the record of the Jaredites, he became concerned about his weakness in writing. He thought that the Gentiles who would read his words would mock them and reject them. He prayed that the Gentiles might have charity and not reject the word of God. Then the Lord gave him this promise: “Because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong” (Ether 12:37). The Lord also told Moroni: “If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
In your efforts to teach the gospel, you may sometimes experience feelings of inadequacy. But you can take courage in this promise from the Lord. As you humble yourself, recognize the areas in which you need His help, and exercise faith in Him, He will strengthen you and help you teach in a manner pleasing to Him.
Assessing Your Own Strengths and Weaknesses
You can start making a plan for improvement by determining how you are doing right now. You might divide this evaluation into two parts: your strengths as a teacher and your weaknesses as a teacher.
What Are My Strengths as a Teacher?
Begin by considering some of the gifts the Lord has already given you that may help you in your teaching. List these strengths in a journal or notebook or the chart on page 25. As you do so, you may want to think about the principles of teaching that are emphasized in this book, such as loving those you teach, teaching by the Spirit, teaching the doctrine, inviting diligent learning, creating a learning atmosphere, using effective methods, or preparing lessons.
Perhaps it is your patience that can help you as a teacher. Or it may be your ready smile, your concern for people, your artistic ability, your knowledge of the scriptures, your willingness to listen, your calm spirit, your habit of preparing thoroughly, or your sincere desire to teach well.
You do not need to identify a large number of your strengths; just a few will get you started. The purpose of focusing on some of your strengths is to build on them as you improve in areas where you are not as strong.
What Are My Weaknesses as a Teacher?
After considering your strengths, reflect on your recent teaching experiences. Think of the areas in which you could do better. Again, you may want to think about the principles of teaching emphasized in this book. You might want to list several things you could do better, but it is probably best to limit yourself to working on one or two things at a time. Generally speaking, we grow “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30). We should act “in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27).
When you have selected one or two areas in which you would like to improve, write them in your journal or notebook.
Making a Plan for Improvement
To decide how to improve in the area or areas you have chosen, consider the following questions:
What can I do now to improve as a teacher?
What skills do I need to develop?
Who can help?
What materials are available?
Following is an example showing how you might use these questions. In this example, a Relief Society teacher has determined that she needs to improve her ability to discern if class members understand the lessons she teaches.
Use this chart (or one of your own) to make a plan to improve your teaching. In the blank spaces, write your responses to the questions.
What Can I Do Now to Improve as a Teacher?
The teacher decides to look through this book to get ideas of what she can do better right now. As she reads “How to Tell If They Are Learning” (page 73), she discovers that one way to assess class members’ understanding is to ask them to restate principles in their own words. She decides to use this idea in the next lesson she teaches. She writes this plan in her journal.
What Skills Do I Need to Develop?
The teacher also reads that she should observe class members during lessons. She tells herself, “This is a skill that I need to develop, but it will take some practice.” She writes this plan in her journal.
As she considers her plan, she realizes that she already has at least one strength that she can build on: she diligently prepares lessons. Because she is always familiar with the lesson material, she will be able to observe class members rather than focus too much on the lesson manual or her notes.
Who Can Help? What Materials Are Available?
Finally, the teacher asks herself if there are any resources she might use. She has already used this book as a resource. She thinks about other possible resources: “What about other teachers? Could I talk with the teacher improvement coordinator or another teacher who is especially skillful at assessing class members’ understanding? Could one of my leaders observe a lesson that I teach and make suggestions? Could class members give suggestions?”
Setting a Goal and Recording Your Progress
After you have made a plan for improvement, set a date by which you hope to achieve your goal. You may want to write in a journal or notebook about your progress. If you need to adjust your goal along the way, do so.
When you feel that you have made the improvement you planned, begin working on another aspect of teaching.
Qualities That Matter Most
In your continuing quest to improve as a teacher, remember the qualities that matter most.
President Harold B. Lee described a teacher who had a great influence on him when he was a child. You might use this description to guide you as you evaluate your overall effectiveness as a teacher and develop plans for improvement:
“During my childhood, the most impressive religious lessons I learned were from the Sunday School classes. Very few Sunday School teachers, however, stand out today in my memory as having made a lasting contribution to my religious education. One of these … had a peculiar ability, so it seemed, to burn deep into my soul the lessons of Church history, morality, and gospel truth in such a way that today, nearly forty years later, I find myself still remembering and being guided by her lessons.
“What was it that gave her the essential qualities of a successful Sunday School teacher? She was not possessed of great secular knowledge nor was she well schooled in the theories and practices of modern pedagogy. Her appearance was plain and ordinary—that of a wife and mother in a small country community where necessity demanded long hours of toil from all family members. There were three endowments which, in my opinion, made her teachings effective: first, she had the faculty of making every pupil feel that she had a personal interest in him; second, she had a knowledge of and a love for the gospel and had the ability to so aptly illustrate each lesson as to make it apply to our own lives; and third, she had an absolute faith in God and an unswerving testimony of the divinity of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
“There was another less obvious but … most vital and essential qualification for this and every other person who would be a teacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord has declared the law of the teacher in these words: ‘And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach’ (D&C 42:14). …
“Such a one who prays for help in his teaching will have the power of the Holy Ghost, and his teachings will be, as Nephi declared, ‘[carried into] the hearts of the children of men … by the power of the Holy Ghost’” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 444).
As you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, consider how well you reflect these “essential qualities.” You may want to ponder the following questions:
Do I show those I teach that I love them? Do I show personal interest in each of them?
Can they feel my love for the Lord and His teachings? Do I help them see the application of those teachings in their lives?
Can those I teach feel my testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ? Can they feel my absolute faith in God?
Do I pray in faith to teach by the power of the Holy Ghost?
Even if you are inexperienced in many technical aspects of teaching, you can focus on the qualities that matter most. You can love those you teach. You can consistently show your love for the Lord and His teachings. And you can fervently share your faith in God and your testimony of the restored gospel. You can succeed in the qualities that are most important, even while you are developing your technical skills.
With the Lord’s Help, You Can Improve
As you strive to improve, the Lord’s help will often come through other people. The following story, shared by a man who had served as mission president in Eastern Europe, illustrates this principle:
“During the summer of 1993, I visited one of our newly created branches. Sunday School was taught by a newly baptized member. She clearly felt uncomfortable standing before the group. Rather than risk making a mistake, she read the lesson word for word. As she kept her eyes riveted on her book, the class members shifted uncomfortably.
“After the lesson I complimented the teacher on the doctrinal accuracy of her materials and, as tactfully as I could, asked if she had considered asking a few thought-provoking questions in order to stimulate class discussion. She replied that in Europe teachers do not ask questions. I left, wondering what we could do to help her and many other new teachers like her in a country where the Church had been established only a few years.
“In August of that year a couple was assigned to begin the Church Educational System programs in our area. We asked them to conduct what were then called teacher training sessions. One of the teachers they were to help was the teacher whose class I had visited.
“Four months later, I returned to her branch. A miracle had taken place. She stood in front of the class transformed, poised, and confident. Her carefully prepared questions elicited interested responses. She commented encouragingly on each class member’s contributions. She had arranged for one class member to share a personal experience on the lesson subject and then invited others to share. Near the end, a new member bore her testimony. The teacher stopped and quietly asked, ‘Did you notice the Spirit when Sister Molnar was speaking? That is the Spirit of the Lord.’ As we basked in the calming and enlightening feeling we had experienced together in that rented classroom, I thanked my Heavenly Father for the couple who had taught the principles of gospel teaching to a frightened new member and helped her become one who truly deserved to be called a teacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”