Valiant 8 child: Can I have my shoe back?
Sister J: That depends. What are you going to do with your shoe?
Valiant 8: …
Sister J: What would Jesus want you to do with your shoe?
Valiant 8: … Wear it?
Sister J: Go and do thou likewise.
The other day I was talking to my sister on the phone and she mentioned something about teaching Relief Society. “How is that going?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s going all right,” she said. “I guess. I enjoy it, but I don’t think I’m very good at it. Does it make sense that you can enjoy something you’re not any good at?”
I said it made perfect sense to me because I love being a Primary teacher, and I’m terrible at it. It isn’t just because I’m bad with kids (although I am). I’m equally bad at teaching adults (although one might say I’m equally inept with adults in general–and don’t even get me started with teenagers). The difference between teaching adults badly and teaching kids badly is that when adults get bored, they will fall asleep or daydream or get out their phones or some other quiet activity, whereas kids will talk amongst themselves or start wrestling with each other or stack up the chairs and see who can touch the light fixture and who can jump the farthest without breaking their head. None of those activities is silent. Well, I don’t know. The wrestling comes close, depending on whether or not one has his opponent in a headlock. Still, it can be disruptive.
I teach the eight-year-olds-turning-nine. I have five kids in my class, and I like all of them, even the one who’s kind of a jerk. I know how to teach kids. I mean, I’m not an idiot. I have many years of experience with children, not only in Primary but also living with them in my own home. I know you can’t just get up there and lecture at them. You have to be all visual and interactive and play games and crap. At least that’s how it works with modern children. Once upon a time you could get up and lecture at kids and they’d just sit there and take it, but that was back in the days when you could also beat them, and those days are over. Now you have to engage them somehow. Unless you’d rather have them practicing their martial arts while you’re teaching. (Or should that be “teaching”? If no one’s learning, is the teacher still teaching? I’ll leave that to the philosophers.) Then I guess it doesn’t really matter.
The first thing we do in my class after the prayer is let everyone have a turn talking about what they did during the week. Theoretically, this is my non-musical equivalent of the “wiggle” song they do in sharing time, and it works about as well. When Brother J and I taught the ten-year-olds, those kids could go on and on and on about their weeks; we had to start enforcing a time limit. My eight-year-olds will usually have only one or two things to say, if anything. During this time that I am explicitly giving them permission to talk, that is. When I start talking, they immediately have all kinds of things to say. I’m not sure if I’ve ever uttered a complete sentence in front of these kids without being talked over. Not a sentence with a subordinate clause, anyway. Anyway.
Usually I have only a short lesson prepared, and I tell them that if we get through the lesson, there will be time afterward to go outside, weather permitting, or play Hangman. For some reason, kids love Hangman. People still watch Wheel of Fortune, too, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Although I can’t say that it holds every kid’s attention for the remainder of the class time. Eventually the boys will get tired of guessing letters and start moving on to more physical activities. For the most part, though, this has been an effective strategy for me. The other week I was having a hard time getting one of the kids to settle down and someone said, “Be quiet! You’re cutting into our Hangman time!” And then someone else said, “Yeah! You’re cutting into our karate time!”
Do I actually let the kids play karate in class? It’s not like I’m going to tell you.
About fifteen years ago I attended a Primary in-service class where the teacher said that all the preparation in the world wouldn’t be enough if you didn’t have the Spirit with you when you taught. I thought, “Oh, so that’s what my problem is. I don’t have the Spirit.” And then I just stopped stressing about it because really, if my success as a teacher is dependent on something as capricious as the Spirit, I don’t think I should feel too bad about failure. (What are they going to do, fire me?) So yeah, there’s that business with the Spirit, and then I can’t imagine it helps that I have no enthusiasm for the subject matter. Last year we taught the Book of Mormon. I like the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is good times–Nephi fighting with his brothers, Ammon chopping off arms left and right (literally!)–what’s not interesting about that? Even the war chapters, which I find so tedious to read, are fun to teach to children. This year we’re teaching church history and Doctrine and Covenants, and, oh, sure, there are interesting things about church history, but most of them aren’t appropriate to share with young children. Not that the Primary manual is good for children or other living things. I can barely keep myself engaged long enough to prepare a lesson–any kind of lesson, let alone something that would engage children. Check out this schedule from a couple months ago:
Lesson 4: Joseph Smith Prepares to Receive the Gold Plates
Lesson 5: Joseph Smith Receives the Gold Plates
Lesson 6: Joseph Smith Begins to Translate the Gold Plates
Lesson 7: Joseph Smith Translates the Gold Plates
Lesson 8: Joseph Smith Ponders the Stigma of Self-Publishing
Fascinating, to be sure, but for some reason the kids don’t find this stuff as rip-snorting a time you folks might. Probably because there isn’t enough violence. Every week the kids ask me, “Is this the lesson where Joseph Smith gets killed?” No, honey, that’s a few months away yet. This week Emma makes a collection of sacred hymns! (Yee-freaking-haw.)
Not that we don’t have our moments. The week the Book of Mormon got published, I was in the middle of telling the kids about the printer, Egbert B. Grandin, when one of the girls came in late and distributed Easter eggs to all the other kids. Could I have planned it better? No, I could not. Of course, they all immediately started throwing the eggs around and the one that survived the trauma was christened Egbert. The kids don’t remember anything else from that lesson, but they remember the Book of Mormon was published by some dude named Egbert. Or they remember that some dude named Egbert had something to do with the Book of Mormon, somehow. And now whenever they see an Easter egg, they will remember “Egbert” and experience some vaguely religious deja vu (in addition to the usual, conscious thoughts about Jesus rising from the dead).
Then there was the lesson about Parley P. Pratt, which they all thought was just about the most hilarious name they’d ever heard, mainly because it has “pee” in it. I confess I sometimes look for excuses to include him in class discussions just to break up the monotony.
The good news is that as squirrely as my kids are in class, they must get it out of their systems during the second hour, because they are all angels during sharing time. Which is convenient because not only does it give the illusion that I have my class under control, but it also allows me to zone out in case things get dull. Not that they ever would. (There’s no Doctrine and Covenants in sharing time.)
Also, one of them gave me this picture the other day.
Adults almost never draw pictures for their teachers.