Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Extra-Mile Teaching

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.

31 comments:

Quijote Esq said...

Jeff,

I ask, as a friend, that you remove this post. It contradicts official teaching of the Church (http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/58411/Use-proper-sources.html) and implicitly encourages others to do the same. Brother Nibley had no right to stray from the lesson manual. Your purported edification was not of the spirit.

MikeyA said...

A good member will only teach what is presented from the manual. The bretheren have told us that everything on the internet is false and will cause a member to lose faith. It is not for you to tell good LDS to do research on the net. Who are you to think you are to know better than the prophets? Boyd K Packer said that "some things that are true are not helpful" Do you understand what that means? There is real church history that will cause memebers to lose their testimony. They should not be looking for it. If you are LDS you should only read what the leaders tell you to read. If a scientologist wants to know more about scientology, they should only talk to their leaders or Tom Cruise. If a LDS want to learn more about the church they should only talk to a prophet or a member of the prophets family.

Anonymous said...

If as MikeyA says that everything on the internet is false, what about offical church stuff on the net? This attitude is as wrong as saying that once the prophet has spoken the thinking is done. If there are truths that will cause one to lose their testimony then maybe we ought to know about them. I thought truth was to set us free. Does God hide the truth? Richard G.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bro. Jones said...

I assume the other comments have been left in an ironic gesture, but I will admit that the timing of this post after the Church News editorial is funny.

C.J. said...

OK, the church news editorial has a point--hear me out on this! This prescription (to follow the manual) is only bad when we assume that free-form lessons would, in fact, be better--e.g. we assume that they'll be more empowering of women, or whatever. But my experience, for what it's worth, has been exactly the opposite--particularly in RS during college and law school. In my student ward, every other "lesson" was about why so-and-so was marrying the wrong person, how some of us were "too Molly", or not "Molly" enough, or the evils of coffee. It was mainly judgmental, narrow minded drivel--and it didn't exactly help me feel the Spirit! Some of these lessons did more harm than good. When you follow the book, at least you're guaranteed a lesson that's somewhat Christ-like.

To answer your question, my VT during my first year of law school helped me more than I can ever explain by consistently--really--listening to me, and talking to me about my concerns with the church. She never judged me or made me feel bad, or like I was less, for being somewhat nonconformist. Her commitment to me as an individual--not just as a church member, or potential Temple recommend, or a Testimony--made all the difference. She and I continue to be best friends to this day.

Quijote Esq said...

CJ, for the life of me, I can't figure out what you are talking about. Did you REALLY read that article? (hint: its not an editorial, its a commandment)

C.J. said...

What that I'm saying, exactly, confuses you?

C.J. said...

The question I have, ultimately, is why has this particular editorial caused so much anger and resentment? Ultimately, all it's saying is that we should teach lessons from the manual--and I, for one, don't believe that means that there's no room for creativity, or "going the extra mile". These lessons are meant to be a foundation for our teaching, not a substitute for actually thinking about what we're teaching. We should read this, and every other, editorial in light of what we know about the church--and, last I checked, free agency was still a big part of Mormon, and indeed broader Christian, teachings.

I know how Happy Valley and conformist this is going to sound, but aren't we going to church to, in fact, learn about (and discuss) church doctrine? So perhaps it's not, in fact, such a terribly bad, or subversive, thing to set some standards for what, exactly, is going to be taught as doctrine?

Quijote Esq said...

Honey, you are a rambling mess. From one lawyer to another, please get help.

Anger and resentment? I haven't shown any anger and resentment.

Let me break this down for you: Church says don't stray from the manual. Lindsay applauds Nibley who used outside material. This is a contradiction of the Church's position. So Lindsay should remove this post so as not to encourage others to use outside materials like Nibley did, and instead stick to the materials in the book.

Got it now? Or should we sit down face to face and I could do it simultaneously in sign language?

C.J. said...

QE--first, if you know I'm a lawyer, then you read my blog, so you must find some redeeming qualities in myw riting. Second, this is not an appropriate forum for personal attacks. If you want to tell me what a "rambling mess" I am, then please feel free to do so on my blog--but don't waste any more of Mr. Lindsay's, or his readers' time.

