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Early Morning Seminary

By Angela Hallstrom

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.

About Angela Hallstrom

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

51 thoughts on “Early Morning Seminary”

  1. I am convinced there is a special place in heaven for early morning seminary teachers (and middle school band directors, incidentally). I like to imagine you'll be eternally at the head of the line for the celestial potlucks or something.

    It is a tough, important gig and the fruits of your efforts can't really be measured in the glazed early morning expressions (and heads resting on tables) of your students. It takes years for those pre-dawn seeds to mature but they do! Those kids are listening, they're bathing in the Spirit, and they're getting together with other youth and being fortified before heading into the schools where they're greatly outnumbered.

    My kids actually love early morning seminary here where we live (in Massachusetts). They're the only members of the church in their school so it's such an important, uplifting part of their day. Do they look like they love it when they're sitting there? Probably not. But they're loathe to miss.

    Since our oldest daughter graduated, though, we're back to driving at 5:30 every morning again and then waiting and driving the 30 minutes to school afterward. This spring the next daughter gets her license. I'm counting down, too!

  2. I'm really lucky my 15 year-old loves to go! I actually threatened her last night that if she didn't clean up she couldn't go to seminary. And next year she can drive herself and her brother. Four years of not driving, hurray!

  3. I'm in my fourth year of teaching early-morning seminary, and I identify completely with most of what you're saying here–especially the part about getting students to arrive on time. We meet every morning at 5:30 and most of the students feel that that means that they should wake up at 5:25 and arrive 15 minutes late. I have found, however, that requiring them to use paper scriptures, rather than e-scriptures on their phones, helps to cut down on their texting. I also make it clear early on that its against the rules.

    Still, I had one student who REALLY HAD to text her boyfriend before he left for school in the morning, which was five minutes before Seminary ended. So, rather than waiting the five minutes, she would take a "bathroom break" to text her boyfriend.

    I'm also liking the Old Testament, even when I get a student who says something like, "So, let me get this straight, Abraham got this girl pregnant and his wife got mad, so…" as if the Old Testament was an episode of "Teen Mom."

    It is a great calling, though, and I wouldn't trade it for another one. And not just because no one ever asks a seminary teacher to do anything else in the ward (which is nice). I like starting the morning off that way. It sets a good tone for the rest of the day and keeps me grounded.

  4. As a graduate of Minnesota early morning seminary, I just say "THANK YOU!" I remember those freezing cold mornings of driving 30 minutes on the freeway as a new driver and wonder how we all survived and at the immense sacrifice our teachers made! But I definitely trace the roots of my testimony to seminary, especially as I read the Book of Mormon and Old Testaments.

  5. Thank you to all the wonderful early morning seminary teachers out there! I am an early morning seminary graduate and I know that my seminary experience really strengthened my testimony and made such a difference in my life.

  6. I taught 5 years of early morning in northern New England. Good times. Fierce sleep deprivation. Worth it.

    My unsolicited advice: let go of the punctuality issue. Start the class when it is supposed to start whether or not there is anyone besides you in the room. Smile whenever anyone joins, no matter when. You have little information about what kind of interaction that student has had with annoyed parents or goading siblings that morning. Due to stressful early morning interactions at home or enroute some of your students will come to class very vulnerable to one more negative interaction, no matter how small. Disapproval about tardiness from the seminary teacher can be the last piece of the puzzle that cements a student's antipathy towards the sacrifice required to make to this voluntary class this morning.

    Much better for that student to encounter someone who communicates she is happy to see them and glad they made the effort, however imperfectly. It helps them open their heart to the class material and more able to discern the spirit when it testifies.

  7. My oldest just started early morning seminary (at 6:00), and it's just as hard as you describe, but I agree with you wholeheartedly. It's worth it all. There's a special place in heaven for those who do it–teachers and kids alike. I admit, I am *this close* to getting choked up every morning I watch my son walk out my front door because HE'S DOING IT, and I'm so proud of him it helps me not yell at him for being late. It's probably the most proud I've ever been of him, to be honest. And seminary is a huge, amazing blessing.

  8. I actually woke myself up every morning at 4:45 a.m. just to curl my straight hair in proper 80's style before seminary at 6 a.m. What was I thinking?

    I couldn't believe my first class at BYU as a freshman started at 8 a.m. What a luxury!

    Seminary was the first time I read the scriptures regularly on my own including the first time I read the Book of Mormon. At the time, I didn't realize how much that was blessing me.

