God’s Classroom

There’s more to being a perfect student than good grades

Young adults studying scriptures

I’ve had the opportunity to see hundreds of them, each one unique. They have a life span ranging from a few minutes to several hours. They have beckoned and triumphed over wind and rain and soaring heat and intense cold. Over painful silence and noisy chatter and over intense anxiety and nonchalant indifference. They have been described as boring, lively, intense, interesting, ridiculous, obsolete, and essential. They have endured the test of time. They are the classrooms.

Youth in classroom
ⓒ2013 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

For me, the math classroom was my battleground. I did my best, but my classrooms were seldom filled. I don’t recall anyone trying to break down the door to get in. Occasionally I would see the odd student coming into class a bit winded but generally students with a lot of other things on their minds would risk being a little late rather than sprint across campus.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying my students were not engaged in learning and that they didn’t try their best and put in a lot of effort. Many of them did just that and more. Many were single parents and studied well into the night after their parenting duties were done only to arise the next day and do it all again. Their desire to get an education showed on their faces.

blood-stained robes

As I stood in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in front of the temporary exhibit showing the blood-stained robes of a 15-year-old girl who was shot in the head for simply wanting to go to class, I reflected on a few of them. I wondered if I had been aware of what they had faced every day just to come to class. No, their lives were not in danger, but they were sacrificing, perhaps even going a bit hungry from time-to-time as books and tuition costs can quickly erode a bank account. But being aware of their challenges is something I knew little of. It is something I could have done better.

young woman marking scriptures

Our mortal classroom

The scriptures are brief but clear on how we approached our earthly journey. In Job we read about the foundations of the earth and how we anticipated the opportunity to enter our mortal classroom:

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

“Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?

“Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;

“When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7).


So here we are, on planet Earth, which spins on its axis and with other celestial objects revolves around the Sun forming our solar system, which orbits in an ellipse around the center of the Milky Way, which is being pulled towards Andromeda, our closest galaxy within our local group, which is in turn being pushed around inside our cosmic supercluster, Laniakea.

Everything is in motion, including us and unfortunately, although we’re allowed to take a break, that cannot be our long-term goal. My students often had interesting comments to make on my end-of-the-year classroom evaluations but from semester to semester there were a few reoccurring ones. Let me paraphrase one in particular . . . “SLOW DOWN.” Being in constant motion can be challenging.


Malala Yousafzai, the young girl from Afghanistan previously mentioned, survived her gunshot wound and continued her quest to see girls not denied a chance to go to school. Not denied a chance to be in a classroom. Not denied a chance to “be in motion” to move forward, to progress. To achieve.

Many harbour the opinion that academic achievement in a mathematics classroom is simply not for everyone and some of them would have been my students! Again, I did my best to ensure those who applied themselves were successful with extra office hours, tutorial sessions, math labs and when technology improved, all class notes shared online. But sometimes there were math phobias to overcome.

I recall one student who bravely shared why and when his understanding of math began to be derailed. His elementary teacher was explaining basic math skills using coins and he basically “lost it” when she said a dime, our very small thin dime, was worth twice as much as a much larger nickel. I concur that using the imperfect connection between the size of a coin and its value may have seemed very odd to a child. In a perfect world a larger coin should be worth more than a smaller one.

Elder Stanfill
Elder Vern P. Stanfill

Life’s classroom lessons

Elder Vern P. Stanfill offers a beautiful explanation of how we should view our imperfect classroom experiences. He shares an experience he had with his father during grain harvest, a time when the wheat kernels must be separated from the chaff. Even though the combine had been cared for and adjusted several times, there were limitations as to how well it could perform. Despite all their earthly efforts not all the wheat could be separated from the chaff; some ended up on the ground. But this unachieved wheat, the wheat that did not make it, was not wasted.

As he related, “A short time later, when the weather turned cold in the evenings, I watched thousands of migrating swans, geese, and ducks descend onto the fields to nourish themselves on their long journey south. They ate the leftover grain from our imperfect harvest. God had perfected it. And not a kernel was lost” (Vern P. Stanfill, “The Imperfect Harvest,” Liahona, May 2023).

Elder Renlund
Elder Dale G. Renlund

Elder Dale G. Renlund declares that the doctrine of Christ [faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end] is not a one-time event. In his words:

“Enduring to the end is not a separate step in the doctrine of Christ—as though we complete the first four steps and then hunker down, grit our teeth, and wait to die. No, enduring to the end is actively and intentionally repeating the steps in the doctrine of Christ” (Dale G. Renlund, “Lifelong Conversion,” [Brigham Young University devotional, Sept. 14, 2021], speeches.byu.edu).

Did I ever have the perfect student? Yes, many, many times and some of them got pretty good grades! I didn’t consider a perfect student to be one who answered every question correctly (although I did have a few of those) but one who was able to show improvement, to be a semester-long learner, who stayed in the saddle from start to finish. In any academic class, there is more going on than the subject matter. There must be. Not many of us simplify rational polynomials or solve quadratic equations after we leave high school.

Young adults studying

Equally important questions for a student in any classroom are “What do you think is going on here? What other lessons/skills am I learning?”

Malala Yousafzai knew what was going on in the classroom she was trying to attend, and we know what is going on in the mortal classroom we are attending. It is not just a list of what we have done, of what kind of equations we can solve, but of what we are becoming and of what we can achieve. In the words of Elder Renlund:

“To live happily ever after is not that simple. But it is also not really that complicated either” (“Lifelong Conversion”).

Even now we can become the very people who shouted for joy at the opportunity to come to class. None of our efforts are wasted.