A teacher's calling comes from the Lord; no duty is greater

Of all tasks associated with the work of the Lord, teaching could be regarded as the most ubiquitous, the most fundamental.

Virtually everything pertaining to the salvation and eternal life of God's sons and daughters depends upon effective teaching. In the grand mission of the Church - to invite all to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him - teaching is the essence of each of the three dimensions: proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints and redeeming the dead."Know . . . that your call is from God," is the counsel given in a book of resource materials for teachers published by the Church. "You will be working with His children and helping them return to His presence. There is no greater call!" (Teaching - No Greater Call, p. 3.)

In fulfilling that call, members of the Church do no less than follow the example and obey the commandment of the Savior, whose mortal ministry largely consisted of teaching the doctrines of salvation to those whom He could reach during His lifetime, then commissioning His disciples to "feed my sheep" after His departure. (John 21:16.)

It is clear from the scriptures that much teaching occurred during the pre-mortal existence and will continue after mortality.

Recording his vision of Oct. 3, 1918, in which he saw many of the prophets of this and former dispensations, President Joseph F. Smith wrote: "Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.

"I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead." (D&C 138:56-57.)

In the three days between His death and resurrection, the Savior visited the spirit world and repeated the pattern established in the pre-existence and in mortality: that is He taught the righteous, then commissioned them to carry the gospel light to those in darkness. (See D&C 138:29-30, 51-52.)

Thus it is that everyone who embraces the gospel is called upon to teach in some capacity, be it in a formal calling, as an assignment to speak in a Church meeting, or as a parent commanded to bring up children "in light and truth." (D&C 93:40.)

"We're all teachers regardless of what our calling might be," said Jeff Orr, a group manager of curriculum planning and development for the Church. "A parent is a teacher. Someone serving in a leadership capacity is probably first a teacher; that, I think is inherent in the calling. So when someone says, `I'm not a teacher,' well, maybe they're not a teacher in the sense of what they perceive a teacher to be. But nonetheless, we're all teachers."

Under the Lord's directive, even students in a given setting are at times to assume the role of teacher. "When ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other," He said (D&C 43:8) and added further: "Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege." (D&C 88:123.)

The concept that all are teachers in the gospel presupposes the necessity of preparing oneself to teach. The Teacher Development Basic Course, the ward quarterly teacher training meeting and priesthood and auxiliary support for teachers are tools in the Church for imparting and improving teaching skills. But no course can be effective without individual effort to seek and obtain one fundamental element: "And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach." (D&C 42:14.)

The Spirit comes more readily, Brother Orr said, when one strives to live according to the gospel truths one intends to teach.

"If all you know about the Book of Mormon, for example, is what's in the instructor's manual, and you try to teach it, you will deliver content, but that's all," Brother Orr said. "If, however, you've read the Book of Mormon, prayed about it and studied to understand how its teachings apply in your own life, you will be able to teach it with much more power, much greater presence of the Spirit."

The quality of "congruence" is essential for a good teacher, said Marjorie D. Conder, a curator at the Museum of Church History and Art. "I am much more apt to learn from people," she said, "who are `walking the walk,' who may not be perfect, but one can see in them a genuine intent and desire to live what they are teaching and one can observe the growth in their own lives."

A benefit of obtaining the Spirit is found in the promise of the Savior that the Holy Ghost will "bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." (John 14:26.) But, Brother Orr cautions, "the Spirit is not going to act in a vacuum. If you've done nothing to prepare yourself, if you haven't studied the material, if you haven't become familiar with the scriptures, if you haven't taken time to pray and to ponder and consider the lesson you're going to be giving, you really can't expect the Spirit to prompt or guide you while giving the lesson."

Conversely, if the teacher has diligently prepared, the Spirit may prompt him or her to meet the individual needs of a student in the class, Brother Orr added.

In fact, a mark of effective teaching, he said, is its propensity to impact an individual though it is addressed to a group, in the way a sermon given at general conference can seem intimately personal to a listener though it is spoken from a pulpit and carried to millions. Such can be the case when the Spirit is present and "he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together." (D&C 50:22.)

Scott Brian experiences such moments occasionally as priests quorum adviser in the Country Lane Ward, Kaysville Utah South Stake.

"The culmination for me is in a young man deciding to go on a mission," he said, "or when we're traveling to an activity and having a young man ask how he can know he has a testimony or how he can know if the Church is true."

Such trust placed in him by a young Aaronic Priesthood bearer helps Brother Brian know he is succeeding. To bring such results requires that enough time be spent in pondering a lesson before he presents it, he said.

"You have to allow time for the Spirit to work on you, so to speak," he explained. "I try to get the topic in mind a week or so in advance. Then there is time for experiences and thoughts to occur to me that may touch members of the quorum."

Properly prepared, Brother Brian fosters participation among the quorum members, encouraging them to do much of the talking and discovery. As the Savior used parables in His teaching, Brother Brian draws parallels and object lessons from life. In a recent lesson, he used a block of ice and an ice pick to show that small things, such as the habit of using foul language, can fracture an otherwise strong character.

"A characteristic of the Savior's teaching that comes to mind is simplicity," Brother Orr said, explaining that the Savior taught plain concepts using parables and approaches that could be easily understood by those who were in tune.

But first and foremost, the quality that characterized the Master Teacher was charity, Brother Orr said.

"I've heard many times from various people that maybe a particular teacher was not very skilled as far as methods, techniques and showmanship, but the teacher showed genuine love and concern toward class members. Because the teacher sought the Spirit and prayed and cared about each of those class members, they could understand what was being taught."


Traits of a good teacher

The following "Characteristics of a Good Teacher" are printed in the Church's "Instructions for Priesthood and Auxiliary Leaders on Teacher Development."

A good teacher -

Seeks and heeds the promptings of the Spirit of the Lord. (See 1 Cor. 2:10-12; D&C 42:14.)

Lives as an example of obedience and humility. (See Mosiah 23:14.)

Teaches the principles of the gospel in their purity. (See 3 Ne. 27:10-11; D&C 43:15-16; 88:77.)

Loves the Lord and seeks to learn and obey His word and teachings. (See John 14:15; 2 Tim. 2:15; Alma 17:2-3; D&C 11:21.)

Knows and loves each class member. (See John 13:34.)

Hears, reads and ponders the messages of the living prophets. (See D&C 1:37-38.)

Teaches from the scriptures and approved lesson materials. (See D&C 42:12.)

Seeks the Lord's help while preparing. (See D&C 50:21-25.)

Seeks constantly to improve learning by adding interest, spiritual insight and relevance. (See 1 Cor. 14:8-9.)

Gives each class member an opportunity to participate. (See D&C 88:122.)

Helps class members apply gospel teachings in their individual lives. (See 1 Ne. 19:23-24.)

Bears witness of the truth. (See D&C 18:34-46.)

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