Principles of Teaching
by Adam S. Bennion
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A number of years ago a young graduate of one of our eastern universities was employed to teach science in a school in Japan. He was employed with the understanding that though he was free to advance whatever scientific theories he chose he should say nothing about his Christian religion. He accepted the conditions gladly, and during the first year of his service was careful not even to mention Christianity. He not only taught his classes in science, but he joined with the boys in their athletics and in their social life generally. Being both an athlete and a leader, he was soon looked to as the life of the school. His clean life was an inspiration. He inevitably set a Christian standard. Before the end of the second year, though he had preached never a word, forty young men made application for membership in his church. His life and ideals had converted them as no preaching could have done.

What was true in this case is inevitably true in the case of all real teachers. What a man is breathes a power of conversion that no force or argument can equal. Hence this concluding chapter—Conversion, the Real Test of Teaching.

First of all, we are concerned with the conversion of the teacher; secondly, with the conversion of the pupil. They are inseparably interwoven. Only the converted teacher can make converts of his pupils. And surely there is very great need of this very thing—the making of real converts of our boys and girls that they may come fully to appreciate the significance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Upon them rests the carrying forward of that great work which only the conversion of our pioneer forefathers could have achieved.

In the first place, the converted teacher believes what he teaches. There is no half-hearted attitude toward the subject in hand. To him it is both true and vital. He teaches with a positiveness and an assurance which grip pupils. What a difference between the speech in which a speaker merely makes certain observations—sets forth certain specified facts—and the speech in which those same facts are heightened by that glow of conviction which stamps them as indispensably essential to proper living. The prayer of a man who does not believe in prayer is an example of the emptiness of unbelief. There is one minister in Chicago who openly announces that God does not and can not answer the prayers of mankind. And yet he prays. And what mockery is his praying. Mere words. No man is ever touched by such an empty form. Such prayers have none of that Heaven Force which establishes communion with the Lord. Surely "They draw near me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."

To everyone comes the experience of listening to the heavy phrases of him who would argue and harrangue his auditors into salvation. How his words seem not only to close their minds, but to shut their hearts as well. He fairly talks so loudly that they can't hear him. And then some humble follower of Him who shunned the orator's eloquence moves to tears the same audience by his simple utterance of what he knows and feels to be true. He adds the conviction of conversion to mere "hard-headedness." When a man knows that which he teaches is true there is a spirit that gives power to what he says. "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life."

The experience of a Montana railroad executive gives force to this thought. He told one of our leaders how he had always been impressed with the achievements of our Church. In fact, he became such an admirer of the wonderful organization of the "Mormon" Church that he decided to adopt the same kind of organization in his railroad. To quote: "I thought if I could apply the same system up here that you have in the 'Mormon' Church it would work just the same for me as it did for you. I have copied its plan with the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, the Presiding Bishop, and all the other officers. I have tried it—but it wouldn't work for me." Only a Latter-day Saint can fully understand why.

And so the teacher who would become a converter must feel the truth of what he teaches so that a spirit of conviction extends from him to his class and so takes hold of the members that they, too, feel the truth of what he says. In short, the real teacher must have a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He must be caught up by that same spirit that opened the heavens to the Prophet Joseph Smith—only then can he really teach. The Lord has so revealed:

"And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be their teaching, as they shall be directed by the Spirit;

"And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith, and if ye receive not the Spirit, ye shall not teach." (Doc. & Cov., Sec. 42:13, 14.)

"Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of Truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of Truth or some other way?

"And if it be by some other way, it is not of God.

"And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of Truth or some other way?

"If it be some other way it be not of God:

"Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of Truth, receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of Truth?

"Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understandeth one another, and both are edified and rejoice together;

"And that which doth not edify is not of God and is darkness;

"That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light and continueth in God, receiveth more light, and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day." (Doc. & Cov., Sec. 50:17-24.)

In the second place, the teacher's belief must be translated into daily life. "Come, follow me," is the admonition that makes for conversion. A young man recently, in characterizing the biggest failure among teachers that he had ever known, remarked, "He simply couldn't teach us anything. He started in by giving us a vigorous lecture against tobacco, but before a week had passed we all knew that he himself smoked. He might just as well have given up teaching right there. We couldn't see any truth in him after that, for the 'smoke' of his own deception."

