I live in a football house. During football season, I trip over football gear, spend every Saturday on the sidelines, and watch more than a few games on TV. Over the years, I’ve learned an important lesson about football that applies to the classroom.
One thing separates good quarterbacks from great quarterbacks—the speed of their game. Great quarterbacks see each play in slow motion. When they take a snap, they create time to assess the situation, avoid the trouble spots, and wait for the perfect moment to release the ball. Practice and experience help them “read” each moment and drive the ball down the field.
The same thing happens with great teaching. Great teachers know how to slow down their teaching game.
So Little Time
This is not an easy skill to master. I struggle with it all the time.
Here’s the challenge. As dedicated teachers, anxious to know our stuff, we study and study and study for each lesson. We prayerfully read, learn, and grow as we gather information. We work hard on a lesson outline that will hopefully lead students to a deeper understanding of several principles. We devote hours to our preparation.
And then we get to class and have limited minutes—yes, minutes—to share everything we’ve spent so long preparing. And so we rush. We try to stick to the outline. We try to get in that one more thought.
But the really great teaching moments come when we devote all that preparation time to a lesson before hand, then let the actual lesson slow way down.
That means we might not get through all or even most of the material we’ve prepared. But it means we’re taking time to assess the situation in the classroom, listen to the promptings of the Spirit in our teaching, and really teach students rather than lessons.
Often, we ask the questions written in the manual or in our lesson outline, but don’t listen—really listen—to the answers. Instead, as class members respond, our minds are already on to the next point in our outline. We have only listened with a small part of our brain while we focus on how we are going to get through our agenda. We aren’t slowing down our game.
I’ve been in classes where a student will give a thoughtful answer to a question, only to be given a cursory “thank you” before the teacher moves on to the next topic. When this happens, the teacher misses an opportunity to slow down their teaching game.
Great teachers stop and listen. Then they respond to the answers with follow-up questions that get other students engaged in a conversation, not just a lesson. And if the conversation deviates a little from the prepared lesson, that’s okay. With the Spirit present, skilled teachers can ask follow-up questions that get back to the principle at hand. Or better yet, the principle someone needs to hear. That can only happen if you, as the teacher, have prepared for hours so you can respond to the direction change accordingly.
And if a class discussion only touches on one of the points you have prepared rather than all five, that’s okay too.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a master teacher, taught, “It’s better to take just a few good ideas and get good discussion—and good learning—than to be frenzied, trying to teach every word in the manual.” He continued, “An unrushed atmosphere is absolutely essential if you are to have the Spirit of the Lord present in your class…. Too many of us rush. We rush right past the Spirit of the Lord trying to beat the clock in some absolutely unnecessary footrace” (“Teaching and Learning in the Church,” Ensign, June 2007).
A Lifelong Pursuit
Take your time. Listen to the Spirit. Listen to the tempo of your class and adjust the play accordingly. Remember, learning the gospel of Jesus Christ is a lifelong pursuit. So if you don’t cover every principle in this one discussion, it will surely be covered at some point in the future. This is the Savior’s pure doctrine. When you listen to the Spirit and slow down your teaching game, you will teach the one principle someone in your classroom needs at that moment.
How can you slow down your personal teaching game? What adjustments can you make to your teaching outlines to allow more flexibility in your game flow? Take a minute to consider your responses. Then share your thoughts in the comments below.