    My mom is also teaching seminary this year (her first and only time!) and she is really struggling with it. Is takes her hours to prepare one lesson. Her class meets at 5:50 a.m. and then the kids actually GO HOME and eat breakfast before going to school?! Very weird if you ask me.

  9. Early Morning Seminary teachers get bonus points in the Celestial Kingdom. Period. End of story. And scoutmasters. They get double.

    My first experience with EMS was when my husband was called to teach. Because of the demands of starting a career and having a young family he only taught for only 1 year. He hopes he gets to do it again some day.

    Fast forward about 10 years and my eldest son did 4 years of EMS. He had some really great teachers who taught him to love the scriptures. He graduated last spring and now my daughter is taking EMS. She enjoys it and she understands the sacrifice that so many make so she can be there. When she graduates we will have done 8 straight years of EMS. I'll get two years off then son #2. Then 1 year off and daughter #2 will go. That's 16 years of EMS in my house. Lots of early mornings too.

    I'm seeing the blessings of EMS in my home. More of our discussions take place around the scriptures and I feel much less "preachy." It is a sacrifice but it is one worth making.

  10. The worst seminary year was 6:10 start time with a teacher who would read the student manual to us and we'd spend an entire hour 'discussing' what the correct answer was. It was a terrible time and format for me. Only 3 students consistently attended class out of 10: me and the teacher's two children. Misery.

    The best seminary year started at the same time but it was with a teacher who loved the material, enjoyed teaching, and understood that different students learn differently. There were good days. There were horrid days. But with that teacher I didn't spend the entire hour just wishing to be somewhere else. It was hard to get up, but it wasn't hard to attend seminary.

  11. i taught seminary for 3 years. in minnesota. in the dark, freezing cold.
    the kids rarely got there on time.. but my mom, a veteran of 8+ years of seminary gave me the best advice ever …
    love them & testify personally.
    because those are the only two things they will remember.
    also, she had a student who came late to class EVERY SINGLE DAY … not only late, but SUPER late. and she would greet them and smile and give her a hug after class. that young women remembers that – and marvels.

    as far as texting goes… we had no issues with that. which is strange. we did have a few issues with attitude. there are some people who are SERIOUSLY NOT MORNING PEOPLE and it's better not to poke the beehive.

    lastly, this was truly a sacred time for me.
    no call in the whole world is more sacred.
    getting up that early, and teaching and being IN the scriptures consecrated my life.

    thanks for sharing this post.

  12. ps one more thing
    the teachers who spend hours and hours preparing … it's great for them and i'm sure there is value in it… but that's not what the Lord ever asked them to do. you don't have to be a scholar to teach, you don't have to know everything about the subject. you just have to have the spirit and a plan.

  13. So many great comments! Thank you.

    As far as attendance goes, I'm doing my best to send the message that it's important you come to seminary on time with the even MORE important message that I would much rather you come to seminary, no matter how long you're there. I'm figuring it out, but it's a very delicate dance and one of the trickiest aspects of this calling so far. (Especially since the higher ups are really emphasizing that students are supposed to be in class for 40 minutes in order to get credit for that day. Keeping track of this and figuring out how to enforce it has been tough.)

    And marla, I'm definitely not one of those teachers who spends hours and hours creating complicated papier mache replicas of Mt. Sinai or, on the other hand, spends hours and hours studying Hugh Nibley's thoughts on consecration. I try my best to give a simple, spirit filled lesson. But it still takes me more than an hour a day, even with my teaching background. I'm hoping I'll become more efficient in my prep the longer I teach.

    And marla, I agree that this calling helps you live a more spiritually mindful, consecrated life. It's hard, yes, but it's a blessing.

  14. I am an EMS graduate and also taught EMS for 5 years. I gained my testimony in EMS, and got to study the scriptures for 3 hours every day as I taught.(I am unable to teach anything I can't understand or explain to myself) In between I was a full time Mom of 6. My non-member husband was retired when I started teaching and he faithfully took care of all my responsibilities (two kids were still at home) during the 3 hours it took me to prepare each day. It was an Awesome experience, I only quit because I promised my husband I would when my youngest child graduated from high school.
    I decided to smile and welcome whoever showed up what ever time they showed up! If all they got that day was a prayer and encouragement for the day as seminary closed I figured their day would go better in the messy world of high school. Those 48 kids I taught are the only teens I ever loved as much as my own kids. I would sign up again in a second!
    (Angela-teaching Old Testament has given me a lifetime appreciation of that scripture, I learned so much that year and if I ever go back to school I would love to major in Jewish studies)

