A worldwide collective sigh of relief was almost audible Sunday as LDS teachers implemented the much-anticipated new curriculum for youth titled "Come, Follow Me."
For some, walking into a classroom of teens without the security of a printed manual was nerve-wracking. Personally, I was more concerned about whether I had trained myself well enough to know what was expected of me while also tailoring my preparation to the needs and personalities of my students.
I share the following in hopes that other teachers will also share their experiences and ideas in the comment section of this column on deseretnews.com.
Last week, I set up a new, private Facebook group to include all the members of our class. I also requested to be friends with the teens on my roll who have never attended on Sundays and only received one, very polite “No thank you.” I posted several “Come, Follow Me” video clips and promised to post something every Thursday to prepare for our Sunday lessons/conversations.
I read through many of the suggested resources for the monthly theme online and kept coming back to the comforting idea that I needed structure and a routine for our time together — boundaries for me as I prepared and topics that were predictable so students could prepare as well.
I woke up Sunday morning with a solid list that included seven categories: missionary stories, conference addresses, scripture references, "Preach My Gospel" presentations, “deep thoughts” to start conversations, assignments for students to post lesson-related spiritual thoughts to our Facebook group and heartfelt prayers that include weekly goals.
With the influx of a large group of 15-year-olds, my class size bulged and we sat almost knee-to-knee in a circle in my tiny corner room reminiscent of my old MTC days. Since President Thomas S. Monson’s announcement about lowering the age requirements for missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I decided to continue the tradition of teaching my Sunday School lessons with missionary preparation overtones.
After an opening prayer and some introductions to the new structure, I announced that each student would now be “companions” with the person sitting next to them for the next hour and would participate in tandem when it was their turn. I passed around my topic cards, and each companionship accepted the assignments with materials I provided and took a few minutes to prepare. During this time, I wrote on the chalkboard one of Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s deep thoughts on the topic of the Godhead and passed out “Sunday School journals” for them to copy the quote and then write any impressions or a sentence that began with “I believe ”
When all were sufficiently ready, we dissected Elder Maxwell’s challenging description of the role our Father in heaven plays in our everyday life. Some students offered ideas; others scribbled down thoughts; and it definitely graduated our discussion from primary passé to intellectually stimulating.
Then, I sat down, shut my mouth and let the students take over:
• Missionary stories — The first set of students shared the story told by Elder David A. Bednar in his “Tender Mercies” general conference address about a stake president who had a dream about one of the youths in his stake dressed and teaching as a missionary. The comments that followed included how important it is for each of us to realize that God knows who we are individually and how patriarchal blessings do just that. I promised to provide a missionary story each week, either from the suggested materials or from my own missionary journal, but encouraged them to bring a story if they wanted as well.
• Scripture references — The next companionship shared ideas they learned about the Godhead from four or five recommended scripture references with short and appropriate insights.
• Facebook assignment — The next companionship performed an enthusiastic fist pump when they realized they had the “day off” with no class assignment, but still accepted the challenge to post something to our Facebook group about the Godhead before next Sunday. It was only a few hours after church that one girl shared the insightful words to a Primary song on the topic.
• "Preach My Gospel" — For the whole month of January, one companionship per week will take turns teaching a simple paragraph from page 31 of “Preach My Gospel” and then each will share their testimony on God being our loving Heavenly Father. The two girls who taught together are not the same age and barely know each other but came together in unison to bring the Spirit pouring into our classroom. One shared the spiritual strength she gained while going through horrific complications of wisdom teeth extraction last summer and receiving many priesthood blessings. The other shared how her family stayed unified through sweet spiritual experiences while being separated in three places during the long process of a move across the state. Both had tears come to their eyes, as did mine, and I had to shout out, “Now this is what it’s all about” after recognizing the Spirit that illuminated our classroom.
• Conference talk — We wrapped up the lesson with another companionship sharing ideas I highlighted in advance from another Elder Bednar conference address.
• Class goals — We then prayed together with the companion to the boy who gave the opening prayer offering sweet words about our joint goal for the week. The kids turned in their Sunday School journals to be guarded by me until next week, and I tried to offer as many compliments as I could as they left.
While the time went quickly, it also seemed just right. The pace was engaging. The participation was wonderful. And no one seemed too embarrassed or hesitant to share.
I look forward to the evolution of our structured time together — for Sundays when they come prepared with their own materials and for suggestions from them and inspiration from above.
It’s going to be a great year!