Yesterday as I was sitting through elders’ quorum and then teaching Sunday school, I had a few thoughts about teaching. Afterwards I thought some more about classes and teachers I’ve liked and ones that I haven’t, and I came up with a few things I wanted to share. This is the sort of stuff we’ve all heard dozens of times before, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bear repeating.
1. Be Prepared
This one is by far the most important, I think. If you only flipped through the lesson manual the morning before church, you are almost without fail going to give a crappy lesson. You will stand up there and shuffle your papers and ask inane questions with obvious answers and resort to reading whole paragraphs from the manual to try to fill the time. Your class will be bored and inattentive, and you will realize deep within your soul that you suck because you’re an inveterate procrastinator and you just wasted everyone’s time. And I cast the first stone at myself, because I’m a big freaking hypocrite and this is my biggest problem.
2. Keep Control
Class participation and discussion are great. Just be sure to rein it in when your ward’s crotchety old guy or irrelevant story teller goes into a doctrinal rant or tries to steer the topic to the subject of how getting rid of your TV is such a great thing, even though the lesson is on Lehi and his family going into the wilderness. There is discussion that adds to the lesson, and discussion that detracts from it. Recognize when you’re veering off onto a tangent and try to remind everyone what you’re supposed to be talking about.
Many people will be reluctant to interrupt a tangent, because they’re afraid of being rude or because the topic is interesting, though irrelevant. Just remember that it’s ruder for someone dominate the discussion with rants or stories that detract from the lesson. Also remember that just because a topic is interesting doesn’t mean it’s worth discussing in church.
3. Respect People’s Time
Be aware of the time, especially how little you have left. If your ward doesn’t have someone ring the bells five minutes before class is up and then again when class is over, be sure to pay attention to your watch or a clock. Ask someone in the class to let you know when you’re almost out of time if you don’t trust yourself to be attentive. But please, for the love of all that is wholesome, do not wait until the second bell rings and then say, “Well, we’re almost out of time, so I’ll try to wrap this up real quick.” When the second bell rings, you’re not almost out of time; that is what the first bell was telling you. You are now out of time and going over, and everyone’s attention just went out the window.
Oftentimes, the lesson manuals will provide enough material to go far over the allotted time. Don’t worry about covering it all. This goes back to the first point: be prepared. Choose the points that you feel are most important (after prayer and study, of course), and focus on those. Remember that everyone has access to the lesson materials and scriptures, so they can go research the topics that weren’t covered if they feel the need.
And now a story about the worst offender I can remember in this category. In my last ward we had a Sunday school teacher who almost without fail always went at least five minutes over. Sometimes it was more like ten. The worst part is that we had Sunday school last in this ward, so by the time 4:00 rolled around, I was really done. And the worst time of all was one Sunday when we were going to have a munch-and-mingle after church, and the bishop said that we’d end each meeting five minutes early so that we’d have time (I’m not sure why he did it this way, but I didn’t complain).
So Sunday school began ten minutes earlier than usual, but it was supposed to end at 3:45 instead of 4:00. Well, 3:45 came and went, and we quickly realized that our teacher had forgotten what the bishop had said at the beginning of sacrament meeting. Finally, somewhere in the vicinity of 4:07, we got out, just over twenty minutes after we should have. I really wish I’d spoken up and said, “Uh, Brother So-and-so, you remember that we were supposed to end early today, right?” But I guess I was afraid of being rude, just like everyone else in class.
Which brings up my last point: these rules don’t just apply to teachers. I think good students follow them too; they are prepared to discuss the lesson, they don’t try to derail or hijack the lesson, and they aren’t afraid to point out politely that it’s time to go if they absolutely have to (though the last one shouldn’t be the students’ concern, I think). I’m sure there are more words of wisdom about teaching in church that could be shared, but I think those are the basics. Feel free to add your own.