David M. McConkie, former first counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, visited BYU on Thursday to speak to education students on the difference between teaching and learning.
Thursday’s lecture was the last lecture of the semester in the Power of Teaching series at the David O. McKay School of Education, and this time the school tried something different. It suggested a hashtag for students to use throughout the lecture to live tweet the event and encourage friends to come to future lectures. The hashtag, #MSEPofT, is an abbreviation for McKay School of Education Power of Teaching.
Brad Wilcox, a professor at the School of Education, said the lecture series is put on “in an effort to validate people who have chosen education as a major and to motivate and encourage those who haven’t yet made that decision.”
McConkie began his lecture by describing his experience when he and the other members of the Sunday School general presidency were first called. They were invited to an orientation with President Thomas S. Monson and were warned ahead of time that he may share a story with them. McConkie was told that if President Monson did share a story, it was not to entertain them but to teach them.
As it turned out, President Monson did end up sharing a story. McConkie showed a clip of President Monson sharing the same story during general conference.
The story recounted an experience about a Sunday school teacher President Monson had as a boy. His teacher was Lucy Gertsch. She volunteered to teach the class.
“When Lucy taught, she made the scriptures actually live. We became personally acquainted with Samuel, David, Jacob, Nephi, Joseph Smith and the Lord Jesus Christ,” President Monson said. “Our gospel scholarship grew. Our deportment improved. Our love for Lucy Gertsch knew no bounds.”
President Monson continued to say that one day Gertsch shared the news that one of the boys’ mother had passed away. The lesson that day was on the importance of giving rather than receiving. The class had been saving pennies for months for a class party.
“At the conclusion of the presentation of a well-prepared lesson, Lucy Gertsch commented on the economic situation of Billy’s family,” President Monson said. “These were Depression times, and money was scarce. With a twinkle in her eyes, she asked, ‘How would you like to follow this teaching of our Lord? How would you feel about taking our party fund and, as a class, giving it to the Devenports as an expression of our love?'”
The class unanimously decided to give the party fund to the family.
“The boys and girls who learned, who laughed, who grew under the direction of that inspired teacher of truth have never forgotten her love or her lessons,” President Monson said.
McConkie used that example to speak about the importance of teachers and the influence they can have on their students.
“There is no greater profession or calling than that of teaching,” McConkie said.
His lecture was interactive, and he spent the next several minutes asking attendees why they thought Gertsch was a good teacher. One person commented that she knew the scriptures well and was very prepared. Another person said she engaged her class. Other answers included that she listened to her class and was caring.
McConkie then went on to ask the attendees to share stories about a teacher who changed their life. One person told a story of a history teacher she had in high school who was caring and a good listener.
“Caring and listening, I’ve asked this question all over the world, and the number-one thing that comes up is that principle,” McConkie said.
He went on to speak about the importance of a teacher’s attitude and how the attitude of the teacher is far more important than the attitude of the student.
“You can tell when a teacher loves what they’re teaching,” McConkie said. “Lucy Gertsch wanted to be there.”
He wrapped up his lecture by emphasizing the difference of teaching and learning.
“There’s a difference between teaching a lesson and teaching a class,” McConkie said. “It’s not about you; it’s about your students.”
Lastly, he stressed the importance of knowing the gospel and following the prophets.
“If you will just be careful and listen to the prophet, you will never, ever lose your way,” McConkie said.
Annette Fairbanks, a BYU senior majoring in elementary education, attended the lecture.
“I love inspirational things about teaching, especially by someone who has made such an impact on teaching in the Church,” Fairbanks said. “I really liked what he said about how he emphasized the difference between teaching and learning and that we really need to be aware of that as teachers.”
Molly Miner, another BYU senior majoring in elementary education, said she attended the lecture because it was the last one of the semester and she didn’t want to miss it.
“I also needed a boost,” Miner said. “I needed a reminder of why I wanted to be a teacher.”
McConkie was the first counselor in the Sunday School general presidency under Brother Russell T. Osguthorpe from 2009 to 2014. Before serving as the first counselor in the presidency, he worked as an attorney for the Church. He received his law degree from the University of Utah and has seven children with his wife, JoAnne.
The Power of Teaching lecture series will continue on Jan. 22 with a lecture by Mary Anne Prater, dean of the David O. McKay School of Education.
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