This article was previously published on Latterdaysaintwoman.com
Often, we think of teaching as an isolated activity, particularly for Primary and Youth leaders. Teachers go into a classroom, close the door and teach. God, however, wisely provided skilled and caring leaders to assist teachers, whether new or experienced. Inspired leadership at the very beginning of a teacher’s service can decide whether the newly called teacher will learn to love teaching, or whether she will pray it never happens to her again.
The church provides a wonderful guide for new leaders who aren’t sure how to help. It is called, Improving Gospel Teaching: A Leader’s Guide. This guide shows leaders their responsibilities toward teachers, helps them learn to orient teachers, show them how to help teachers set goals and also explains how to help a discouraged teacher. Today, we are focusing on the new teacher.
Meet with the new teacher as soon as possible. When someone has never taught before, it is helpful, when possible, to give them several weeks to prepare. Ask the person currently teaching these students to allow the new teacher to visit and observe. This lets her meet the students and find out what has been previously done with them. Even though I have my own style of class and my own way of doing things, I find it helpful to know what the students were doing before I came.
Was the teacher strict? Did she have a routine? Is there something she does that I should continue to do? If the current teacher is uncomfortable, or not very experienced herself, you may want to ask an experienced teacher to allow the new teacher to observe. Observation is an excellent way to learn how to teach.
The guide referenced above lists the basic information a new teacher should receive in an orientation. When I have oriented a teacher, I like to discuss the class as well. I bring with me a list of the students and tell the new teacher about each child. Teachers, particularly of youth and adults, should know if a child’s family is active, if both parents are in the home, and if the child has any special needs.
Open the lesson manual and show the teacher what is available. Many teachers never see the opening pages, and these have valuable ideas for teaching. Then show her the lessons themselves. Draw her attention to the statement of purpose for each lesson and show her how to use it. Show the lesson headings and explain that these can be used to outline the lesson.
Encourage her to learn to teach without her manual in her hands. This may not be possible at first, but she can be shown how to work toward that. You may want to provide written ideas for learning how to do that.
Discuss discipline options, and the Primary’s rule about food if you are leading Primary. Explain the rules that students are expected to follow and any guidelines the church has for teaching in your organization.
Be sure the teacher knows how to contact you and encourage her to call on you at any time. Tell her what to do if she feels she is losing control of her class and needs help immediately. I suggest teachers keep a note in an envelope with them when they teach saying, “Please come to room *** immediately. I need help.” Then I tell them which student can be trusted to deliver the envelope. The child is told to give it to the nearest adult, in case I am teaching that day. Assure her that all teachers need help on occasion and no one will think less of her for needing help herself.
When a new teacher feels that her leader cares about her and accepts her first tentative efforts to learn to teach, she grows in confidence. Stay in touch and offer both praise and ideas. Contact parents or talk to the children and collect compliments.
Deliver these to the teacher often. “Karen told me she just loves her new teacher.” “Alex said the model of the temple you brought in was really exciting.” “Jessica’s mother said that Jessica never stops talking about you.” These comments, delivered by a third party, have greater meaning than when the complimentary person herself delivers them.
Enjoy your opportunity to help a teacher grow. It is a wonderful blessing to watch as a new teacher learns to love her new calling and to know that you were a part of helping the Savior bring a new teacher into the church organization.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.