How to Survive Your First Primary Teacher Calling

Children sing in primary

Being a primary teacher can be scary for a newcomer.

I was called to be the primary teacher for the 8- to 11-year-old girls about a month after getting married and moving into a new ward. I hadn’t particularly enjoyed teaching Gospel Doctrine to a room full of adults, but somehow the prospect of teaching primary lessons to pre-teen girls was far more terrifying.

But by the time we moved away a year later, I was saying reluctant, tearful goodbyes to my girls.

If you’re nervous about being a primary teacher, follow these tips:

Take the time to plan

A primary teacher teaches her class

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you don’t need to plan for your lessons just because you’re an adult and they’re children.

You might have more experience with the doctrine than your students, but preparation will help you teach with the Spirit and adapt lessons to your students’ specific needs.

“Teaching, No Greater Call” says, “The earlier you begin praying about, pondering, and preparing for your next lesson, the more time you will have to be guided by the Spirit and to look for examples, comparisons, and other ideas to enrich the lesson.”

Be confident

On my first day of teaching, one of the girls stood on top of the windowsill. When I told her to get down, she very calmly said, “No.”

All of a sudden, I realized that the kids had no reason to listen to me. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no power to punish them. My authority was hanging by a thread.

What compelled me to listen to my primary teachers as a kid? I couldn’t remember.

I said the only thing I could think of: “Don’t make me ask you again.”

It was an empty threat. I had no idea what was going to happen if I had to ask her again.

But did she listen? Absolutely.

From that point on, I realized that a lot of how the girls reacted to me depended on how sure of myself I was.

At the end of the day, Heavenly Father had called me to teach those girls. If He thought I could be a primary teacher, then surely I could. The same goes for you!

In a 2011 Primary auxiliary training meeting, Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, the Primary General President at the time, said, “If you feel inadequate or if you question this calling in Primary, don’t feel guilty. Take it to the Lord. Ask Him, ‘Am I really to serve in Primary now?’ And then listen. You will get an answer.”

Love your students

A primary teacher teaching a classOver the years, the prophets and apostles have repeated the admonition for primary teachers to love their students.

“Teachers should teach by love and example after prayerful preparation,” Elder M. Russell Ballard said in a General Conference address.

The Church has dedicated five whole chapters of “Teaching, No Greater Call” to “lov[ing] those you teach.”

Even Doctrine and Covenants says that, “no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity.”

People can feel when we genuinely love and care for them, and when they feel loved and cared for, they’re more likely to listen — and therefore, to learn.

Manage your expectations

A primary teacher colors with his students

Don’t expect too much — from yourself or from the kids.

Maybe the kids don’t remember the basics of the lesson you taught them two weeks ago. Maybe you can’t get through just one lesson without a single interruption. Maybe class started with you talking about how important the priesthood is and ended with one of the students saying she never wants to have babies “because having babies hurts!” (Yes, this really happened to me.)

The reality is that you and your students are only human — and they’re still developing! You might not have a perfect Sunday the entire time you teach. And that’s OK.

“Teaching, No Greater Call” says, “Little children have short attention spans, and they cannot sit still very long. Do not expect too much from them.”

So keep on trying to be a better primary teacher each week, but don’t get discouraged because class doesn’t go perfectly.

Ashley Lee is a news media student with a minor in editing at Brigham Young University. Her hobbies include reading, stand-up paddleboarding, and reciting seasons 1-5 of The Office word-for-word. She hopes to be a reporter for a national newspaper after graduation.