Of course, he was not converted. A similar experience is related of the principal of a school who, with his faculty of teachers, made it a school rule that there should be no playing of cards on the part of the students. The rule recorded, however, the principal proceeded to participate in downtown card parties until he established a reputation, in the language of the boys, as a "card shark." Not only did that principal find it impossible thereafter to combat the evil of students cutting classes to play cards, he lost that confidence on the part of the student body without which school discipline cannot be achieved. Lack of conversion—such conversion as leads a man to practice what he preaches—cost him his position.

To the teacher who would develop the power of conversion, may we make reference by way of review to those suggestions in an earlier chapter that make for spiritual growth:

1. Live a clean life. 2. Read the word of the Lord. 3. Do the duties assigned by those in authority. 4. Subscribe to all the principles of the Gospel. 5. Cultivate a real spirit of prayer.

If the teacher is really converted, of course the conversion of his pupils follows very largely as a corollary. But by way of practical suggestion, it may be helpful to list some things that may be done to promote a spirit of testimony on the part of the pupils. At the outset a teacher ought to appreciate just what a testimony is and how it varies with the age and experience of children. It is clearly a mistake as a general rule to expect young children to give expression to a testimony such as might be borne by an adult. True, some children enjoy at an early age the spirit of testimony to such an extent that they do seem to know that the Gospel is true. But it is wiser not to expect too much. Then, too, testimonies vary with individuals. Teachers ought to look out for expressions which are characteristic of the pupil in question rather than to expect all pupils to measure up to a set standard.

With a proper conception of a testimony, the teacher then owes certain rather definite obligations to his class.

He ought to feature testimony bearing rather than to apologize for it. In the teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ there can be no more sacred opportunity than that which allows pupils to open their hearts to their Creator.

Then, too, the teacher owes it to his class to kindle the spiritual fire which alone can make for testimony bearing. Brother Maeser had a very effective way of illustrating the significance of this obligation. As he expressed the thought, no one would feel that he had completed his task of warming a house if he merely put into the grate the necessary paper, wood and coal. He might have all these, but until he struck the match which would kindle the fire, no warmth would be felt. And so, spiritually, the fire of a testimony-meeting needs to be kindled. All too often, a teacher opens the class hour with some such statement as this, "Now, boys and girls, today is Fast Day. I hope you won't let the time go to waste." What inspiration in such an opening! That teacher has not only not kindled the fire, he has brought in a lump or two of coal—hard at that—with no kindling even as a promise of a fire. On the other hand, the successful teacher comes before his class with a vital truth that thrills him and gives it a concrete expression which prompts pupils to add similar experiences out of their own lives.

Then, too, the teacher may well bring into his class by way of inspiration someone well established in the faith whose experiences are full of the spirit of conversion. There are in every ward in the Church those men and women who know of a surety that the gospel is true. Why not bring them in occasionally to stimulate testimony bearing? Might it not be well, also, to take the class as a class to our Fast Day Sacrament service, there to let them enjoy the wonderful spirit of testimony that is so characteristic of these meetings? There is a feeling of conversion that attends these meetings that all boys and girls must feel—must feel so keenly that they in turn will want to give expression to their own convictions.

And finally, as teachers, let us remind ourselves that in this matter of promoting the bearing of testimonies we should exercise a patience that is full of tolerance and forbearance. Some few individuals are converted suddenly; others respond to the truth gradually; and there are those who do well if they really respond to the feeling of conversion at the end of a lifetime. As one of our leaders has so beautifully pointed out, the Master, Himself, did not convert the world in a day, nor a year—He has not converted it in all these centuries. His plan seems to be to teach the truth and wait patiently until the divinity in man asserts itself—until man walks by his own light into eternal truth. Under the inspiration of such example may teachers well labor on in earnestness, happy in the thought that He will hasten in His own due time what to them may seem a long, slow process.

"Perchance, in heaven, one day to me Some blessed Saint will come and say, 'All hail, beloved; but for thee My soul to death had fallen a prey'; And oh! what rapture in the thought, One soul to glory to have brought."

* * * * *


1. Why is conversion the real test of religious teaching?

2. What are the outstanding characteristics of a person newly converted to the Church?

3. Discuss the significance of each of the factors that make for conversion.

4. Illustrate how to kindle the spiritual fire.

5. State why or why not you favor making assignments for testimony day.

6. What is a testimony?

7. How may children best cultivate a testimony?

8. What principle or practice means most to you by way of affirming your own testimony?


The Doctrine & Covenants, The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Voice of Warning, Rays of Living Light.


The Art of Teaching Driggs Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake.

The Art of Questioning Fitch A. Flanigan Co., Chicago.

