Friday, April 8, 2016

Find a Way to Reach Them All

            Teaching is a very simple thing to do, when it appears in the hands of an accomplished teacher

            Teaching is more complex along the path to becoming an accomplished teacher. Part of the complexity is who are the students in the class and what baggage have they brought with them.

            I’ve been teaching a seminary class 1-2 days a week in our ward here in Brockton. There are 7-8 students. For convenience and proximity we meet in the basement of the home of a member of the ward. The class meets from 5:45-6:30am, and then the students catch a bus one block away to get to the high school. These are good and bright kids whose faithfulness is witnessed by their willingness to be in this class at such an early hour.

            However, my first 4-5 times teaching I could not engage them. They were distant and nothing I did could bring them closer. We are studying the Old Testament, the second half, and it is a real challenge. I would go home each morning thinking I had failed them because I hadn’t reached them. They had just endured the class. I was reminded of a scene from the 1995 movie, “Mr. Holland’s Opus” where the coach is begging Mr. Holland, the music teacher, to find a way to teach Lou Russ, his star wrestler, to play the drums so he could pass his band class and stay eligible to wrestle. Mr. Holland is explaining that Lou simply can’t find the beat. The coach then says, “You’re a teacher and you have a willing student and you can’t find a way to teach him? Then you’re a lousy teacher.” (If you want to see that scene, go on Youtube and search Mr. Holland’s Opus and find the scene Lou Finds the Beat.)

            Those words kept ringing in my ears - "You're a lousy teacher" - so I spent one morning just thinking of ways to teach them. It came after some time pondering. The challenge was the physical Bible. It is big and I think to them impenetrable. I don’t blame them because among many adults in the church the last half of the Old Testament is difficult to grasp. Add to that challenge is this fact: English is a second language for all of these kids. They grew up speaking Portuguese Creole as their first language. They are fluent in spoken English but the written word is tough.

            So I did a few things different the next class. I removed all of the copies of the scriptures from the tables. In their place I had prepared a one page sheet with 6 verses we were going to focus on. I modified the words slightly so as to make them more easily understood. I rearranged the tables in a new configuration to signal to them as they walked in that something was different about this class. And then instead of standing to teach I just sat at the tables with them. When the class began I told them that our goal was to simply understand what was written here and learn one gospel principle from this page. It took some gentle leaning on them but at the end of class they got it. I was elated.

            The next class I did essentially the same thing and the results were even better. It was a real class with talking and exchanges and challenges and laughter. It was a great seminary class even though it lacked a class presidency, a devotional, scripture mastery, and 50 minutes of instruction. It was just a class stripped down to its essence – students, scriptures, teacher, and especially the Spirit. Two of the chronically tardy students even came on time.

            This whole experience reinforced the idea that some students and classes are easier to reach and others take more time and effort, but all can be reached, and all are worth reaching.