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Phillip and I were married halfway through my second year of teaching middle school math. A few months after we were married, my Crohn’s Disease took a turn for the worst.
Overall, I was hospitalized 13 times in our first 9 months of marriage. In the middle of it, the school year ended, we moved to another state away from family, and I was on a feeding tube to treat pancreatitis.
I can’t even begin to count the number of times a nurse or a doctor would look at me, cluck their tongue, and say, “Oh poor thing. You’re too young to be so sick.”
These months were a pivotal turning point in my life – my health had gone from a mild diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis to a severe diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease, which is much more difficult to treat and is a much graver prognosis.
I went through a time of mourning my health, and I worried about the strength of my marriage, which was only a few months old.
But in the midst of it, I gained a testimony that would nevver have been able to come any other way.
During one particularly difficult hospitalization with Phillip working full-time and doing school full-time, I came across the scripture in Mark 1:21 where it says, “and straightway on the sabbath day he [the Savior] entered the synagogue and taught.”
That scripture got me thinking – I was a teacher, and the Savior was a teacher. What made a teacher a good teacher? And were any teaching techniques I used ever used by Christ as He teaches me now?
The answer was incredible. Within minutes, I had filled an entire page with a list of teaching attributes that I had that I could see mirrored in my trials.
I’d like to share 11 items on that list with you, along with scriptures to illustrate how the Savior exemplifies these qualities in His interactions with us. Hopefully, with this list, you can explore for yourself the many ways that our loving Savior teaches you in your own life.
I never ask students to learn or do something that I haven’t learned or done at some point.
I obviously already know all of the material that I’ll be teaching, but it’s more than that. Every new test that I create, I take a couple of times myself and work out the problems to makes sure that it’s doable.
The Savior did the same thing. Alma 7:11-13 says,
11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and and of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
12 And he will take upon him , that he may the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to his people according to their infirmities.
13 Now the Spirit all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the that he might him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
Everything I ask them to do is for a reason, even if they don’t understand the reason.
Every year, students ask, “Why do I need to learn how to do this? When will I ever use it in the real world.” The answer is always much more complicated than they think. Odds are, not every student will use some of the specifics like geometry. Learning it now, however, opens the door to later years of Calculus, engineering, and other tools.
If I were to try to explain how solving for the missing side of a triange using sine would help them one day build a bridge, they would be lost, becasue the explanation would be way above their heads. Instead, all I can do is ask them to trust that I can see the big picture.
Similarly, Isaiah 55:8-9 says,
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I intentionally give challenging problems.
I don’t teach my students how to do every single problem them will every encounter, especially when there are story problems! Instead, I teach the concepts and ask them to apply the math themselves to fit the stories and problems. This makes them stretch their brains, to learn and grow and become independent thinkers on their own.
D&C 58:26-27 says,
26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
Sometimes I will refuse to answer their questions.
When I know it’s something they already know and they just need to look at their notes or think about it for a minute and piece it together themselves, I won’t answer their questions on how to solve a problem. I ask them to make conclusions based on what they already know, because I trust they are smart enough to figure it out.
Elder Richard G. Scott, in his October 1989 General Conference talk “Learning to Recognize Answers to Prayer,” said the following:
It is a mistake to assume that every prayer we offer will be answered immediately…..
When we explain a problem and a proposed solution, sometimes He answers yes, sometimes no. Often He withholds an answer, not for lack of concern, but because He loves us—perfectly. He wants us to apply truths He has given us. For us to grow, we need to trust our ability to make correct decisions. We need to do what we feel is right.
I genuinely know and care about every one of my students individually, even the ones with attitude that I want to bop on the head.
I know who they are, I recognize their voices, their handwriting, their style. Even if they have some attitude or they are my least favorite student (and yes, those exist), I don’t ever hate them or want them to fail. I cheer for them every single day, no matter how many times they disrupted the class or failed a test. My goal is their success, no matter what.
Moses 1:39 says,
For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
Note that it’s brining about the eternal life of man. Singular. The Lord wants each one of us to succeed, individually.
My goal is not only to teach them this year’s material, but to fill in holes if they missed concepts in the past.
If a student comes into my classroom with misinformation or having failed math in the past, I don’t toss them out of my classroom or deem them unworthy of instruction. It’s the opposite! I spend extra time with that student, correcting their misunderstandings and filling in gaps of knowledge.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15:4 teaches this principle in a unique way:
4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
Christ went after the lost sheep and left the 99 because He trusted they could take care of themselves. He didn’t weigh the odds and decide that value of keeping the 99 safe was more important than one lost one. He didn’t give up the sheep for lost or be annoyed that it wandered off. He went after that sheep anyway.