  15. We live in Utah – with released time available – but my 15yo daughter is currently attending early morning seminary. Part of the reason is to fit more into her academic/artistic high school schedule. But she also learned from her older sister (who is now a student at BYU) that the early morning classes are more conducive to learning and to spiritual experiences – because the kids really have to want to be there to make it happen. Leaving the house before 6:00 isn't what she especially wants to do – and I'm glad that her dad can drop her off on the way to his carpool so I don't have to take her – but she's having a great experience. Thank you for being a caring early morning seminary teacher!

  16. Dear Angela –
    I had to laugh when I read your comment about the one hour a day of prep… we really don't know what we are getting into when we agree to teaching EMS, do we??!! However, this is my third year teaching and I have to say that it has been an incredible learning opportunity for myself as well as for the kids (i hope!) Mind you, I always tell them that I am learning way more than I can ever teach them or have time in the mornings!
    I have to agree with all of your points too – especially the part about how seminary and EMS really challenges us to be the best teachers that we can be. We have to be that early in the morning or else we have sleeping kids everyday (rather than just every other day!!! LOL)! I love how our seminary coordinators are helping to train us to be more effective in our teaching. The monthly training meetings have helped me to be more effective in my own study and understanding of the scriptures and hopefully this is translating into more interesting and spiritual lessons for the youth. The Old testament has been amazing and I find that I even understand the book of Mormon better now that we have studied Abraham, Jacob and now Moses. What a great blessing.
    On the subject of tardiness, I struggle with that too – but agree with other comments made that it's best to start on time. However, to avoid having too many interruptions during the lesson, I choose to just start with scripture chasing and S.Mastery for seminary bucks (we use the seminary$ at the end of the year for an auction of foods/gift cards and donations from the ward members) and then we have opening exercises and finally the lesson when most of my kids have settled into class. I also have candy to pass around to help them have some energy to start off with. This way, I feel like the youth are getting their "reward" for being on time with a gentle reminder to those who are regularly tardy.
    Thanks for taking time to blog and help me have a few laughs about our "common complaints". This is one of the hardest callings I have had – 2nd only to being a stake YW's president – but one that I would not want to miss. We all live for those lessons when everything is working and "all cylinders are firing" – but I think we can also be grateful when we have reached the one that needed to hear the lesson too.
    take care!

  17. Teaching Seminary is an amazing opportunity I was glad to have before my oldest was born. It sounds like you're making the most of it. You'll find it gets easier with experience.

    For the texting issues — why not have a basket up front where the kids drop off their cell phone and collect a Hershey Kiss everyday? That way, there's an incentive and a bit of peer pressure going on to keep them from that distraction.

    If you don't have enough time to make a huge plan for the next day, just take time to read through the scriptures in advance. If you're prepared at least that much, Heavenly Father will help you with the rest. But I would avoid using videos unless they're the ones approved for that year's curriculum. These kids are hungry for the gospel and don't need to be entertained.

  18. "there are some people who are SERIOUSLY NOT MORNING PEOPLE and it’s better not to poke the beehive."
    I could not agree with this more!

    "this was truly a sacred time for me.
    no call in the whole world is more sacred.
    getting up that early, and teaching and being IN the scriptures consecrated my life."

    THIS puts my feelings into words that I could have never expressed myself. Thank you. I feel such an extraordainary responsibility to these kids who are trying to find their way in life. Who would ever think that you could come to love 26 fourteen year olds in such a short amount of time?

  19. Wow, here's a THIRD Minnesota EMS student (where you others from? Rochester, myself) and happened to write about it today a little. (Gratuitous link.)

    And I'd second the comment above, "Start the class when it is supposed to start whether or not there is anyone besides you in the room." If you wait on them, you're telling them they control the class.

    Thank you for teaching. It ain't easy, even when you love the Old Testament like I do, and have Institute students instead of Seminary teens.

  20. To take one more thing of your plate you could let the kids do their own attendence. We always had an attendence sheet that we had to fill out. You can place them on the desks for when they come in and when there is only 40 minutes of class left you pick up the ones that aren't there. You can then mark them (in pen) as no attendence for the day.