If you were really a lawyer, then you'd understand the importance of being able to discuss issues calmly, without sinking to personal attacks (even when you think the other guy is wrong--in fact, especially then). You'd also have the knack of controlling yourself, even around absolute idiots. In our personal, as well as our professional lives, we all encounter people we think are profoundly limited, aggravating, and just plain dumb. Sadly, trying to point out their failings to them does nothing but lower us. It certainly doesn't change them.

To everyone else--I think an interesting issue has been raised and, provided I'm not too stupid altogether, I'd like to know what other people think about it. Is there room for personal expression in the lesson manual?

readerMom said...

I teach gospel doctrine and I love the manual and have always gone by the recommendation to only use materials with the official church logo on them. I feel very free to use the manual as a starting point and keeping the objective always first and formost, go from there.
I have ideas and life experiences not contained in the manual. I use them but always point out that they are mine, not the church's.
To be so narrow that you can claim to judge another's preparation and use of materials is presumptious. Each person teaches to the best of their ability and only the bishop has the right to correct their methods.

quijoteesq said...

The question is not about personal expression - I never mentioned it and neither did Lindsay or the Church. No duh personal expression is fine! This is why morgbots get no respect, you can't even admit a blatant contradiction like Jeff's post and the Church link. You changed the argument to a straw man.

CJ, your post was a rambling mess. That is not a personal attack. That is a fact. HOWEVER, the whole "if you really were a lawyer..." IS a personal attack because you are calling me a liar. Nice try.

Mormanity said...

Quijote, the clear meaning of my discussion of Nibley was that he erred. I am hardly applauding him. I am completely puzzled as to how you could read my post and think that I was applauding his mistaken lesson that taught nobody anything.

As I said, preparation can go too far. The most "prepared" lesson I ever saw was from Dr. Hugh Nibley . . . [who] completely missed and befuddled his audience.

Maybe you just read a portion and thought I was praising him. Take a more careful, lawyerly look and let me know if you change your mind.

I believe there is clear and convincing evidence here that no praise, adulation, or applause was intended for this unfortunate error in the life of a great man and great teacher.

As for critics who wish to mock the Church for its stand, come on. Teaching in the Church is a privilege. It is not a platform for sharing 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 in the manuals 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.

There are times when mentioning outside material may be too hard to resist, so I can understand the temptation, but we really should strive to ensure that we are following the lesson plans and manuals. That's how we serve. This is nothing to whine about.

Pops said...

OK, so we had a teacher last year who read the lesson from the manual. He would pause briefly after reading a question and then move on. Is that not teaching from the manual?

Right, that's really a caricature of what happened. But what does "preparation" mean if one covers precisely the material in the manual, including the suggested questions and answers? Simply memorizing what's in the manual? I think not.

Let me quote item 6 from Helps for the Teacher in the manual:

"6. Share insights, feelings, and experiences that relate to principles in the lesson. ..."

The most important preparation I make before teaching is to seek the Spirit regarding the topic beginning a week before the lesson. Then throughout the week I find interesting and inspiring things to share with the class.

But I always teach the scriptures and the principles contained in the lesson.

R said...

The most important thing to remember in preparing any sort of lesson or talk is that the early prophets' actual teachings should be avoided at all cost in favor of more recent and sanitized writings by committees.

Follow the Prophet... until the next revisions, of course.

Anonymous said...

" I am completely puzzled as to how you could read my post and think that..."

Jeff, I see you say this A Lot! I mean, every week or so, you are completely puzzled how someone could think.......when you meant.....

Why would that be?

DMI Dave said...

Very nice points, Jeff. We had a similar conversation in my recent post at T&S. The counsel of Elder Oaks that teachers should not displace topics outlined in the manuals with their own ideas or pet topics is very reasonable -- I'm not sure why some people get so riled up about it. Here it is:

I have sometimes observed teachers who gave the designated chapter no more than a casual mention and then presented a lesson and invited discussion on other materials of the teacher’s choice. That is not acceptable.