Story Telling, Questioning and Studying Horne MacMillan Co., New York.

Principles of Psychology James H. Holt & Co., New York.

Fundamentals of Child Study Kirkpatrick MacMillan Co., New York.

A Study of Child Nature Harrison R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Chicago.

Psychology of Childhood Norsworthy and Whitley MacMillan Co., New York.

The Essentials of Character Sisson MacMillan Co., New York.

Principles of Teaching Thorndike A.G. Seiler, New York.

Education for Character Sharp Bobbs, Merrill Co., Indianapolis.

The Ideal Teacher G.H. Palmer Houghton-Mifflin Co., New York.

The Seven Laws of Teaching J.M. Gregory The Pilgrim Press, Chicago.

The Point of Contact in Teaching Dubois Dodd, Mead & Co., New York.

Interest and Effort in Education Dewey Houghton-Mifflin Co., New York.

The Boy Problem Forbush The Pilgrim Press, Chicago.

Training the Boy McKeever MacMillan Co., New York.

Types of Teaching Earhart Houghton-Mifflin Co., New York.

How to Teach Religion Betts The Abingdon Press, New York.

Talks to Sunday School Teachers Weigle Doran Publishing Co., New York.

Everyday Problems in Teaching O'Shea Bobbs, Merrill Co., Indianapolis.

Talks to Teachers James H. Holt & Co., New York.

How to Teach Strayer and Norsworthy MacMillan Co., New York.

The Making of a Teacher Brumbaugh Sunday School Times Co., Phila.

The Learning Process Colvin MacMillan Co., New York.

The Teacher and the School Colgrove Chas. Scribner & Co., New York.

Pictures in Religious Education Beard Geo. H. Doran Co., New York.

The Nervous System Stiles W.B. Saunders Co., Phila.

The Classroom Teacher Strayer and Englehardt American Book Co., New York.

The Recitation Betts Houghton-Mifflin Co., New York.

Attention Pillsbury MacMillan Co., New York.

Religious Education in the Family Cope University of Chicago Press.

Classroom Method and Management Betts Bobbs, Merrill Co., Indianapolis.

Classroom Management Bagley MacMillan Co., New York.


Obvious printing errors were repaired; these changes are listed below.

Chapter I "a Church built upon revelation" Corrected typo: "builded"

Chapter VI "using an average of thirty-two minutes" Corrected typo: "mintues"

"their employees that they subscribe regularly" Corrected typo: "reguarly"

Chapter VII "A Child's characteristics—his" Corrected typo: "charactertistics"

"These organic, vital activities" Corrected typo: "acitivities"

"All nuerones have" "nuerones must be active" Corrected typos: "neurones"

Chapter VIII "method of rewards and punishment;" Corrected typo: "punishment:"

"will be found an interesting tabulation" Corrected typo: "tabluation"

"few of them can safely be developed" Corrected typo: "devoloped"

Chapter IX "wasn't worrying about what he was" Corrected typo: "worying"

"concerning which there may be some uncertainty." Corrected typo: "uncertainty?"

Chapter X "group themselves with a certain uniformity" Corrected typo: "cerain"

"indicate that there is little" Corrected typo: "their is"

"sent his way than the cheerful one" Corrected typo: "cheeful"

Chapter XIII "Let the scriptures testify" Corrected typo: "sciptures"

"Consider the case of the Son" Corrected typo: "case of of the Son"

Chapter XIV "is so significant when understood" Corrected typo: "signficant"

"going back some two thousand years" Corrected typo: "thouand"

Chapter XVI "the silent inspiration of that picture" Corrected typo: "pciture"

Chapter XIX "the statement, "The best method is a variety of methods."" Closing quote missing in original

Chapter XX "map out their work so carefully" Corrected typo: "map our"

Chapter XXI "a. The review question;" Corrected typo: "question:"

"'As long as I do all the talking, things go all right,'" Closing single quote was double quote in original

"when, where, and why." Missing period in original

Chapter XXII "to go to bed agreeably" Corrected typo: "agreebly"

Chapter XXIII "to participate in class discussions?" Corrected typo: "discussions."

In addition, in Chapter XVI a full line was missing. The original reads:

"And again, I command thee that thou shalt pray vocally as well as well as in private." (Doc. & Cov., Sec. 19:28.)

The corrected text is:

"And again, I command thee that thou shalt pray vocally as well as in thy heart; yea, before the world as well as in secret, in public as well as in private." (Doc. & Cov., Sec. 19:28.)


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