For the first half of my adult life, my default calling at Church involved teaching. I was constantly teaching EQ, and I did stints as GD teacher in three different wards. And then I started teaching Institute.
Or at least my stake called it “Institute”; realistically it was more like an adult continuing education class. Usually I wasn’t teaching college students but just members of the stake.
When I was first given this calling, it seemed like quite an honor. The high councilor who called me made me feel like I was taking on the most important job in the stake. I had the impression that I would be given all the support in the world. I soon found out that wasn’t quite accurate. Over time I realized that this was just the stake trying to fulfill the full program of the Church, and once I was in place they checked that box and I was on my own. My first clue was when the SP didn’t announce the class at stake conference, although I had personally asked him to do so and he had agreed. I had to figure out publicity on my own.
At my very first class the SP and his wife came, and I thought, “Great, if the SP is coming then others will want to come, too.” But they never came back; they were just checking to make sure I wasn’t teaching anything too out in left field.
My memory is pretty vague on this, but I think I was supposed to collect some sort of class fee and do some sort of registration process so that people could get credit for the class if they wanted. But no one needed the credit and I let all those bureaucratic niceties slide, and in subsequent classes that never even came up.
But a nice thing about being off the radar screen of CES was that I could do pretty much whatever I wanted. My first class was on the Book of Mormon; I just kept the class going for two years. I loved being able to teach the scripture at a slower pace and in much greater depth than in GD. (The oldsters among us will remember when the GD curriculum spent two years a piece on a standard work before shuffling to a different one.)
The other classes I taught were Early LDS Church History (basically NY with a little Ohio) [twice], Biblical Hebrew [twice], New Testament Greek, and Old Testament. I don’t think I ever got around to teaching a NT class.
One thing that took some getting used to was the inevitable drop off in attendance. I remember when I did the first Biblical Hebrew Class. I held it in the high council room, and there were over 20 people in attendance. But within three weeks we were down to about eight or nine students who would hang in there for the long haul. Fortunately, I had seen the same phenomenon when I took a noncredit Coptic course at BYU from S. Kent Brown, where a group of about 20 students quickly burned off to three of us hard core students who stuck it out. I realized the idea of studying an ancient language is more appealing than the reality of it, and so I didn’t take it personally when my rolls inevitably dropped off over the first couple of weeks.
The biblical language classes were very fun but also frustrating. These weren’t college students but adults with their calcified brains; we met only once a week, and they led busy lives so there was not substantial mandatory outside homework. So progress was slower than I would have liked. Still, the students seemed to really enjoy the experience. The reason I taught the Hebrew course a second time is that one of my students (who was on the High Council) said the best class he ever had was when he took a rigorous math course over a second time, and the hard concepts started to really sink in. The other students were enthusiastic about it so I taught the same Biblical Hebrew class in back to back years. I felt that I had more success with the Hebrew class than I did with the Greek; for some reason Mormons seem to be more fascinated by Hebrew than they are by Greek.
One time the neighboring stake wanted to teach an Institute class but they couldn’t come up with a qualified teacher, so they got special permission to call me as the teacher. This was the OT class. This class met in the evenings at the old dental school at Northwestern University in Chicago. This one was a sacrifice on my part, because I have a long commute and when I taught the night class in the city I would get home late. But I liked teaching what in effect was a seminar in a graduate environmnent at a prestigious university; it was fun to pretend I was actually a professor there (like our own JNS!). I’m a frustrated academic.
The OT class was the last one I did; I suffered from burn out and really didn’t want to do it anymore. Since then I’ve had mostly non-teaching callings: YMP, EQP, membership clerk, SS president, and now I’m the community relations czar on the stake public affairs council.
But I deeply appreciate the opportunity I was given to teach the adults in my stake in an Insitute setting. It was tremendously fun for me, and I like to think the students gained something beneficial from the experience as well.