A gospel teacher is not called to choose the subject of the lesson but to teach and discuss what has been specified. Gospel teachers should also be scrupulous to avoid hobby topics, personal speculations, and controversial subjects. The Lord’s revelations and the directions of His servants are clear on this point.

Tony said...

I agree with DMI Dave.

Good post Jeff, just too bad that some people have to misinterpret as well as almost say things in jest.

Seriously, losing testimony cause of Church history? Our testimony is not in men or history, it is in the doctrine and principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with his Atonement at the center!

If Church history was actually so terrible and testimony-threatening, I would have lost such a testimony a long time ago.

Remember, people, that while not everyone is true to the Gospel, the Gospel itself always will be!

Sorry for the rant Jeff.

Mormanity said...

Anon @ 9:26 (same, perhaps, as Q. Esq? and R?), I hope you appreciate that I am usually trying to be tactful when I express puzzlement when someone seems to deliberately and deceptively twist a bogus meaning out of someone's words. I don't actually think that Quijote's misreading of my statement was accidentally done in good faith, especially if he or she is actually an attorney where decent reading skills should be taken for granted.

So if it's you that has been causing my occasional "puzzlement" over the twisting of words, I hope you'll get over it.

Lawless said...

Jeff, you and some others here seem to give attorneys way too much credit. There are plenty who can't read and think well enough to handle a thread any better than Quijote, though there are also many who are decent and intelligent men and women.

Bookslinger said...

Wow. The first three comments were RFM snarks.

Jeff, what prompts them to come here and snark like that? It's as if you were the topic of the day on their discussion board, and several decided to come here and lob grenades.

Maybe it was the Nibley story. I dunno.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 9:26 (same, perhaps, as Q. Esq? and R?), I hope you appreciate that I am usually trying to be tactful when I express puzzlement when someone seems to deliberately and deceptively twist a bogus meaning out of someone's words.

I'm 9:26. I don't know the other fellows you mentioned.
Actually, you seem to make lots of assumptions about why someone would not understand what you mean. They are "deliberately and deceptively" twisting a bogus meaning out of someone's words? Uh huh.
Maybe you just wrote the post in a hurry and could have worded it better. Maybe after realizing you said something not so bright, you just blame others for misinterpreting what you said and then go about making changes to the post to edit that part out. ( I see you do this one a lot)
I do wonder why you seem to have this penchant for blaming others when you are not understood.

Mormanity said...

Wow, Anon, that's quite a charge. Making others look bad by changing what was written without explanation. And I do that a lot? OK, I'm curious. What examples do you have? I have deleted comments that say, "Jeff, there's a typo, please fix it" because after it's fixed, it's a silly comment. Deletion of such comments is to prevent someone looking bad. If a change is relevant to comments already posted and I feel is needed or warranted, my policy in those very unusual cases has been to explain either in the post or the comments what I have changed to avoid confusion and to avoid making people look bad. I'm not out to do that to anyone who reads my blog. If there is any meat to your charge, please let me know so I can correct any harm inadvertently done and avoid such errors in the future.

If anyone. lawyer or not, thinks I was praising Hugh Nibley for befuddling his class and "going too far" in his preparation, I'm sorry I was not more clear. PLEASE don't teach stuff that nonbody understands.

No changes to the original post have been made other than the part marked "update", by the way.

Anonymous said...

Making others look bad by changing what was written without explanation.

"...without explanation. " Jeff, I don't think you mean to be dishonest, but to add things to what I said like this, I can make no other assumption. I know you can read, and copy paste, so why the need to add? Why pretend I said something I didn't then try to defend yourself against this fictitious charge?
I have seen you change your posts most recently when taking about losing a child was not a great a loss as having the child leave the fold( Paraphrased). That was not such a bright thing to say.
I remember I called you out once when you said that "Christian" parents should watch out for their children's internet usage. As if only Christians care about their children accessing porn etc.
Sorry, I don't read you every day. Perhaps I should, I might have more examples off the top of my head.
I await an explantation why you would say I said you change your posts, without explanation. I neither said nor implied that. I also did NOT say nor imply that you do it to make others look bad.
Slow news day?
Ahhh Jeff.

