Building Souls Into Immortality--A Teacher's Responsibility

by President David O. McKay

The Instructor, June 1968

[213] Teachers, you are the "foster parents" of our children. Many of them come from homes in which they are well trained. Some come from homes in which seldom is mentioned anything about religion or the higher virtues. Some may even come from homes in which the name of the Lord is taken in vain. I dislike to think this is true, but I am compelled to admit it. And so the teacher enters the realm of what not to do as well as the realm of what to do.

In the garden of the human soul, as well as in the fields of human endeavor, there are thorns and thistles as well as flowers and useful plants.

You who teach—you may not be recognized as a great teacher, you may not be able logically to outline your lesson, or to present it as impressively as you would like to; but this is possible for every one of you: You can have your pupils meet a teacher who is prayerful and who is sincere in her desire to touch the hearts of these darlings. That is the most effective means a teacher can employ. Little children and young people alike feel what you are and are impressed thereby more than by what you say, even when the lesson is presented in a very interesting manner. You believe what you teach, and you want your class to believe it and to live it. Thus, you may sow the seed and leave it nourishment, and it will unfold to the future hand of Providence.

How do you know but that there may be in your class a future scientist, a great sculptor, a leading statesman, a great missionary? John Trebonius, we read, was a plain, old-fashioned professor and schoolteacher, but one who always took a respectful attitude toward his boys and girls. He would say, if they seemed to be a little unruly, "Who knows? There may be among my pupils a great poet, a great preacher, a great philosopher!" Well, numbered among those in his class was a chubby little urchin named Martin Luther, who in later [214] years, because of conscience, said at an assembly of the Diet of Worms:

Unless I am convicted by [testimonies of the] Scripture and plain reason...I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe...Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.

Taste for Wholesome Literature

Once a week, and oftener, teachers, yours is the opportunity to have the students dwell in an atmosphere of cleanliness and purity, to give them a taste of wholesome literary food which may enable them to detect and to detest unsavory, immoral stories that may later be thrust into their hands—books profaning the name of Deity, books and pamphlets reeking with illustrations of the seamy side of life. Do your utmost to develop in those young people a taste for the best in literature and life. There are far to many low-class pamphlets and books floating among our young people today.

Speaking of this, a writer quoted by James L. Gordon in The Young Man and His Problems, asks: "Why should the low and vicious be selected as the type, and served up in literature as mental pablum? 'Oh,' says one, 'they are facts!'" Mr. Gordon, the author, responds: "Well, a dead dog in a back lane is a fact, and a very repulsive one; but that is not reason for placing it on the sideboard. Much of the literature that finds its way into the homes and minds of the people is of this 'dead-dog' variety and needs burying quickly and deeply with no hope of resurrection."

I love teachers; I think theirs is the noblest of all professions. I do not know who wrote it—but it is said wisely:

A builder builded a temple,

He wrought it with grace and skill;

Pillars and groins and arches,

All fashioned to work his will.

Men said,when they saw its beauty,

"It shall never know decay;

Great is thy skill, O Builder!

Thy fame shall endure for aye."

A teacher builded a temple,

With loving and infinite care,

Planning each arch with patience,

Laying each stone with prayer.

None praised her unceasing efforts,

None knew of her wondrous plan,

For the temple the teacher builded,

Was unseen by the eyes of man.

Gone is the builder's temple,

Crumpled into dust;

Low lies each stately pillar

Food for consuming rust.

But the temple the teacher builded

Will last while the ages roll,

For that beautiful unseen temple

Was a child's immortal soul.

The Building Bricks

The bricks the teacher builds and puts into that immortal temple are the truths, the virtues, the ideals that your lessons illustrate, or are impressively given by you.

The word "lessons" may refer to something learned, taught, or assigned. I shall refer to it here as a completed plan, prepared by the teacher to be presented to the members of her class. Do not feel now that I am idealistic as I mention a few facts connected with this lesson—the means, the material you use to build this immortal soul.

There are four principal parts of a lesson which the teacher must ever keep in mind: Preparation, Presentation, Illustration, and Application. And how delighted I am as I read the current lesson manuals of the Church to see in each lesson given to the younger groups and to the older groups, these four principal steps.

In preparation, the teacher should first study the lesson so thoroughly as to be able to visualize every detail without the aid of books or manuals. That lesson given in the manual was seen by the writer; but is it his lesson—or is it yours? It is not yours if you have to read it to the children. You read what is in the manual; then go to the source of that lesson and make it your own.

Drink from a Fresh Fountain

I once knew a teacher who was preparing from her manual a lesson on loyalty. The subject for the lesson was Queen Esther—a beautiful lesson. The account given in the manual was good. But as the teacher read it and set it aside, it was not hers. So she reread the Book of Esther. It was like drinking from a fresh fountain, because all the pictures in her mind of Ahasuerus, Mordecai, Queen Esther's reason for being in the palace, Mordecai's concern about the Jews who were in bondage, the villainy of Haman—all began to shape themselves—and the facts in this dramatic story became hers.

Then that teacher brought them together to see [215] how she could give them to her class so that they would feel the loyalty of that great woman. She wrote these facts out on a piece of paper to impress them upon her mind; and then she looked, and there she had before her the subject, the text, the truth to be taught—LOYALTY—and then four topics, each one of which would impress that principle of loyalty upon her class:

  1. The terrible decree against the Hebrews. What does this mean? You could tell the children what that would mean: those little boys and girls over there subject to death—sentenced to death by a villain.
  2. Mordecai putting on sackcloth and ashes and coming to the gates and appealing to the queen, "Won't you please save us from this terrible decree?"
  3. The queen's predicament—"If I go into the presence of the king, uninvited, he may sentence me to death." That was the decree of the ancient Persians. But Queen Esther said, "You fast and pray. I will offer my life, if necessary, for my people." What a picture that is!
  4. The king's recognition of the greatness of her soul and her beauty. And the children of Israel, the Hebrew children, saved.

Thus, the lesson became hers, and she could give it to her students because she felt that message.

Such is the spirit in which to prepare a lesson if you want to touch hearts.

"Foster Parents"

Then the teacher turned to the lesson manual and found suggestions on how the lesson could be applied: Are you students loyal to your parents? Are you keeping the law of the land? Are you loyal to your teacher? How can you be loyal? Then, adapting the suggestions in the manual to the individuals in her class, the teacher was able to help them grasp the real concept of loyalty in their own lives.

Thus to prepare a lesson is not only a joy but a development of mind and soul.

In each case you, as teachers, have the responsibility to place a truth in the soul of that child or young person—a brick to build his immortal temple.

With all my soul I say to you, teachers, congratulations upon the privilege you have of meeting and teaching these young people as "foster parents." God bless you with inspiration to build their souls into immortality.

O teachers, yours is an important calling! God help you to be true to it, and to feel that that part of the responsibility of carrying on God's work rests with you.

McKay, David O. ABuilding Souls Into Immortality—A Teachers Responsibility. The Instructor (June 1968): 213-215.