    I don't think I appriciated the amount of time it took our teachers (especially the first year of any book) to prepare until my mother became an EMS teacher. She finally decided she had to set a length of time to prepare. I think it was 1.5 hour a day and then what time it took to read the actually scriptures for that lesson, after that time was up she had to move on.

    Oh the texting! In our young women's we have a pretty box and the girls drop there phones off when they come in and pick them up when they leave. We don't make a big deal about it and none of the girls have ever complained.

    I totally agree about having them use paper scriptures and no E-scriptures we were always marking, writing, glueing in our scriptures and I treasure my seminary scriptures because of it.

    Just a few more weeks until Christmas break. I think Santa needs to bring you a good night sleep.

  21. All of our children attended EMS, but I attended released time. I loved seminary and I learned so much. But I think that the added sacrifice of getting up so early was very powerful for our children.

    One of my sisters, whose children had released time, said something to me once about how she though that EMS kids should get something extra (meaning besides a certificate at the graduation) for going to EMS. I thought about it and replied, "They do…"

    It's really a daily power-charge to face the challenges of being part of a tiny minority of LDS people at a large high school. Bless all you self-less teachers.

  22. Thank you to all who teach early morning seminary. As a mother of 2 EMS students, I think you are a pearl of great price : ). My kids wouldn't start their school day any other way. Thank you for your time, dedication, patience and love!!

  23. My mother taught early morning seminary for a couple of years. She lured some of her students to attend faithfully by fixing something for their breakfast every morning because she felt that we would learn far better if we had food in our stomachs. At the time, I resented the amount of time and energy she spent in preparing lessons/food; however, I finally figured out that the food at our house that morning was all some of those kids would have until dinner at their own home that night, if there was anything to have for dinner. It was a small beginning in teaching me about charity. Now that I'm somewhat more grown up, I admire my mother even more for all that she did to have a successful seminary program.

  24. I don't normally chime in, but this is a post I can really relate to. I have the unique privilege of being one of only 2 (Church wide, I think) seminary teachers who teaches through teleconference, Skype Church, as we call. We live in Xiamen, China and I have 10 students in 5 cities all around the country of China. I understand your challenges and am envious of your ability to look them in the eye to inspire guilt!

    Here's to hoping that those seeds that are planted now will be the mature trees they need to withstand the storms that the rest of life will bring!

  25. Ashley – we use skype for one of the classes in our ward in Japan for students who live too far to get to church for EMS or need to leave too early for school (my daughter is in both categories), but it sounds like the Bishop is going to pull it next year leaving only home study for those kids (sigh)

    Do you know where the other class is? One in England was mentioned in the New Era earlier this year (or last..)

    But having lived in China, I am so happy that there are enough kids there to have a seminary class!

    Some mentioned above about seminary teachers not having to do anything else in the ward – guess that depends where you live `coz our teacher is also the Stake YW President.

  26. Love this post cause presently I am teaching EMS. But only to my son. Because he was late so much last year to school after attending seminary 20 minutes away (which isn't that much compared to some of you) he failed his first classes…and now my husband runs a night school and our older son is in college, I asked if we could do homestudy. Then since I was up teaching him anyway, the Bishop called me to teach, but was glad I didn't ask to be released as YW 1st cnslr. So it is easier than dealing with a bunch of sleepy kids. We start after he's showered at 6:20 and go till 7. I've found it a struggle so far to decide which section of the lesson material to coverr. There's so much! But it is great. I'm hoping to geta better groove going soon. Thanks to all EMS teachers out there! It is tough and I admire your sacrifice and feel like I should be more willing to drive him, but would miss the opportunity to teach.

  27. Thank you MB! You really get the gospel more than most! It's true we have no idea what it took to get them there, even late. Yours may be the only positive interaction they have all day. Make it a welcoming place, and they will want to be there(and they will want to get there earlier). They deserve kudos for showing up at all. Do you know what the other teens are doing? You wouldn't like it. Give these good kids a break. It's never a good idea to make anyone feel unwelcome at any church function, although I see it often. Charity means giving others the benefit of the doubt. Nowhere did Christ say: Be judgemental and disapproving! It is not in the gospel and is an area that really needs work for most. It may push them away from the gospel, and definitely interferes with the Holy Spirit. The sign says "All Are Welcome", not "All Who Are Prompt Are Welcome! Christ did say: "Judge not, that ye be not judged, for with what judgement ye mete, so shall ye be judged". If you want to be judged kindly, be kind. If the tardiness is a real thorn in your side I suggest doing something non-punitive about it. Maybe you could start the class 15 minutes earlier for the 1st month to get everyone used to getting there. Then you could back it off to the desired time as a reward for the class. Then everyone who was 10 minutes late will be 5 minutes early! Remember not to stress out because of others using their agency. If you are doing your part, then you have nothing to fear as they make their choices. Thank you to all who teach EMS, and to all who attended Seminary in any way. You strengthen the church when you build up yourself and others. πŸ™‚

  28. angela — this made me laugh so hard!

