Tonight starts a new semester. This will be my 14th year teaching a religious education class on campus at Brigham Young University. Close to 6,000 students have sat in my classrooms through the years. Some of them I now call my friends. Some of them I remember fondly and wonder where they are and how they are doing. Some of them I vaguely recall. And still others, I might not know if I tripped over them.
I would hope that I fall into the first two categories and not the latter two for some of my former teachers. At the very least I love my students while I am with them and then send them off into the world with all of the prayer and blessing I can muster. I have felt that many of my teachers have done the same.
Whenever I contemplate a new school year, when I consider what kind of a teacher I have become, when I think about what strengths I have yet to develop there are three people I think about. Three teachers who influenced me more than all the others.
When I was in fourth grade I had a wonderful teacher. I was delighted when, in sixth grade, she showed up again at the front of one of my classrooms. I have thought of Mrs. Kyte often over the years. We moved to another state when I was in 8th grade and again in the 11th grade. Each new school I looked for a Mrs. Kyte - someone who would make learning fun and inspire my mind with possibilities. Some came close. But none were ever just right.
There are often days when I sit down to plan a lesson and think, "What would Mrs. Kyte do?" I know that teaching the story of the Children of Israel wandering in the desert for forty years isn't quite the same as teaching 4th graders about civic government. But, she had Kyteland and I put stickers on my students and assign them to one of the Twelve Tribes then make them march around the lecture hall.
What I learned from Mrs. Kyte is that you have to connect abstract principles with concrete examples or your students never quite grasp the real world application of the things they are learning. I also learned that the more senses you involve in the learning process the more likely they are to make those connections. The more likely they are to remember what you've taught. The more likely they are to be inspired to keep on learning. It's true of nine year olds and it's true of twenty-two year olds just the same.
Though he taught at BYU for years, I never took a college class from Brother Richardson. I did attend a lot of talks and lectures as he presented at Education Week and EFY. I bought his "talks on tape" and learned to love his stories. (I've even used a few of them from time to time. I hope that's ok.) I first met Matt in person when I was an EFY counselor. I attended his classes. I watched him with the teenage participants and with the (not much older than that) young adult counselors. He was funny and kind and generous with his time and his talents.
I learned a lot from Matt about how to teach. Have a lot of energy. Be sincere. Ask questions. Take questions. Read. Write. Talk. Discuss. Explore. Imagine. He always faced tough questions head on but with humility. He clearly knew the scriptures and was a master of making connections from the scriptures, through the Spirit, into the hearts of those who listened.
The thing about Matt's teaching that has left the most lasting impression was how well he walked the talk. I met his wife and children. I spent time with him and them. I heard them talk to and about one other with love and enthusiasm. I watched how they raised their family and how they ran their home. From Matt I learned that the most powerful teaching we do is when our lives are in harmony with the things we profess to believe.
For the four years I was in high school my mother would get up each morning long before dawn. In the dark we would drive down to the church building where she would proceed to teach 15 or 20 sleepy-eyed, high school students about the Gospel of Jesus Christ in that hour before school started each day. She used the Bible and the Book of Mormon and the words of prophets as her texts. She bore testimony with the Spirit. She knew us and she loved us.
Many days I would come home from school and find her on her bed with books strewn around as she studied and studied and studied. I heard her cry. I heard her pray. I heard her earnest conversations with my dad. She knew that she couldn't impart what she didn't know. She paid the price to know. I try to do the same.
There are a million reasons why I am grateful to my mother for so many things in my life. But, when I contemplate my role as teacher, it is her role as teacher that has informed the WHY of my teaching more than any other. She loves God. And, she inspired us to love Him as well. I want to do the same for my students this year - and always.