Everyone has the opportunity to be at the same level
Kids come in at different levels, but they all have the opportunity to reach the same goals if they’re willing to put in the extra work to make up what they’re lacking. My classroom is set up in such a way that anyone who wants to succeed and is willing to work for it is able to do so. It may require extra work on their part (and mine), but it’s worth it to bring them up to where they need to be.
Matthew 20:1-16 tells the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. To briefly summarize, a man hired some laborers to work in his vineyard. A few hours later he hired more, and throughout the day he continued to hire anyone who stood outside waiting for work. At the end of the day, they all received the same amount, no matter how many hours they had worked.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in his April 2012 General Conference talk “The Laborers in the Vineyard,” explains:
I do not know who in this vast audience today may need to hear the message of forgiveness inherent in this parable, but however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.
Whether you are not yet of our faith or were with us once and have not remained, there is nothing in either case that you have done that cannot be undone. There is no problem which you cannot overcome. There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized. Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning. “Come boldly [to] the throne of grace,” and fall at the feet of the Holy One of Israel. Come and feast “without money and without price” at the table of the Lord.
My students come into the room at the beginning of the year with 100% of my trust and 100% of my respect.
Even if I’ve heard things from other teachers about them, I don’t listen to it. It will stay that way until THEY do something to make me lose that trust or respect for them. Each kid starts out with an A in math. It’s their choice to lose my respect by their actions, and it’s their choice to lower their goals.
Similarly, Christ atoned for every single person. D&C 19:16-18 says,
16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink
I have standards of behavior in my classroom. If they cannot follow them, there are consequences.
Yes, every child comes into my class with a clean slate. But that doesn’t mean they can break the rules and still get away with it. If they choose not to study, they won’t pass the test. If they choose to act out in class, they are asked to leave and they miss out on learning.
Alma 41:10 says,
Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.
I do so much work behind the scenes to make my lesson plans a success for my students.
Hours and hours of my personal time ends up going into preparation, and I try to tailor lessons to meet each individual’s needs.
In Moses 7, the prophet Enoch sees all of the work and preparation that the Lord puts into the Creation and the tailoring of the Plan of Salvation for each person. We then see as the Lord stands watch over it all, throughout the entire time, worrying over for us and cheering us on.
28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
29 And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?
30 And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever;
31 And thou hast taken Zion to thine own bosom, from all thy creations, from all eternity to all eternity; and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?
32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
I try to find a balance between being just and being merciful.
How merciful I am depends on the student’s attitude and effort! If a child with a failing grade comes to me with remorse and sincerity, willing to do the work to bring their grade up, I will bend over backwards to help them learn the material, retake tets, etc.
On the other hand, if a student comes to me with a B+ and needs just 1% in order to get an A, if they aren’t willing to do the work to get it, I will not artificially bump up their grade or let them get an easy extra credit assignment.
Alma 42:24-25, 27-28 says,
24 For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.
25 What, do ye suppose that can rob ? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.
27 Therefore, O my son, will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be unto him according to his .
28 If he has desired to do , and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God.
What it all boils down to
I’m sure I could think of a dozen more qualities of my classroom. As I look at each of them, I realize just how much our Lord is the Master Teacher. He is the embodiment of these qualities, and I love Him for it.
At the same time I was making this list, I read a great article on CNN about asking God, “Why me?”
That question has been asked over and over again by many people. Some people say that the fact we have to ask that question is enough to conclude that God doesn’t exist, or that He doesn’t care. But as this article so eloquently puts it:
“Only Christianity of all the world’s major religions teaches that God came to Earth in Jesus Christ and became subject to suffering and death himself, dying on the cross to take the punishment our sins deserved, so that someday he can return to Earth to end all suffering without ending us. Do you see what this means? We don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he doesn’t care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.”
Just as my students whine and complain about homework and tests, I give it to them anyway because I know it’s what is best for them. Likewise, my Heavenly Father and my Savior know what’s best for me. And They want to give it to me! So the question shouldn’t be, “Why me?” Instead, I should be asking, “Why NOT me? Why not push me to grow, to be the best?”
I guess it all boils down to trust. I have faith in my Father in Heaven, that He is God. But do I trust Him enough? Can I follow Him through the valley of the shadow of death? Do I trust in Him to guide me correctly? To lead me down paths that will only end up being for my good?
And the answer, always, is yes. I do.
Even though it’s so hard and I might cry and stumble and not understand why, I have to keep following. And always, whenever I look up, He is there with outstretched hands. Hands that will guide me, hug me, comfort me, and even carry me when I feel like I just can’t take one more step. Because He is the Master Teacher. And He loves me.
One of my favorite hymns is “How Firm a Foundation.” We usually only sing the first three verses in Sacrament Meetings, but the 4th, 5th, and 7th verses are absolutely beautiful:
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.