    I’m definitely not one of those teachers who spends hours and hours creating complicated papier mache replicas of Mt. Sinai or, on the other hand, spends hours and hours studying Hugh Nibley’s thoughts on consecration.

    amen! i once went to a relief society lesson on marriage where the woman stayed up late to make everyone little wedding cakes. πŸ™‚
    they were good… but i still laugh about that.

    also, maybe i didn't do enough for preparing … i don't know. it's hard to say. my mom was the type to spend hours and hours… and i saw how it completely engulfed her and so it made me take the opposite approach.

    and maybe, it doesn't matter if they get anything out of seminary. maybe it's just the act of being there and getting there… ?
    all i know is that they are blessed for being there. and even if they don't learn anything at all, they have access to the Spirit — and it's unconscious. but it goes with them to school and to work.

    i could almost see the light, literally with my students… as they left seminary. truly a sight to behold.

  29. Really fun to read this stuff. My oldest starts EMS next year and then we will have 14 straight years of EMS for our 4 kids. Yikes!
    My biggest stress about it is:
    1. Lack of sleep for the teenager. Did you know that getting less sleep increases obesity rates?
    2. Homework/Stress
    3. Bonding issues
    My kids will have a choice of 2 seminary classes/building. Should they attend the one near their high school with no one they know? Sure, they will go to high school with those kids but it is a big school and they realistically won't even see each other at school. Or should they go to the one at our ward building where they know the few kids from church and they know some kids from the other ward because we combine midweek activities.
    On Sundays my daughter is one of only two YW. On Wednesdays she bonds with kids she won't go to high school with. Current kids in her position choose to go to seminary with ward kids rather than school kids….but that is because they actually have already bonded with ward kids. She hasn't. But now she has the opportunity to either bond sleepily with the wednesday night activity kids from the other ward that goes to our building, or the unknown kids at the building near the high school. Definitely a stressful decision. And what if our next kid wants to make a different decision! Ack!

  30. jks-

    When I was an EMS student, there were similar geographical quandaries for students in our ward and the ward in the next town. My observation was that there wasn't one best way to do it, but certainly things were better for a student if he or she thoughtfully made the choice independently and knew that it could be changed if and when circumstances changed. Agency is a powerful thing.

    I believe that if you express confidence in your children and their choices in regards to their righteous desires to participate in seminary study that empowers them to choose to learn there and take more personal responsibility for their own religious education, a very helpful step in growing up.

    I also believe that, when that year arrives, if your two children righteously choose different sites and you go to the Lord he will open the way for you to be able to figure out how proceed.

  31. And if it's helpful,
    My three kids did EMS and though the sleep deprivation was challenging and the homework load increased they ended up learning how to budget their time even more diligently, they still did fine in school and they didn't gain weight.

  32. Back in the mid-1950's my father and a handful of other men in our Washington, D.C., Stake (which back then included most of Virginia, Maryland, and part of Pennsylvania) petitioned Church leaders in Salt Lake to allow our stake to organize an early morning seminary program. Although the Salt Lake people doubted the program would succeed, our stake began the first early morning seminary program east of Denver, Co. It was a great blessing in our lives to attend EMS, since most of us had only one or two other member in our school, and "Mormons" mostly were unheard of or regarded with suspicion by the general population in the East. Seminary was our time to bond, strengthen each other, and build our testimonies. I will always remember gratefully our early morning teachers and the parents who kept our EMS going.

  33. Fortunately, my 15 year old loves attending seminary, she just doesn't like having to be there so early: 6:15. I've read several studies that have come out recently regarding sleep deprivation in teens. It's really unhealthy for them. Our entire family is sleep deprived. Between homework and activities: church, included, it's not possible to be in bed by 9 every evening. It's not realistic to have such an early morning program, these students have 12-15 hour days depending on homework, etc.We can't all live in Utah. They need more sleep, it's been proven medically time after time.

