Is it ever okay for a teacher to go over time when he or she is teaching?
The short answer? No.
Warning: plain speaking ahead. This article may come across as somewhat blunt, and that is to make sure the importance of it is not lost in overly flowery language.
If it applies to you, please consider it carefully. If it doesn’t apply to you, it may help you to decide to make sure it never does or give you some ideas of how to gently guide teachers under your stewardship towards best practices.
Once, in a Sacrament talk, I went a couple of minutes over time. A member of the ward literally had a heart attack in the pew. No lie. I’ve never gone over again! Not one second!
If you’ve never almost killed someone by taking too much time, that’s great. Here’s what I have learned about the dangers of taking more time than you were given.
Why going over time is a really bad idea
There are five reasons why it’s never okay to go over time when you are teaching in church, no matter how amazing your lesson is.
There aren’t that many hard-and-fast rules about teaching, but this is one of them.
Reason 1: It is prideful.
The other reasons are in no particular order, but this one is first in order of importance.
Pridefulness in teaching is a form of priestcraft and should be avoided at all costs.
When you go over the allotted time, you send the message that what you are talking about is more important than what the next teacher has to say.
You send the message that you are more important than allowing a Relief Society President to set up a room for the next lesson.
You send the message that you are more important than everyone else, even if you don’t feel that way (because you probably don’t!).
Even if you have the last lesson of the day, you’re sending the message that what you have to say is more important than getting children from nursery, getting home to sick family members, getting to interviews, or whatever else comes after church.
At its core, it’s a form of theft. We steal the time that belonged to another. Ouch.
General Conference never goes over. The prophet never goes over. Consider that carefully.
Reason 2: It’s counterproductive.
No matter how good your lesson is, everyone is aware of when the time is over (of course, the bells are a clue as well).
Class members’ perception of the quality of the lesson declines rapidly as the minutes pass by. Every single person in the room is aware that you are going over.
Most teachers go over because they feel that they have something really critical to say. Unfortunately, going over has the opposite effect. Class members can’t help but evaluate whether what you have to say was really worth it. Usually, the answer is no, mostly because the Spirit left with the time.
Reason 3: It displays a lack of planning.
Part of planning is to decide on an exit strategy for how you will wrap up at multiple points through the lesson so that no matter when the bell rings (or your time is up), you will know how to conclude the lesson effectively.
Avoid saying things like, “Well, we had a lot more to cover” or other similar phrases. These kinds of statements make it seem like what was discussed was somehow lacking or that the class failed in some way.
Lessons are to be revelatory experiences. They’re not there to have material “covered.” The lesson may only have ended up discussing one of eight points you’d prepared, but that’s not a failure. It’s agile teaching.
Reason 4: It makes people feel guilty, which interferes with the Spirit.
When the class is going over, people who need to leave feel badly. They describe it as “sneaking out.” Feeling guilty is not conducive to feeling the Spirit.
When the class is going over, people who want to leave feel guilty. They feel like they should be able to not notice that the second bell has rung yet they’re still sitting there, or that people keep opening the door to see if the class is over.
The last feeling we want is for people to feel badly because we are making a poor decision, no matter how well-intentioned.
Reason 5: It drains the lesson of power.
When the lesson goes over, we usually have a weaker ending than we otherwise would. We don’t end with the same spirit we planned. We don’t wrap up effectively, reminding the class members of the point of the lesson and the action the lesson is inviting them to take.
No matter how wonderful the lesson was, going over drains the energy out of it. Ending on time makes it possible to bring the lesson full circle and have class members depart with a desire to make a positive change in their lives.
What’s the worst thing that could happen if you go over?
- If it becomes a habit, people vote with their feet and stop attending at all.
- It can ruin friendships, as people begin to resent the teacher and develop hard feelings against him/her.
- It can prevent spiritual growth on the part of class members.
- It puts others in the unenviable position of having to try to remind the teacher without causing a scene or offense.
Tips for ending on time
No one consciously decides that they’re going to ruin their class by going over their allocated time. Most of us have the very best of intentions, and we need to make sure our intentions and our actions align.
- Get a timer, whether digital or a friend, to give you a heads up ten minutes before the time is over.
- Plan out how you would end the lesson at multiple points during the lesson so you are prepared for ending at any time.
- If there are key points that didn’t get discussed, consider using email or other communication strategy to share the thoughts with the class members.
- Pray to know how best to end your lesson. Keep that prayer in your heart as you teach, scanning for inspiration in the moment. It is better to end a minute or two early than to go over, so if you feel like the lesson naturally ends with a few minutes remaining, that’s fine.
- Prayerfully consider your role as a teacher. Aligning our role with the Lord’s desire for the class will lead to effective practices in teaching. As we come to understand more deeply that we are there to be a conduit for the Spirit, we will find it easier to let go of our need to get through particular points of material.
To gain a stronger testimony of that last point, review these words of Elder Bednar:
“We must be careful to remember in our service that we are conduits and channels; we are not the light. It is never about me and it is never about you.” – Seek Learning by Faith, Ensign Sept. 2007
“We should always remember that the Holy Ghost is the teacher who, through proper invitation, can enter into a learner’s heart. Indeed, you and I have the responsibility to preach the gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter, as a prerequisite for the learning by faith that can be achieved only by and through the Holy Ghost.”
To illustrate his point, Elder Bednar continued with an example:
In this regard, you and I are much like the long, thin strands of glass used to create the fiber-optic cables through which light signals are transmitted over very long distances. Just as the glass in these cables must be pure to conduct the light efficiently and effectively, so we should become and remain worthy conduits through whom the Spirit of the Lord can operate.
But brothers and sisters, we must be careful to remember in our service that we are conduits and channels; we are not the light. “For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matthew 10:20). It is never about me and it is never about you. In fact, anything you or I do as an instructor that knowingly and intentionally draws attention to self—in the messages we present, in the methods we use, or in our personal demeanor—is a form of priestcraft that inhibits the teaching effectiveness of the Holy Ghost. “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” (D&C 50:17–18).
Hopefully, this article was not too painful to read if you’re someone who does tend to go over when you teach. Luckily, if it does apply to you, this is one of the easiest teaching challenges to fix, and it can be done immediately. Good luck!