A teacher improvement coordinator reported the following experience:
“I had been asked to serve as instructor of a course for all the teachers in the Sunday School. I knew I would be teaching people with personalities, backgrounds, and needs very different from one another. One was an experienced teacher who had often worked with youth. Another seemed to have no confidence as a teacher, and she keenly felt her inadequacies. One brother was embarrassed to come because he did not know much about the scriptures.
“I decided that I needed to find a way to reach out to each one of them. Before the first lesson, I assigned the brother who was uneasy about teaching with the scriptures to talk briefly about making a personal plan for studying the gospel. This gave me a chance to meet him outside of class and express my confidence in him. During the lesson I encouraged the experienced teacher to share some of her insights about teaching. And I found an opportunity to thank the underconfident sister for the humble testimony she had borne in another class a few weeks earlier. All three responded very well.
“During that lesson I noticed another teacher sitting apart from the rest. I decided to pay her a visit after class, and I showed my interest in her and asked if I could help her with an assignment I had given. Each week I kept looking for opportunities to reach out to every person in the class.
“As we got into the course, it became clear to me that this was an unusual group. They all participated in lively discussions and sharing of experiences. They seemed united in love. I could see that the more I tried to reach out to and serve them individually, the more they were willing to listen to and share with one another. As I look back, I realize how much the simple effort to extend myself to each of them may have been the most important thing I did as a teacher of that course. It seemed to inspire them to do the same for one another.”
Part of your work as a gospel teacher is to help learners understand and feel Heavenly Father’s love for them. This cannot be done with words alone. It requires reaching out to individuals—those you see often, those you see occasionally, and those you would not see without making special effort. It requires reaching out to them whether they are cooperative, disinterested, or defiant. The Lord has exhorted us to remember that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10).
Reaching Out to Individuals When You Meet Together
Even when you teach many people at the same time, you can reach out to individuals. For example, you reach out to individuals when you greet each person warmly at the beginning of class. Small acts such as this can make an important difference.
You also reach out when you make participation inviting and safe. In family home evening and in Church classes, you can help learners prepare a part of the lesson. You can plan special reports, musical numbers, or discussion questions that will recognize and draw on the talents of particular individuals. For example, one less-active brother with a good singing voice gradually returned to activity in the Church because he was occasionally invited to sing in classes and other ward functions.
Individuals are touched when their contributions are acknowledged. You might make a special effort to acknowledge each person’s comments and, if possible, make the comments part of class discussions. At times it is helpful to restate someone’s questions or comments so everyone can hear and understand.
Reaching Out at Other Times
You should search for ways to reach out to those you teach. The things you do for people outside the teaching setting can make a profound difference in their attitude toward studying the gospel. You can spend time with family members individually. You can go out of your way to talk with class members when you see them. You can encourage and help them in times of trial, remember important events in their lives, visit their homes, and attend activities in which they participate.
President Thomas S. Monson related the following story:
“Louis Jacobsen … was the son of a poor Danish widow. He was small in stature, not comely in appearance—easily the object of his classmates’ thoughtless jokes. In Sunday School one Sabbath morning, the children made light of his patched trousers and his worn shirt. Too proud to cry, tiny Louis fled from the chapel, stopping at last, out of breath, to sit and rest on the curb. … Clear water flowed along the gutter next to the curb where Louis sat. From his pocket he took a piece of paper which contained the outlined Sunday School lesson and skillfully shaped a paper boat, which he launched on the flowing water. From his hurt boyish heart came the determined words, ‘I’ll never go back.’
“Suddenly, through his tears Louis saw reflected in the water the image of a large and well-dressed man. Louis turned his face upward and recognized George Burbidge, the Sunday School superintendent.
“‘May I sit down with you?’ asked the kind leader.
“Louis nodded affirmatively. … Several boats were formed and launched while the conversation continued. At last the leader stood and, with a boy’s hand tightly clutching his, they returned to Sunday School” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1977, 106; or Ensign, May 1977, 72).