I just experienced one of the worst examples of teaching ever, a total teaching nightmare from an experienced and educated teacher who somehow considers himself intelligent and capable. But the teaching was so bad that many class members just walked out and a huge opportunity to feed the Lord’s sheep was completely wasted. In this teaching nightmare, we learn that experience and knowledge is less important than preparation, humility, and sound teaching practices such as using the instructor’s manual. What made this teaching nightmare especially painful and poignant for me was the identity of the teacher: yep, it was me. Jeff Lindsay.

This was a literal nightmare, one that awoke me with pain and introspection just 10 minutes ago. It was exquisitely detailed and realistic, and filled with mistakes that I have made or am entirely capable of making. It wasn’t like some weird alter ego taking over. It was me.

In this nightmare, I was teaching a large group in Gospel Doctrine class. It was in the chapel, and the chapel was packed. Cool--a nice time to enjoy the limelight and shower a group with impressive facts and details. I had just been asked to take over from the regular teacher, so I had little opportunity to prepare (not no, but little). I had not even tried, though. I hadn’t looked at the manual and just assumed that since it was day 1 of the new year, that the lesson would be on First Nephi 1 rather than the real topic in the manual, which I think was an Introduction to the Book of Mormon. No sweat, I could spout off plenty of stuff on the cool literary techniques used in that chapter, including the majestic foreshadowing of the Restoration and the rise of the Book of Mormon that is contained in Lehi’s visions. I could talk about the Egyptian language connection that Nephi makes in verse 2. I could share my wit and wisdom ad nauseum and was happy to do it with such a delightfully large group of eager listeners, ready to be fed from the loquacious Jeff Lindsay.

The class began with some ongoing chaos as the back of the chapel was wide open and people all the way back in the cultural hall behind the chapel could be seen and heard. (Need to pay attention to setting next time.) One of them chimed in, but I couldn’t hear, so I walked to the back of the class and begin shouting down to the gym, recognizing a friend and saying hi, etc., all the while leaving the class behind. The friend made an off-topic comment and I responded with comments as I slowly walked back to the front of the class, my back toward the class while talking. Then I stalled for time as I wondered what to teach, asking some trite questions to get conversation started without having much purpose or plan. The conversation got pretty vigorous as I gathered my thoughts and realized it was time to dig into the text.

At this point, I cut off conversation rather abruptly and explained that now I was going to elucidate on the text, that we had a lot to cover, and so I would be going at high speed. Prepare, dear listeners, for data download from your local sage on the stage. Ah, the scriptures. I didn’t have them with me, but I did have my iPad in my pile of junk at the back of the room, so walked back there to get it,, again causing disruption. As I returned to the front of the class, I noticed that my shirt was still untucked from the activity right before class where I was helping with some service. There was a good excuse for not being neatly dressed, of course. Expecting the class to patiently bear with the great teacher before them, I said, “Well, I need to look more like a teacher so I’ll just work on that a second while you talk. Will someone please explain the 116 pages story and why First Nephi might not have been the first book written in the Book of Mormon?” Then I turned my back to the class while I tucked in my shift and put on my belt, not paying much attention to what else was happening.

OK, now I was set. Class was half over, but I was dressed, had my text, and was finally ready to roll. At this point, half the class got up and left. Probably because they had a plane to catch, I reasoned. I began my data download for the remainder, and noticed that they just weren’t interested, and they soon began walking out. Then it was quickly down to just me and my wife.

At this point the guilt started kicking in. I hadn’t even tried to prepare. I hadn’t prayed for guidance on what to teach and how to teach it to help bless anybody in the class. I was focused on showing off, sadly, rather than serving. I had failed to manage the class, the setting, the discussion, and utterly failed to invite the spirit. There was also no opening prayer. At this point, adding to the excruciating plausibility of the nightmare, I began the process of self-justification. I had very good excuses for each of the mistakes that were made. I was just doing the best I could under difficult circumstances. It wasn’t my fault. Not at all. It never is. And then I woke up. Ouch.

I hope my teaching nightmare might help some of you teachers to avoid your own nightmare–especially the real kind where you don’t find merciful relief by just waking up.
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