  34. Thanks for the words of encourgement. I've appreciated the comments on this board. They've made me feel better about what I am doing. I just started teaching EMS this year, and while I thought that I started on the right foot, lately I've been feeling in sort of a rut.

    I don't track tardies at all. I just decided one day that if they missed a certain amount of class time, they wouldn't get credit for the day, so it is a little less burdensome administratively. They sign the roll as they come in and I just pull it when the cutoff time has come.

  35. Having taught EMS for 13 years,it has such a special place in my heart. I felt so blessed personally and I know that our family was blessed for my service (my husband being Bishop at the time probably helped too!)- sleep deprivation and all πŸ™‚
    Sadly, my personal scripture study has never had the same "depth" since then, it just hasn't no matter how I try- does that make sense?

    My thoughts on the tardiness issue: it's always been a problem and will always be a problem. In my experience, it's often the parents that are at fault, so taking it out on the kids is not good. Teachers in our stake (I'm the Stake Seminary Supervisor now) swear by their policy of having hot chocolate available BEFORE class starts. Only those who get there a few minutes early are served.

    God bless all of you Seminary teachers!!

    PS: issuing letter grades (none lower than "C") is an allowed option for Seminary, though it may not be the norm in your area. Some teachers think it's a great motivator, though personally I was never a huge fan and usually went with the complete/incomplete policy.

  36. I experience the same challenges like you do, but teaching seminary class and witness them grow in their faith is priceless. Let's never give up on them or we'll miss a miracle. πŸ™‚ This afternoon, we all agreed that instead of having a breakfast after their seminary class, we'll serve it before they start.

    I love this calling, it's helping to study more deeply on the scriptures. I am not a product of early morning seminary program, but I wish I had attended early morning class too :)…

  37. Dawn,
    You are right. It is not possible to do seminary without making a sacrifice. It is not possible to be a high school student who is doing the necessary studying and also get to bed by 9pm each night in order to get up at 5am for seminary.

    EMS students sacrifice sleep. Release time students sacrifice a class they'd like to take at school during that period. After school seminary students sacrifice after school extra-curricular activities.

    When our children were little our ward once opted to offer a home study option for students whose families did not wish for them to attend its early morning classes. One of those students, after doing so for her last two years of high school, spoke in sacrament meeting and said she missed out on daily interaction with other students and the spiritual insights they offered and learned less than she had those first two years. Her words gave me pause. Our ward stopped offering that option.

    (This is not to cast aspersions at those students all over the world who study at home. A small, far-flung branch in our stake uses home study and is grateful that it is an option.)

    Fortunately, seminary is a choice. Your children can choose whether or not to attend. You can choose whether or not you wish do what it takes to get them there. You can look at the cost squarely in the eye and choose whether or not it is worth the sacrifice. And once you choose, either way, you can choose the attitude with which you will respond to the challenges that will come with whichever choice you make and employ your most ingenious creativity in tackling them.

    Enjoy the journey!

  38. Thank you to all the EMS teachers!

    My daughter appreciates the strength she derives from seminary and chooses to go. She is not often on time though. Mornings are difficult for some people more than others. Don't choose to be offended because your teenage students have weaknesses. Perhaps if you lovingly forgive theirs, they will overlook yours as well. They are working on improving many aspects of their lives with many obstacles – difficult school classes with the pressure to get into a good college, hidden physical or mental issues, family problems, social awkwardness, wavering testimony, etc. – have compassion.

    I do tell my daughter that if seminary is worth getting up early, it is worth being on time.

  39. I taught early morning for 10 years and the bond with those kids is amazing. I know that the blessing come long after class is over. I have been to the Temple with many of the kids.
    I am gratful for those years and I miss teaching but have to say sleep is so good.

  40. My eldest child started EMS this year and it the greatest blessing in our life right now. She hardly ever gets up for church on a Sunday so misses most weeks. She loathes anything to do with the gospel at home, especially FHE and prayers. This year has been terrible as she has broken almost every commandment going. The gossip at church is awful, you can imagine how some love to critcise us as the Bishop's family. For some reason she loves seminary. I have to admit when she started I honestly did not expect her to last long. If nothing else there is a teacher there who makes a difference to her, she is learning and loved there. May her teacher be blessed beyond measure for all she does.