Mormanity said...

You said "you just blame others for misinterpreting what you said and then go about making changes to the post to edit that part out." That doesn't sound like a visible, publicly explained correction or retraction, but a deceptive move that would make the criticism of an initial statement seem weak or stupid when levied against the surreptitiously revised statement. If that's not what you meant, I'm sorry.

If I say A and someone points out an error or problem, and then I agree and correct it or at least seek to clarify it with a revision, explaining that I am retracting A and writing B instead, that doesn't seem to fit the scenario you describe. In fact, that seems like a pretty reasonable, engaging thing to do, not something to get all riled about. So what exactly is the problem, because you're obviously pretty upset with me.

Changes with explanation and openness seem reasonable, while the implications of how I read you original statement suggest deceptiveness or unkindness. Maybe you meant something in between?

If you try doiong a blog, you'll see that the initial word you put down often need revision. I try to get all my edits in before people comment, but typos and poor word choices still get past me. On the other hand, there really are people just looking for anything to criticize and anything to justify offense. Get's a bit old.

Anonymous said...

You said "you just blame others for misinterpreting what you said and then go about making changes to the post to edit that part out." That doesn't sound like a visible, publicly explained correction or retraction, but a deceptive move that would make the criticism of an initial statement seem weak or stupid when levied against the surreptitiously revised statement. ( Not sure how it sounded in your head, but that is way off the mark and not what I said nor implied.) 

If I say A and someone points out an error or problem, and then I agree and correct it or at least seek to clarify it with a revision, explaining that I am retracting A and writing B instead, that doesn't seem to fit the scenario you describe. In fact, that seems like a pretty reasonable, engaging thing to do, not something to get all riled about. ( I agree, and not sure where you get this 'all riled about' part. No one is all riled about this. At least not me. ) So what exactly is the problem, because you're obviously pretty upset with me. ( I am not upset with you at all. I rather like you and enjoy your blog. I was pointing out that you seem to often be baffled that others think A about your post when you meant B. I wondered aloud why this seems to happen ( in my estimation) so often.)

Changes with explanation and openness seem reasonable, while the implications of how I read you original statement suggest deceptiveness or unkindness. Maybe you meant something in between?
( I meant, said nor implied either. And no where in-between as well.)

If you try doiong a blog, you'll see that the initial word you put down often need revision. I try to get all my edits in before people comment, but typos and poor word choices still get past me. On the other hand, there really are people just looking for anything to criticize and anything to justify offense. Get's a bit old. ( I am sure it does. So does an obvious bias with a vested income in an outcome with the pretense of being fair and looking at all sides equally. )

Anonymous said...

( I am sure it does. So does an obvious bias with a vested income in an outcome with the pretense of being fair and looking at all sides equally. )

Should read, vested interest in an outcome. :)

Aaron said...

I teach a YM class on Sundays, and I for the most part stay with the lesson manual. Although, I have in the past seen situations that have come up with the YM that have prompted me to create a lesson that covers what I see is a needed topic. I might have to stray from the manual for this purpose.

Also, me being an adult counseler, and not personally holding any "keys" understand that I am subject to the President of the Quarum that I teach. If the Aaronic Priesthood Deacons Quarum President comes to me and requests a lesson on a certain subject, then I see is as my duty to prepare a lesson on what he has felt we need one on. He holds the keys and to watch over his quarum. I would of course check the manual for guidence, but if it wasn't there, I would prepare out of other church resources, my own experiences, etc.

All in all the manuals are a great guide to get us started. I only stray from them a couple times a year. It really is following the spirit that prepares us to teach a lesson.

Thanks for the Post Jeff. It was good to help me think more about what I can do to be better at my responibilities.

quijote esq said...

Jeff, this is quijote. I am embarrassed to say that I did misread your post. At the time I thought it was a tongue-in-cheek critique of Nibley, but upon my re-reading I see that you really were cautioning against Nibley's approach. My apologies.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Thanks, Quijote! I've done the same, even with some of my own writings.

Thanks for sharing your thought!