Thursday, February 23, 2012

Double Duty

This Sunday being the fourth Sunday of the month, it's my turn to teach Relief Society.

Teaching the last week of the month means that my lessons are based on talks from the previous General Conference.  On one hand, being able to go off-manual gives me a lot more liberty.  Even when I teach from the manual I deviate from the prescribed questions, so teaching from a speech gives me the responsibility to select which themes to pursue and which points to emphasize.  I like that.

On the other hand, I frequently find that the talk I am assigned to teach is incredibly simplistic.  Given the spread of the audience for the General Authorities, this is not inappropriate for them.  However, it does not always make for good lesson material.  I've read this month's talk several times, and it is so simple a topic that I am struggling to find questions to ask that will provoke higher-order thinking.  I plan my lessons around the questions I ask when I'm studying the material, and this speech just doesn't invite a lot of deep thought.

I planned on spending time this weekend working out an outline for my lesson, looking for threads in the talk I can follow to hopefully find discussion-generating questions.  However, I just had a call from one of the Sunday School teachers in my ward. 

(To clarify, my church is divided into three "blocks" - Sacrament Meeting, which is the primary worship service; Sunday School, which is a collection of scripture study classes divided by age; and the third block, which is divided by gender ((for teenagers and adults)) and by age.  The third block is where Relief Society occurs.) 

I am substituting for one of the Sunday School teachers next Sunday while she's out of town.  The lesson is one of the trickier ones - it is about the passages of Isaiah that are quoted in the Book of Mormon.  The poetic nature of Isaiah's writings (Metaphors!  Allegories!  Archaic language!) can be daunting.  It's also why I've always enjoyed Isaiah - I like the scriptures that take some mental muscle to understand.  Because the Sunday School class tends to be more scholarly than Relief Society, I planned on spending a good chunk of time working on that lesson next weekend.

Then the other Sunday School teacher called me.  He had a family emergency, and asked (with a great deal of prefacing wariness/apologies) whether I would be willing to switch weeks with him and teach the Isaiah lesson this Sunday.

I said I was happy to, of course.  I'm glad to have the chance to help someone out, and I want to do what I can to fight the church's malodorous tradition of being "scared" of teaching/public speaking (#1 of my personal ten commandments:  Thou shalt not begin thy talk by apologizing for thy talk).

Ah, but now I have quite the task ahead of me.  Somehow there's a difference between preparing for two lessons this Sunday and my professional preparations for four classes a day (seven, if I hearken back to my DPJH days).

By golly, though, I am going to stick to my rules of teaching at church:

- Prepare questions, not statements.
- Don't run away from the questions you don't have answers to - ask the class for answers.
- The class must talk more than you do.
- Word/sentence strips are superfluous.
- Respect every comment, but
- Be prepared to steer the discussion where it needs to go (or from where it shouldn't).
- Don't cry.
- Move the centerpieces lest you accidentally knock the flowers over and instinctively cry out, "Oh, flowers!" then you accidentally knock the picture of the Savior over and instinctively cry out, "Oh, Christ!"  Plus, they block the board.
- Do not cover the entire chapter in the lesson manual.  They're not written to be covered in entirety.
- Do not go over time.  No matter how life-changing your story is, no one will listen after the class is supposed to end.
- Leave enough time between the end of your lesson and the end of the class for the traditional closing activities.
- Always, always, always base it in the scriptures and bring it back to the scriptures,

and, most importantly,

- Thou shalt not begin thy lesson by apologizing for thy lesson.


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