My Latest Teaching Nightmare

I just experienced one of the worst examples of teaching ever, a total teaching nightmare from an experienced and educated teacher who somehow considers himself intelligent and capable. But the teaching was so bad that many class members just walked out and a huge opportunity to feed the Lord’s sheep was completely wasted. In this teaching nightmare, we learn that experience and knowledge is less important than preparation, humility, and sound teaching practices such as using the instructor’s manual. What made this teaching nightmare especially painful and poignant for me was the identity of the teacher: yep, it was me. Jeff Lindsay.

This was a literal nightmare, one that awoke me with pain and introspection just 10 minutes ago. It was exquisitely detailed and realistic, and filled with mistakes that I have made or am entirely capable of making. It wasn’t like some weird alter ego taking over. It was me.

In this nightmare, I was teaching a large group in Gospel Doctrine class. It was in the chapel, and the chapel was packed. Cool–a nice time to enjoy the limelight and shower a group with impressive facts and details. I had just been asked to take over from the regular teacher, so I had little opportunity to prepare (not no, but little). I had not even tried, though. I hadn’t looked at the manual and just assumed that since it was day 1 of the new year, that the lesson would be on First Nephi 1 rather than the real topic in the manual, which I think was an Introduction to the Book of Mormon. No sweat, I could spout off plenty of stuff on the cool literary techniques used in that chapter, including the majestic foreshadowing of the Restoration and the rise of the Book of Mormon that is contained in Lehi’s visions. I could talk about the Egyptian language connection that Nephi makes in verse 2. I could share my wit and wisdom ad nauseum and was happy to do it with such a delightfully large group of eager listeners, ready to be fed from the loquacious Jeff Lindsay.

The class began with some ongoing chaos as the back of the chapel was wide open and people all the way back in the cultural hall behind the chapel could be seen and heard. (Need to pay attention to setting next time.) One of them chimed in, but I couldn’t hear, so I walked to the back of the class and begin shouting down to the gym, recognizing a friend and saying hi, etc., all the while leaving the class behind. The friend made an off-topic comment and I responded with comments as I slowly walked back to the front of the class, my back toward the class while talking. Then I stalled for time as I wondered what to teach, asking some trite questions to get conversation started without having much purpose or plan. The conversation got pretty vigorous as I gathered my thoughts and realized it was time to dig into the text.

At this point, I cut off conversation rather abruptly and explained that now I was going to elucidate on the text, that we had a lot to cover, and so I would be going at high speed. Prepare, dear listeners, for data download from your local sage on the stage. Ah, the scriptures. I didn’t have them with me, but I did have my iPad in my pile of junk at the back of the room, so walked back there to get it,, again causing disruption. As I returned to the front of the class, I noticed that my shirt was still untucked from the activity right before class where I was helping with some service. There was a good excuse for not being neatly dressed, of course. Expecting the class to patiently bear with the great teacher before them, I said, “Well, I need to look more like a teacher so I’ll just work on that a second while you talk. Will someone please explain the 116 pages story and why First Nephi might not have been the first book written in the Book of Mormon?” Then I turned my back to the class while I tucked in my shift and put on my belt, not paying much attention to what else was happening.

OK, now I was set. Class was half over, but I was dressed, had my text, and was finally ready to roll. At this point, half the class got up and left. Probably because they had a plane to catch, I reasoned. I began my data download for the remainder, and noticed that they just weren’t interested, and they soon began walking out. Then it was quickly down to just me and my wife.

At this point the guilt started kicking in. I hadn’t even tried to prepare. I hadn’t prayed for guidance on what to teach and how to teach it to help bless anybody in the class. I was focused on showing off, sadly, rather than serving. I had failed to manage the class, the setting, the discussion, and utterly failed to invite the spirit. There was also no opening prayer. At this point, adding to the excruciating plausibility of the nightmare, I began the process of self-justification. I had very good excuses for each of the mistakes that were made. I was just doing the best I could under difficult circumstances. It wasn’t my fault. Not at all. It never is. And then I woke up. Ouch.

I hope my teaching nightmare might help some of you teachers to avoid your own nightmare–especially the real kind where you don’t find merciful relief by just waking up.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

13 thoughts on “My Latest Teaching Nightmare

  1. Jeff, That'll teach you for sleeping during Sacrament meeting.

    Sometime you can be prepared, and things go bad. You just have to be prepared enough to gauge the audience and adapt.

    For instance, years ago I was subbing for Institute. I noted that D&C 20:1 may not literally mean Jesus was born exactly 2011 years ago on Apr 6. There were a couple YSA that quoted Elder McConkie, insisting that whatever an apostle said is the correct doctrine. I had to move on to other things, since they weren't interested in considering what Elder McConkie wrote was an opinion based upon information had at the time. Now, we know from the Joseph Smith Papers Project that D&C 20:1 was added by a scribe to introduce the section, and was not part of the revelation. I wonder what those kids would think now?

  2. In real life I've had a few classes crash and burn like that over the years. And usually because of the very reasons you indicate: I was over-confident and under-prepared.

