Five questions: Professor John Haws

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Q: What was your thought process heading into the teaching profession at BYU?

I had taught a summer class at BYU in 2008 while I was working on my doctorate degree. That’s pretty common in religion — a lot of times they have people come in and teach summer classes, and I had a great experience. I absolutely loved it. I’d been teaching seminary for 14 years at high schools in the Salt Lake and Ogden areas, so I loved working with students and talking about gospel things. But I was definitely nervous about BYU. This was a whole new ball game with students that were now earning grades, and this was a slightly different age group with a maturity level that I wasn’t certain I’d measure up to. But I was very excited because I absolutely love talking about the scriptures with students, so I think the excitement probably outweighed the apprehension.

Q: What specific teaching styles do you use that you feel work with students?

I think that with any teacher, and this just seems to be the nature of teaching, that we feel that our job is a lot of experimentation. I think that all teachers feel like they’ve never arrived, that we’re always still trying to get to that next step, to do something better. But the thing that I think generally seems to connect with students is that students appreciate hearing from their peers. I think that a multitude of testimonies especially works well in a religion class. I think opportunities for students to express what they have learned or what they have experienced, that might be the most impressive thing that another student hears. When they look next to them and hear that one of their peers has found an answer in the scriptures, or has found an answer to this certain problem and can bear a testimony and bear witness of that. I think that’s really effective. A lot of times in religion, I think one of the things that we can do is create an environment where students can teach and testify to each other. And to make them feel comfortable to do that can be tricky, but I think that principle really helps students.

Q: Have their been any surprises teaching here; any unexpected things you’ve encountered?

I was surprised at how good the students were and have been. I knew they would be good; I love BYU and I knew that the students would be great, but they’ve exceeded my expectations. Students are better than I thought — that really is true. Classes are more exciting than I thought, student participation is more dynamic and more thoughtful than I thought. I’m impressed by how bright students are, their level of thinking … I think we’re lucky in religion that the subject-matter is so great, that I think students already come in with a feeling that they’re going to enjoy the subject-matter … that and the excitement of being able to study the scriptures together — that’s been a fantastic and fun surprise.

Q: You often use real-life examples in your lectures. Do you feel that helps students understand the concept more?

I hope so. That’s what we (religion professors) really care about — the gospel mattering. It’s like the standard high school complaint about math — ‘When am I ever going to use this in my life?’ You find out pretty quick that you do need math in the real world. Well, likewise, we hope in religion class that people start feeling like, ‘I’m going to use this today, and every day for the rest of my life.’ We hope people will see that the gospel principles are so relevant to them and in every facet of life. And in real-life examples, especially funny ones, you want to learn a lesson that is memorable, and that life is exciting and entertaining. I hope we all see how the gospel works in every aspect of life.

Q: Why did you choose to teach at BYU?

I love BYU. I love everything about it. Literally, as long as I can remember, I remember being at my grandpa’s house and watching Devin Durrant play basketball, and that’s my first memory of BYU. I love everything BYU stands for. My first full season of watching BYU football games was the 1984 national championship season, and it just cemented my love. I realized that I really felt that BYU really was this ambassador for the gospel, and this flagship for the church. And that a lot of people who wouldn’t have exposure to the church would have exposure to BYU. So I just love everything BYU stands for, and that it’s trying to make a difference in the world with its larger mission.

Editor’s Note: A previous edition quoted Haws saying that math was not needed in the real world. The quote has been fixed so that everything adds up.  

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