I’ve been teaching early morning seminary for a few months now, and so far I’ve learned a few things:
1-I truly believed before I started teaching that I could get all my prep work done if I gave myself an hour a day. I look back on those innocent days of summer, and I laugh and I laugh and I laugh.
2-No matter how good your kids are — and I have some really good kids — they will try to text during your lessons. I’ve tried to develop my kindly-but-also-disapproving face for such occasions (you know the one, with the raised eyebrows and the cocked head and the little half smile) and it kinda works. Temporarily.
3-The Old Testament is fascinating. Complicated prophets. Bold, sassy, decisive women. Incredible miracles. God’s exasperated scoldings. Intrigue, mayhem, redemption. Good times.
4-Perhaps it’s just me, but I have yet to figure out a way to get my kids to arrive to class on time. Emails to parents, begging, requiring makeup work, me pulling the “kindly-but-disapproving” face mentioned in #2 when they swing through the door in the middle of the lesson — all of it makes very little difference. According to 90% of my students, class officially begins ten minutes after class officially begins.
5-There’s almost always going to be at least one kid who doesn’t get into what I’m doing on any given day, which is why it’s important to mix things up. Do some lecture, some hands-on crafty stuff, some games, some group work, throw in a movie every once in a while. It’s rare that my lesson is a homerun all around.
6-Speaking of the very-few-homeruns thing: this calling has occasionally rattled my sense of what it means to be a good teacher. Or, to put it bluntly, my sense of myself as a good teacher. My most recent teaching gig was as a creative writing instructor at the BYU Salt Lake Center, and my students were mature, motivated, and almost always wide awake. I would be very surprised if any of their parents threatened to take away their drivers’ licenses if they didn’t come to creative writing class. I also had the power of the almighty grade at my disposal! (In early morning seminary, there aren’t any grades, just completes and incompletes.) The truth is, as a seminary teacher I’m faced with some handicaps I didn’t have to deal with as a public school teacher or as a college instructor, and I’ve had to recalibrate my expectations for what constitutes as a successful lesson. And on those rare days where everything is clicking and all the kids are into it and the spirit is strong? I feel a little like Kerri Strug sticking her vault in the 1996 Summer Olympics, that pesky sprained ankle notwithstanding. It’s a day to remember and celebrate.
7-On those nights where you’re exhausted and the house is a mess and you’re helping your child build a float representing the state of Nebraska for the 5th grade Geography fair and it’s 9:00 and you have no idea what to do the next morning? It’s totally okay to give up the dream of sticking your vault. Just download Johnny Lingo from the church website and figure out an ingenious way to relate it (kinda??) to Genesis.
8-Even after all those years of primary, Sunday school, Young Men’s and Young Women’s, family scripture study, and family home evening, a surprising amount of our young people’s scriptural knowledge is firmly rooted in Veggie Tales.
9-Even though it’s hard for teenager to drag himself (or get dragged, as the case may be) out of bed every morning, even though it’s hard for them to read and understand the Old Testament, even though class isn’t always exciting, even though make-up work is a pain . . . early morning seminary is worth it for these kids. Not only do they learn the gospel, but they gain solace and solidarity from each other before walking into those crowded, noisy, occasionally terrifying high schools. Here in Minnesota, Mormon kids are few and far between, and they need each other desperately. Early morning seminary also teaches these kids how to sacrifice in a way I never had to learn as a released time seminary student in Utah.* Released time seminary can be wonderful, of course — but I have no doubt that these early morning students will reap real rewards for their years of special sacrifice.
10. Even though teaching early morning seminary is hard — one of the hardest callings I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some hard ones — it’s worth it for me as well. I’m grateful for it. I’ve learned so much already. And I’m really really looking forward to June 2012, when I can finally get a solid eight hours of sleep.
Do you have any experiences with early morning seminary? Do your kids attend? Did you attend? Have you taught? What are the blessings of the program? The challenges? What have you had to do to make it work for you?
*Full disclosure: Our school district has late start high school. 8:30 a.m. Wahoo! So seminary starts for us at 7:00 a.m. I am not lying when I say that I don’t know if I could do it if seminary started at 6:00. I really don’t know if I could. Kudos to those of you who do.