(update) Author’s note: This post is first in a series about my experiences and reflections on teaching seminary on a volunteer basis over the past year. No statement therein necessarily represents the positions of the Seminaries & Institutes Program or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Most universities are already out, but high school students are still wrapping up their year (poor kids). Our seminary class is no different; we’ve basically got Jonah and Malachi ahead of us and then we’re done.
I’ve spent the past year teaching seminary on a volunteer basis (a calling from the stake), and, per curriculum, we’ve focused on the Old Testament. I’d like to post a series (of to-be-determined length) on my experiences as a teacher coming from a graduate religious studies background outside of the CES training environment. This first post is about me and my students as a way of setting the stage.
I went to early morning seminary throughout high school in a relatively affluent part of the Salt Lake valley. I enjoyed my experience very much and even served on my school’s “seminary council,” on which I made many life-long friends. After high school and a mission, I went to a church-owned university to get a degree in ancient history and languages and then graduated from a different school with a graduate degree in Biblical studies. I now live with my wife and new daughter in one of the least Mormon states in the country. As a fellow ward member, I want my students’ testimonies of the Gospel to grow stronger. As a graduate student of religious texts, I want my students to understand how the literature and history in the Old Testament can impact their lives. As a father with a daughter, I am sensitive to the way young women are taught, encouraged, and spoken to in an LDS educational environment.
About the Students
In several ways, my class is completely different from the seminary classes I attended in high school. Our ward is the urban center of its eponymous stake. As such, it is comprised of relatively high-crime, low-income areas and surrounded by neighboring wards with much larger land area and higher affluence among their members. Release time, of course, is out of the question, but the ward is small enough in land area to handle a daily early-morning class. There are six students in the class (edit: each of whom go to a different school — some public, others private). Of those, half are white, half are boys, and only two come from traditional, nuclear families. Nevertheless, the students with the best attendance are those with the weakest support structure from home in terms of two parents who are members with transportation and encouragement.
In other ways, this class is very much like the ones I attended in high school. Some students are eager to learn and participate. Others would rather give monosyllabic non-answers and mumble through the scripture readings. None are happy about waking up for seminary that early. All are eager to live the standards of the church, though they’re only just coming to terms with them. In short they’re in a very formational period of their lives full of growing and learning, and what teenagers aren’t?
In future posts, I’d like to write about some observations and experiences, teaching young people, the Old Testament, and the curriculum. I’d also welcome any questions and post suggestions, so feel free to comment!