John Hilton III: John Hilton III is a popular speaker, best-selling author, former seminary teacher and current assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU. You can check out all of his books HERE.
Anthony Sweat: Anthony Sweat is also a popular speaker, best-selling author, former seminary teacher and an adjunct professor in the department of Church History and Doctrine at BYU. You can see all of his books HERE.
Hank Smith: Hank Smith is ALSO a popular speaker with numerous talks on CD. And he is ALSO a former seminary teacher and currently a religion professor at BYU. You can see all of his great things HERE.
Shannon Foster: Shannon taught seminary for 13 years before she retired to become a mamma to her sweet Hannah. If you want to find out more about her…. well, you are already on her website. 🙂
* Note: all three of these awesome guys are contributing authors in the FANTASTIC books Suit Up (for kids who are preparing for missions), and Armor Up (which helps youth to wear their spiritual armor).
How do you prepare during the summer for the upcoming school year?
One of the things I like to do during the summer time is prepare a few “super lessons” that I can use throughout the school year. For example, if I were preparing for teaching Book of Mormon seminary next summer, I might prepare a special lesson on 1 Nephi 17, 2 Nephi 31-33, Alma 5, and 3 Nephi 12-14. That way in the middle of the school year, when things are frantic and stressful I have some “go-to” lessons done.
Another idea is to think strategically about the year as a whole. Yes you are going to be teaching lessons every day, but what are your overarching goals? How are you going to consistently encourage students to strengthen their habits of personal scripture study? How are you going to help students act on the doctrines of the Book of Mormon? (see this article for one approach). How are you going to help students develop their scripture study skills? Thinking comprehensively about these questions in terms of the upcoming school year can prepare you to give your students a better overall experience.
I also think it’s really helpful to have all the scripture mastery verses memorized (note some new ones will replace some old ones next year – see your coordinator for details). That gives confidence in helping students learn them.
There are also some great resources from the old CES Symposiums here that may be useful (requires S&I login). Reading talks from General Authorities to seminary teachers is very powerful. This one from President Eyring was delivered 12 years ago before a Book of Mormon Seminary school year.
I think the most important thing though, is to pray for each student, to visit him or her if possible, and let them know of your love for them personally and excitement about the opportunity to study the Book of Mormon together in seminary.
I agree with John about preparing “super lessons”. I would also brainstorm general ideas that could be applied to all sorts of different types of lessons. I would keep a list of these ideas next to my desk for a little “spark” if I needed a fresh idea as I was in the daily mode of planning during the year.
I like to do an overall “power read” of the book I will be teaching (The Book of Mormon in seminary this year) just to re-get a feel for the territory—you know vibe and context and overall layout of when and where everything takes place, which chapters teach a particular doctrine the most clearly, and where the chapters of extreme awesomeness are. Even if it’s just a skim of the chapter headings (like, I’m talking about read/skimming all of 1 Nephi in a half hour). I am also a huge fan of taking some time to pace myself out for the whole year—setting a pacing calendar for what blocks of chapter I will be teaching during each week and sticking to it (remember, your job is not to get through content; your job is to get content through them!). My favorite saying to teachers is to live by “Move on Monday” (whatever I didn’t cover by Friday, I move on to where I should be on my pacing calendar on Monday).
I agree with everything John, Shannon, and Anthony have said. The only thing I would add is that it is very important that you take time for you during the summer. Teaching seminary is one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, but it can be spiritually draining. This a great time to “fill the well.” Read some of the books/talks you’ve wanted to read for a while, but kept putting off because you were preparing lessons. You can finally get up in the morning and exercise instead of getting ready to teach. Come this fall you are going to be spending a lot of time chopping down trees, this is the time to sharpen the ax.
What are some specific things I can do to improve my teaching skills?
Ever since the Teaching and Learning Emphasis came out, that was a great key for me and my teaching. In fact, I think this is fantastic for parents as well. It is truly a remarkable guide, and a serious study of it yielded great results in my classroom, and I am already applying the same principles in my own home.
One thing in particular I would do was I would study each part of the “Emphasis” in great detail,and I would LIST as many skills I could think of that I would need to fully exemplify that part of the Emphasis. I would also list specific things I would need to make happen, and (this is so important and CHANGED my teaching) I would list skills the STUDENTS would need to learn in order to learn!
Then I would take my list and lay out the year as a whole, looking at specific lessons, and I would plug in those things into those lessons. For example, the lesson may be about Lehi’s dream, but perhaps I would use that time to also teach them powerful scripture study tools. Or another lesson may be about Abinadi, but I may really work on asking powerful and meaningful questions. And then another lesson, I may have the STUDENTS study and come up with powerful and meaningful questions.
One of the best ways to improve teaching is to observe great teaching in action. If there is an Institute class you could attend during the summer or an Education Week you could participate in, those would be excellent opportunities to learn from watching another teacher. Watch how they start and finish lessons, listen for good questions, watch how they encourage student participation, etc. You could even let them know why you are there and then talk with them after each class about what you learned from watching them teach.
What are books that you recommend for preparing to teach the Book of Mormon?
At the risk of being self-serving, I’m going to recommend Please Pass the Scriptures. I’m obviously biased about this book, but I think that one of its strengths is that it is intended to help teenagers study the scriptures for themselves. I think a major objective of a seminary teacher should be to help students develop the capacity to feast on the scriptures. The techniques in this book (one-liners, principles, etc.) could all be components that a teacher could add into class.
I want that book! It talks about so many things I am passionate about!!
At the risk of being self-serving, I’m going to recommend John’s book too. It’s a great aid to developing scripture study skills. I personally think Elder Holland’s Christ and The New Covenant is a fabulous book to give you a feel for the importance of the Book of Mormon, in particular to our understanding of Christ and his Divine Role. It isn’t a verse by verse commentary, but full of Elder Holland’s wonderful prose and perspective in essay’s on the Book of Mormon’s doctrines. It’s awesome. And I love Elder Holland because he is an amazing Apostle, and because people think I look like one of his sons. So it’s like we’re family.
My absolute favorite book to read to prepare to teach the Book of Mormon is Heroes from the Book of Mormon. It is a compilation of essays from the Apostles and other General Authorities about specific characters in the Book of Mormon. For example, President Hinckley wrote an incredible chapter on Moroni and Russell M. Nelson wrote about all the specific principles he learned from Nephi. It is like sitting with an apostle or general authority and studying the Book of Mormon together.
What are books that you recommend for improving my teaching skills?
One book I highly recommend, in addition to the S&I manuals is Becoming a Great Gospel Teacher by Robert Eaton and Mark Beecher. I found numerous helpful suggestions in this book. If you haven’t had the chance to watch the S&I trainings available here, I would also recommend those.
Again, the Teaching and Learning Emphasis (just click on that link – its not a book). And if John recommends that book above – it will certainly be a good recommendation.
For seminary and institute teachers (for ALL scripture teachers, actually), reading S&I’s new Gospel Teaching and Learning Handbook is a must. It is excellent and it just came out last year to provide teaching direction and support in implementing the teaching fundamentals Shannon mentioned in The Teaching and Learning Emphasis. If you haven’t read it, read it. Seriously. Now.