Sister Paul stuck her head in my room and asked if I had an extra manual. She teaches the next class up, the 14-year-olds that I had last year. When they say you love those you serve, I had no idea how true it was until I was called to teach a dozen teenagers Sunday School. It’s been two years now, and I’ve never loved a calling more than I love teaching these kids. Which of course means I’ll be released soon and thrown in Nursery or (shoot me now) Scouts.
“Here, you can have mine. I’m winging it today.”
She took my book and slipped out the door. I never even cracked the cover this week. Prep is not one of my strong suits, and if I prep at all, it’s usually skimming the lesson in Sacrament meeting to make sure I have the gist. I know the topic, but don’t make a map. This might be horrifying for some teachers, I’ve found it works astoundingly well with these teens.
When I first was called, I would read the plan over, photocopy my quotes, and try to “involve” the class in the proscribed manner. It went over like a lead balloon. I could see their shiny eyes glaze over and practically feel the energy drain from the room. This bothered me. A lot. These were smart kids. Most of them knew the scriptures backward and forward- they grew up in the church, and had heard all the lessons ten times over.
I’m the adult convert. I’m the one that doesn’t know anything yet. So one Sunday I got a bright idea. They came filling in looking bored and dull; I told them they were teaching the class, and it was going to be a discussion instead of a dictatorship. I was bored listening to my own voice, and I knew they were too. Here was our topic, now let’s start talking. And thus my real education/educating began.
Everything changed after that Sunday.
My classes still follow the topics in the manual, but now, instead of reading long quotes, doing mazes or playing hangman, the kids come to class and talk with me. With exuberance. They share what they’ve been reading, we talk in-depth about gospel principles and what they really mean to us in our daily lives. These teens are whip-smart, and they have a lot to offer a discussion. What a shame it would have been had I not stumbled upon inviting their whole selves to the class.
Today, when I realized I would not have them for Easter Sunday, I scrapped the book (again), and we spent the entire hour talking about the events of holy week. We talked about Passover, the symbolism of the lamb, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the last supper, and when the hour was up, were were just touching on what Gethsemane meant, and our limited our grasp of the Atonement.
Glancing at the clock, I interrupted “Hey guys, we cannot possibly cover the Atonement, the trial, the crucifixion, Golgotha, the entombment and the resurrection in two minutes. We’ll finish up the week after Easter, agreed?”
Nine faces looked at me and spoke at once, “No, Sister M, we can skip quorum and young womens!”
The door opened and the junior primary teacher with a gaggle of 5-year olds was waiting for her room- we had already gone over. I was reeling. These kids wanted to stay in Sunday School. Nine teenagers were engaged and interested enough in talking about the final week of the life of the Savior that no one even noticed the time.
When I first started teaching, I was scared to death of teenagers. My own children were still all very young, and like so many, I had preconceived notions of youth- I thought they would not listen to me, that they were disengaged, and that teaching them was going to be stressful and hard. I was so wrong. These youth are powerhouses of knowledge, testimony and information. They know their stuff. We miss a golden opportunity when we prefer the safety of our own voices monopolizing a classroom. That’s when they check out. That’s when they live down to our expectations. But if you hand the reins over to them, I think you might be blown away at what happens.