I moved into a new ward about six weeks ago, and the first week the bishop came by and asked me to take a new temporary calling: teaching gospel doctrine to the older teenagers for a few weeks because the usual teacher was going out of town. He called me back today to ask if I needed to be relieved of duty, and I told him I felt a lot like Lt. John Dunbar in “Dances With Wolves” — abandoned at the “soldier fort,” never to see civilization again.
And the natives are not nearly as friendly as the Sioux.
OK, I’m kind of joking. Actually, the older teenagers (16-18) in the class are quite good — interested in learning, knowledgeable about the scriptures. When you ask them provocative questions, they respond and are interested in discussion.
The younger teenagers (14-15) are, for the most part, very difficult. They pop gum, giggle, crack jokes, steal my notes when I have my back turned, send each other notes, play with their cell phones, laugh hilariously for no reason — complete disruption. They never have serious answers to anything, never read the assignment, never have anything positive to add. The worst part about it is that they are ruining the environment for the rest of the class, and there is no sign of the Spirit in that classroom — the Holy Ghost has apparently fled far, far way back to civilization.
To be quite frank, I love teaching, but there have been times the last few weeks when I have had to stop myself from packing up my stuff and just walking out.
My wife has suggested I take the most disruptive of the younger kids and drag them away to their parents. That’s not my style. Instead, whenever they are causing a scene I call on them to answer questions: “So, Joe, why do you think Ammon and Aaron and the Lamanites keep on passing out — what is the purpose of that? We don’t see people passing out today when overcome by the Spirit — why did it happen to them?” Usually Joe will mumble something about how he doesn’t know. But at least I have him engaged for 15 seconds.
There is, as always, a lesson here. I have had my problems with rebellious teenagers over the years. The lesson I have learned personally is that I can only win them over with humility and long-suffering. I am way too gruff and mean to get away with being the bad guy. Instead, I have to be the very calm, patient good guy, the guy who just takes all of the arrows the teenagers can fire at me. I just need to stand there smiling and try to soldier on until the bitter end.
And maybe over time I can win the natives over. Who knows, maybe I can even learn their language and make friends — John Dunbar did it, why can’t I?