In agency based education, the role of the teacher is more like a coach than a lecturer or manager. Your main purpose is to bring a spirit of excitement and to lay out the “game plan” for each subject of study. You fulfill your role and stewardship as you encourage students to increase their ability to access information and have experiences that build both depth and width in their person. You are there to teach students how to think, not what to think. You will help them ask and search and seek.
Be careful not to provide the students all of the answers. Knowledge dispensed too easily is just as easily forgotten. The game plan for a given subject must always honors the student and their parents by respecting their beliefs and goals. Students attend the group to be supported in their learning and they have you to show the example of how and why to learn during group time. During independent study (or another teacher’s subject), you support the students by being available to show interest, model leadership behavior, and help students who have questions. Coaching students means being engaged in their studies and providing positive feedback and encouragement whenever possible. Like in any other game, as a coach, you help the students see their group as a team that can learn together and from each other. Allow students opportunities to share good experiences and encourage growth.
As a teacher, you have a great responsibility to lead by example. In addition to being a representative of the truths you will be presenting during group time, you are also an example of a purpose driven adult. Your students are watching how you dress, how you carry yourself, how you interact with others, and how you feel about learning. Attention to your personal development, depth of character, and continual development towards being a master teacher are of the utmost importance.
Experience has shown that often traditional teacher certification or accreditation does not necessarily prepare one to teach in this environment. The training that individuals undergo in order to teach in a compulsory education setting is often counter-intuitive to honoring the parent-child relationship and the process of self-directed leadership education. Often mothers, fathers, entrepreneurs, and passionate community leaders make engaging and inspiring teachers. Having a love for the subjects you teach will inspire the children you serve infinitely more than anything else.
Keeping close ties with the other teachers and leaders who are working with you to support the families in your local group will create a strong positive team culture and dynamic that will bless everyone involved. Meeting together in the morning to hold a staff devotional helps build these relationships and prepares you to give your best to your students.
Teachers are compensated based on the size of their stewardship. Teachers are paid a certain percentage of each student’s tuition. If there is room to expand your stewardship and serve more by either taking on more opportunities to teach or by adding more students to your group, your compensation will increase accordingly. For the specific subjects you teach, fully understand the philosophy behind why and how students need to learn that topic.
There is great need, especially for students new to this format, to see that there is valuable reason to learn, benefits to challenges, and joy in understanding and accomplishment. Younger students need more time from the teacher to guide the process, provide examples, and lead them to the solutions. Students need the opportunity to win the knowledge for themselves. It is not your role as a teacher to entertain, but to challenge them to think and help them see connections. The teacher inspires the students to do their own independent studies, to share their work with their parents, and to teach or serve with the knowledge gained. Great teachers ask more questions than they give answers.
In a Scholar level group, for self-paced subjects (math, science, and language arts) group time starts with a teacher presentation or group activity. This is a time to expose your group to new information, engage them in hands on activities, or just show them how much fun that subject can be! Your teaching time can be focused on a topic that many of your student’s have questions about. Paying close attention to what each of your students is focusing on during their independent study time can help you tailor your group activities to better serving their needs.
As you prepare to teach, plan to cover information that will inspire the students to want to learn more. Always include information about both what it is and why it is. An example would be to teach about fractions with that hands on activity, then take the time to discuss situations in the student’s daily lives where parts of a whole matter. You can even find places in the scriptures where parts of a whole are recognized or used.
Make sure that you are sensitive to time. The time you lead the group is meant to inspire, not to be the entirety of their learning experience. Leave them wanting more and follow through if you spark a fire of excitement for a topic. For a self-paced topic, you’ll know when you’ve hit the mark when the students jump into their studies seeking to find the treasures there after your lesson. For a discussion or group centered topic, you want the students to be excited to continue the discussion and do their independent study to prepare for it ahead of time. End your time with the group by sharing some excitement about the next time you teach, or with something they can do to continue their learning. The order and topics of your lessons matter very little in the scheme of things.
When you prepare for a presentation ahead of time ponder how you can create a positive learning environment. As you prayerfully plan, your efforts will be blessed and will be more successful. Each student is unique and even though you will not understand all of their interests, achievements, needs, and concerns, you should seek to be sensitive to their circumstances. Regardless of needs or problems, all people are best helped as they understand and live their purpose. God knows His children, so pray for the gift of discernment, and pay attention to thoughts that come to your mind or feelings you have about what to teach.
You will be able to adjust your teaching as you are spiritually prepared and as you get to know your group. Orson F. Whitney said, “Perfect education… is the full and uniform development of the mental, the physical, the moral and the spiritual faculties. The cultivation of the intellect, as said, is but one phase of the subject, and not by any means the most important one.” This description of a “perfect education,” is a valuable mindset. Keeping perfect education the goal is valuable in keeping all the players in the education “game” focused on the real goal – a compassionate, capable, purpose driven soul.
As a teacher, you are never to assign homework, judge/grade work or set goals for your students. The goal is to inspire learning and support the family. Parents have the divine stewardship to require things from their children; teachers, leaders, schools, and governments do not. Only parents get to say how the members of their family spend their time when at home. Parents are welcome to require that additional academic work be done during the student’s free time, but it is not the place of the teacher to dictate this.
Evaluate your teaching. After every teaching opportunity, evaluate how well you did. Did you focus on the principle? Did you inspire the students to grow in their thinking? Did you prepare them to do their own independent study? Did you help the students value their tools, including their scriptures, and the principles they are learning? Did you use effective questions? Did you share your feelings about why the principle or subject is meaningful or important? Did the students participate? Did you help the students resolve their own concerns?
New or younger students that are not familiar with goal oriented, self-directed education tend to doubt their abilities to find answers to their own problems and will initially rely on the teacher for answers. With a constant prayer for the gift of discernment, you can help encourage and support students in becoming more independent and confident in their ability to search and find. Follow your impressions and gently lead the student to answering their own questions. First seek to understand their concerns by asking questions and listening. Encourage them to study it out on their own, or to recall principles they’ve previously learned that will help them in their current struggle. Often a question of “Where can you find that information?” or “What is that like?” is enough for them to jump back on the path to independent study and learning.
This process is also extremely important when referring to scriptures or principles of faith. Remember, you are not teaching students how to interpret scripture at school, that is for the student to do in their own heart and mind, then they are to check their ideas with their parents. Excellent communities are created when families come from multi denominational backgrounds, all with the understanding that religious beliefs will vary from family to family. Your role as a teacher is to create a safe and loving environment for students to develop their faith. Parents will set the religious curriculum or scripture for their students.