Latter-day Saint Life

What happened when a Chicago seminary class took over for their sick teacher

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I waited to see if the teasing would escalate, but the class continued on.
Photo courtesy of Colleen Thomas

At 6 a.m., it’s often difficult to tell if seminary students are learning—or even listening: most teens don’t regain their daily zest for life before midmorning. But an experience with students in my home-based early morning seminary class in suburban Chicago taught me that not only are they absorbing more than we think, but they are also far more capable than we sometimes give them credit for.

It started the night before, when my slight cold turned into the full-fledged flu. By 8 p.m., I had a slight fever and very little voice left, so teaching seminary ten hours later would be impossible. And even if I were able to speak, it wouldn’t be right to spew germs along with my nuggets of gospel knowledge at my five students. Getting a substitute was not an option, and I didn’t want to cancel class. As I weighed what to do, a bit of inspiration fell softly into my psyche.

I’ll have the students teach themselves, I thought. They’re capable. And don’t the teaching experts say that the person doing the talking is the one doing the learning?

It would be a perfect learning opportunity—with no risk of them getting sick! I got to work preparing instructions for the lesson the students would now give.

Morning came, and I lay on the upstairs couch wrapped in a blanket as the students came in the back door and walked down to the basement classroom. The first thing they saw, next to an attendance sheet, was a sign that said, “Welcome to YOU Run Seminary, while Sister Thomas keeps her germs to herself.” Since Wednesday is always hot chocolate day, I soon heard the clinking of mugs and stirring of spoons downstairs. A minute or two later came the canned hymn music from the old boom box. That meant Khaylen, following the instruction sheet, was leading the opening song. Leila said the prayer. Cameron reviewed the scripture the class had been memorizing. I listened as the verse was mumbled in unison, buoyed that the students were willing to try.

Naturally, I was eager to see the class unfold, so I positioned my achy self at the top of the steps, out of flu-sharing range but where I could secretly watch what was going on. The class was now moving to the TV area to watch a video about the Kirtland Temple. Conor got it started and passed out a sheet of questions I’d prepared for them to answer during the 16-minute presentation.

“All right, what did you get for number one?” Conor asked the group when the video was finished. The students stayed attentive while going over all 12 questions. Not surprisingly, the humorous trivia question I had included—how many stars were on the schoolhouse flag shown in the video—generated the most discussion, but I was OK with that.

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Last on the agenda was a discussion about temples to help them prepare for a ward temple trip to do baptisms for the dead at the Chicago temple that night. Amanda had students turn to section 109 in the Doctrine and Covenants and asked her sister to read the brief introduction to the section. Instead, Khaylen read the entire summary.

“That wasn’t the introduction,” Amanda chided, in her older-sibling way.

“Well, you didn’t stop me,” Khaylen protested.

I smiled at their sisterly teasing and waited to see if it would escalate, but the class continued on, and each student took a turn reading three verses from section 109. Amanda did her best to create a discussion—not an easy task even for seasoned teachers. When Amanda got to what our class calls the “thought question,” a writing prompt for students to answer in their journals, she not only read it, but also wrote it on the board. That’s something I always try to do. Seeing her embrace what I had modeled was touching to me.

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Students from left to right: Conor, Cameron, Amanda, Leila, and Khaylen.
Colleen Thomas

Class then ended on time. I praised the students with my gravelly voice as they gathered their things, then I retreated back to my couch where I could reflect on what I, their teacher, had learned that morning. The handful of students in my charge each day have a deep desire to learn. They want to be involved; they want to contribute. Perhaps most importantly, they watch what I do, and they’re listening even when I might think otherwise.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf says youth need opportunities to teach each other: “Often our young people are the only members at their schools. … They need to understand that whatever they’re doing, they’re always teaching. If we provide our young people with teaching opportunities, encouraging them not to be ashamed of the gospel, we will help them greatly.”

Teaching isn’t just for the teacher. My class that day showed me that young people will rise, sometimes with a little prompting, other times on their own, to fill a need. A teacher’s job is to show them the way and then let them take it from there.

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