I’ve been touched by the various efforts that some teachers put into their callings to be diligent and to help their class. There are many different approaches that committed teachers take, depending on their time, resources, and skills. While some may go way too far in preparing, any efforts toward preparation are usually a step in the right direction and appreciated by the audience, especially given the pain that poorly prepared lessons can cause (at least for me).
Sometimes the depth of preparation is obvious and visible with such things as extensive handouts or beautiful crafts and artwork. Equally extensive preparation may be less visible, having been in the form of careful study, thought, and prayer. Some teachers provide resources that can last and be shared by many, such as website resources and commentaries. If I recall correctly, Brant Gardner’s extensive commentary on the Book of Mormon, now published as a six-volume set, had its origins with Gospel Doctrine preparation. Another example I ran into this morning comes from Utah’s Hunter 35th Ward Gospel Doctrine Class, where the teacher puts information on the website Gospel-Doctrine.com. Wow. (FYI, the teacher, Jeff Stone is also a master magician and innovator of some very cool magic effects: see StoneColdMagic.com. Gospel Doctrine students, please note that this is not the kind of magic that required stoning in Old Testament times or today in certain nations, but it sure looks supernatural.)
I’m interested in knowing what extra-mile teaching efforts have made a difference in your lives? Do visible preparation results like beautiful table displays have an impact on you? Have you been changed by someone’s intellectual preparation? What really works and makes a difference?
As I said, preparation can go too far. The most “prepared” lesson I ever saw was from Dr. Hugh Nibley in the Provo Ninth Ward back when my wife and I were students at BYU. He was teaching a lesson on the Book of Abraham in Gospel Doctrine class. His topic was Facsimile #2. No, more specific than that. His topic was the wadjet eye of Facsimile 2 (the stylized Egyptian eye in the upper right-hand corner of the figure). He came with a thick stack of cards with excerpts from numerous authorities on the deep meanings of this symbol, many of which shed light on what Joseph Smith had to say about it and created a tantalizing network of connections and inferences. It was a terrific lesson, except he never bothered to tell anyone just what the wadjet eye was, where it was on Facsimile 2, and why it mattered. All that was presumed as common knowledge on our part. Off he went at high speed for nearly an hour. Partway through, two elederly women sitting in front of me turned their heads toward each other to ask if the other had any idea what he was talking about. I think very few had any idea. Should have raised my hand to interrupt–but this was Hugh Nibley, the great scholar. I didn’t dare. And so the great guru (and he truly was great), exuding a lifetime of preparation at an overwhelming rate during this hour, completely missed and befuddled his audience. “What was that?” was about all the class members could say at the end. I suppose extreme table top displays can do that, too.
Update: Some critics wish to mock the Church for its stand on the need to stick with the manuals prepared for teacher. That’s a foolish reason to complain. Teaching in the Church is a privilege. It is not a platform for sharing regarding whatever theories we want, whatever gossip or rumors we want, whatever doctrines we want. The Church has a mission of teaching people the Gospel and bringing souls to Christ, and has every right – indeed, the obligation – to ask that what is taught be approved material.
There is plenty of room for meeting the needs of students, for inspired guidance and insights, for being prepared and eloquent, for being intelligent, while usiing the content given in the manuals and following the material prepared for presentation. Lessons need to be tailored to the class, but it is right for us to teach what we are asked to teach and not make stuff up ourselves.
I’ve been on both sides of this, and have taught way too many lessons my way. I enjoy adding tidbits and factoids along the way, but have come to realize that I really need to follow the manuals. I am there to teach the basics, not to entertain my way. I’ve been as wrong as Nibley in that case, and really should have done better.