    — Eveningsun

  3. I'd say that the number one lesson learned from your nightmare is to pray. I've been in last minute substitue situations and I think the Lord perfectly a substitue teacher's perdicament in such scenarios (though it is not unwise to prepare random lesson beforehand…just in case). When calle upon to be a last minute fill-in, praying for gudance naturally places one in a more humbled positin. And humility is the antithesis of pride so ride is naturally diminished. This would help the substitute's mind clear and to maake good choices to present and conduct a successful lesson.

    Good nightmare to share. HGot anymore, Jeff? ;>)

  4. Jeff,
    Great reminder for gospel teachers everywhere. Even though I teach Primary and not Adult Gospel Doctrine, I need to remind myself each week that the lesson is not about me being entertaining–it is about bringing the kids closer to Christ. As always, I enjoy your posts (and your self-aware humility).


  5. Let's assume that all of the elements of Jeff's dream are representations of aspects of himself — his mind.

    The folks in the gym are a representation of something "behind" his, shall we say, "standard" identity — something deeper, touching his raw sensibilities. He made contact with it — he knew who or what it was and saluted it. The way, in fact, was wide open to it — that deeper sense of identity. And the fact that he shouted "down" to it is an indicator that he was indeed in contact with something that is typically manifest "underneath" (or behind) the more apparent persona.

    Then he walked with his back to the audience while still in contact with the deeper identity — the audience being a representation of a setting where his more "standard" identity thrives. In other words, he was putting that aspect of himself behind himself in that particular moment when he was in contact with something deeper.

    As he was preparing to engage with the audience he noticed that he was physically disheveled from a previous activity involving some kind of service — probably some kind of physical labor (hence the dishevelment). This, I believe is the defining feature of the dream — its "meaning."

    As Jeff began to teach he discovered that some had more urgent business and left while others were simply not interested and also left. It's interesting that they leave only after he has "pulled himself together" (in terms of identity) but all the while before remained in their seats and even talked vigorously about the lesson at his behest while he was "pulling himself together."

    After the class has dispersed he is left alone with his wife, she being that aspect of Jeff's persona (the "anima") who has been most involved in his creation and development of identity. And as such she knows the truth — who Jeff really is.

    So this is the sum: It's time for the more "disheveled" (read "raw") Jeff to share; to speak. The service he gave prior to the class meeting was more meaningful than the lesson he was to teach — not because the lesson would not have been useful. But because the service came from a deeper place — a truer identity, shall we say.

    In other words, Jeff wants to give more of what the real Jeff is capable of giving. And the collective (all of us) want more of what the real Jeff can give. But in order to do so Jeff must let go of some of the things he has put in place in order to successfully engage the collective. It's time to look beyond the success of "engaging" per se and look to what he knows — deeper within — to be of most worth, both to himself and the collective.


    We love Jeff and would only relish having more of what he has to offer.


  6. Just remember that we are all here to learn from our mistakes, the important thing is that we do. Just today I heard a devotional talking about when Thomas S. Monson was a bishop and had an impression to go and visit a particular brother of the church but was busy and put it off, he later found out that the brother had died. Pres. Monson decided never again to delay responding to a prompting. We all have things to learn in this life. Remember to be thankful for the fleas.

  7. Thanks for sharing this, Jeff. It's an important message, and it brings back painful memories for me.

    On the first day of my first year as a classroom teacher, I opened the Economics textbook that had been left on my desk – the one I had used all summer as I planned my lessons for the year – only to see the students in the room opening a different book. Theirs was the new book the school had purchased just before I was hired – the one that had been placed in the classroom closet and not with the other textbooks on my desk – the one nobody had mentioned to me when I arrived and started lesson planning.

    I've lived your nightmare in the sense of having to scramble with little or no preparation – trying to keep ahead of the students I was teaching all year long and not have them mentally walk out. I still don't prepare as much as I should in each and every instance (so I didn't learn the lesson as well as I should have), but I certainly learned an important lesson that year.

  8. Anon, I found your psychoanalysis deeply disturbing, yet very thorough and intriguing. Is this part of your profession? When do I get the bill?

  9. I noticed that my shirt was still untucked from the activity right before class where I was helping with some service.

    Freud would have had a field day with that one. But sometimes a banana is just a banana.

    — Eveningsun

  10. Jeff,

    No professional am I. Don't take the "analysis" too much to heart — unless, perhaps, it resonates with you. My take on dreams is incredibly subjective — I really only have my own experience to draw from.

    As a prolific dreamer (and as one who has used those dreams to sift through a lot of mental trauma) I enjoy doing this sort of thing as an exercize — though, I fear, perhaps, a little at someone else's expense at times.

    That said, I do believe that most of us who are at middle age (or beyond) do have some integration to wrestle with — and that it's perfectly normal.


  11. Parsing your dream for interpretation, I get something similar to Jack, and perhaps it could be applied not only to you but to the rest of us who are Mormon bloggers.

    Maybe the message is that we can't expect to "wing it" on our posts and succeed. We've got to study and prepare for them and pack them with value or we cheat our readers of what they really want.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.