  41. Thank you for all the wonderful comments on EMS. I have been teaching seminary here in Switzerland for many many years. We meet five times a week. Wednesday evening (taught by another sister) before YM/YW, and four times in the mornings between 6 and 6.45 am. Since not all students can come to Church or my house we have class by Skype video conference!! We can all see and hear eachother. Despite occasional technical difficulties we are having a very uplifting time. Attendance is almost always 100 percent. What a great way to start the day!!!!

  42. I taught early morning Seminary for 3 years and had to take a break due to back surgery. I never thought I'd get to do it again and missed 8 years. Now, I'm on my 2nd year of teaching (or 5 if you count them all!) and I wouldn't give it up for the extra sleep in a million years. The kids aren't the only ones being blessed, my life is better in every way.

    The help get my kids there, I have some special treats. Just for the time before class starts. It's hard to have something there everyday, so I make it "most" days and small treats usually, but they do come rushing in, looking to see if they made it for the on time treat.

    I can spend one hour a day to prep, but that's when I've done the reading ahead and thought up any extras before hand. I try to spend Sunday looking at the entire week to come and it makes weeknights much easier. I also peek a few weeks ahead so I'm on top of opportunities.

    Isn't this the best calling EVER?!!

  43. Beautiful comments here. Inspiring and encouraging. I also love seminary (took EM as a teen and have taught EM as well.)

    I'd love to reopen the discussion about sleep deprivation and teens. We have now escorted two teens through the seminary program. Neither did early morning, as that was not an option where we lived. Instead, they did four years of weekly classes, daily home study, and additional classes on Sundays. We have two more children yet to be taken through the four years. Our current teen, almost 16 years old, is doing daily EMS at our chapel which is a 15 minute drive from our home, and class begins at 6:00, which means he is arising at 5:10 to get to that class on time.

    My very real concern is that, given this son's academic workload at a highly competitive international Asian-based high school (it's the equiv. of a US prep school/college) that keeps him doing homework nightly until at least 11:00, and often til midnight, his attention and endurance and overall physical well being are literally morphing into mild craziness right before my eyes. The lethal spiral of sleep deprivation-exhaustion-shortened attention span-lack of concentration-more time needed for homework-later bed time-sleep deprivation has reached a crisis point. Research shows you cannot "compensate" for hours of sleep lost during the week by "tanking up" with a long nap on the weekends. (And my boy is spending every Saturday doing homework all day long, anyway, so he can't take the five hour nap his body craves, anyway. . .)

    Of note: we watch no TV in our home, have never had video games, no X Box, no Wii, no computer games, have tight filters on every computer. . .there's little possibility of random techno-based time wasting. . .Beyond that, my son does no after school sports, no extracurriculars except tutoring for math and one 30 minute piano lesson per week. Let's see. . .and 20 mins allotted for dinner each night (except for 1 hour for dinner with FHE on Mondays . ..) Sounds militaristic, I know, but this is how it has to function at our home in order to just keep up.

    I have taught seminary, both EM and weekly, and believe in the program and the blessings of increased faith and deepened connection to the spirit, esp as the teenager begins his/her day at school. I believe in it all. I cannot deny the marvelous benefits of what the sacrifices and dedication bring, including a love for scripture.

    Neither can I deny, however, the realities of what is happening to my son's disposition and attention span, not to mention his confidence in his ability to merely keep up AND "be righteous and faithful". . .

    These articles below are mildly alarming in light of what we are discussing here. What do you all think? What have you done, if you have been in similar circumstances?




  44. Melissa, I think you raise some really valid concerns. When we bought our house here last year, one of my top reasons was because our school district has late start high school, a new program stemming from all the research you cite. I was really concerned about my teenagers' ability to do an early morning program that began at 6:00 (and, frankly, concerned about my own ability to get them there as well). Our seminary class begins at 7:00 a.m. — a much, much more doable time. But even 7:00 a.m. is difficult. Between extracurriculars, grade pressure, and part time jobs, so many of my students are simply dragging themselves to class on very little sleep.

    It's a difficult decision, to be sure, and I can't say that if we had EMS at 6:00 I wouldn't choose to do home study for my kids. (We have a really good home study teacher in our ward.)But I'm so grateful that my kids have the opportunity to do EMS at a more reasonable time because of the program's great benefits. I know we're lucky.

  45. Sweet Angela. . .maybe one day. πŸ™‚ Might be driven to move if only for that one little extra hour of sleep each day!

    I'd love to recruit you to teach EM Seminary in Singapore. I'd enroll myself, no joke.


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