Readiness to Learn

Last week my students were doing some testing that provides results about not only what they know but what they are ready to learn. This readiness to learn metric is actually super important for teachers. It gives me a gauge to adjust presentation of content if students are not prepared or are missing some foundational skills before I jump into nuanced literary interpretation with them.

I was sad for one of my students who told me a few days ago that he called himself a Christian but he didn’t believe God cared about relationship with people. For those of you who are unaware, this is a primary tenant of the Christian faith. It’s kinda the crux of the thing really. It’s all about how Jesus came and died to rise again and make a way for people to have relationship with God. But this kid claims he’s read the Bible and it is about God wanting more glory, and Jesus came to give God glory, and God couldn’t care less about the relationship stuff. Thursday in class, this same student was calling his peers stupid for holding a different belief than him on a controversial topic, and while I was telling him to stop insulting his peers that lesson, I was also explaining to another student the MAP testing readiness to learn element.

“You see, I have to adjust what I teach based on what my class is ready to learn.”

“Can you adjust to my scores instead of his?” The frustrated student asked me.

“No, I have to work on teaching you both where you are at. For him, the main objective of this project is to stop insulting people who disagree with him. For you, it’s to grow in how you engage respectfully with people who insult you when they disagree with you. That’s what teachers call differentiation.”

It was a nice “aha” moment for this second student as he realized he had capacity to grow in this lesson as well and that the class wouldn’t be a throw away just because his peer was being mean. Neither one of them has submitted their final assignment for the project which is a letter that respectfully represents two positions written to a peer who disagrees with them. Based on the initial formative assessments, I actually have great hope that both of them will have made learning gains in this project. I also, unfortunately, suspect that one will lose points for respect, but I do believe the final submission will not include the words “you’re stupid.” That will be growth for this kid to hold that line out of his assignment.

This rampant meanness is disheartening as a teacher, but I also have great hope for the maturing of this group of students. Thursday night, my juniors left for a weekend field trip in France, and I was talking to two girls in my rowdy E period about how beautiful it would be if they intentionally chose to say kind things to others. They could offer compliments to each other immediately, but when I asked if they could do it for the whole class, they faltered. I challenged them to each attempt to say one intentional kind thing to every single person in their class during the weekend trip. Both brightened up and accepted the challenge.

The next day, I asked the student council member in my D period if he’d be up for the same challenge. After asking how much extra credit was on the line and deflating a bit after realising this was a personal not academic challenge, he agreed to make the attempt. He said one of his dorm brothers had made a comment that stuck with him last year about intentionality in relationships, and I encouraged him that this was a moment for him to be a leader among his peers by changing how the juniors speak to each other. The second student council student in my other class period agreed with no hesitation when I presented the challenge to him; to be honest, he genuinely might be the nicest kid in the grade. This field trip is considered a major bonding event for the class each year, and I’ve talked with several staff members about how they hope it’s a valuable growth moment for them.

I have high hopes. Again, as frustrating and disheartening as some of their behaviour has been so far, I do see that these are kids who have had a crazy, disrupted high school experience, and I do believe the majority of them want to grow up. I just need to help scaffold their maturing, and then they will go on to make the world a better place.

Rough segue here, but one of my students out there making the world a better place is Maggie – who showed up in my classroom ready to learn five years ago. That year Maggie discovered the band Penny & Sparrow, and in the weirdness of my 2020 insane season of sleepless nights and fervent prayers, Maggie introduced them to me. Then I would go on to listen to Fantine “a very reasonable 674 times” in the span of nine months according to my Spotify wrapped last year. When Maggie told me that Penny & Sparrow was going on a European tour, I immediately bought tickets. I also got three friends who agreed to go. Miraculously, despite purchasing tickets ten months out, three of the four of us were still able to go this past Thursday night. For some reason, when buying the tickets, it made more sense in my head to buy the cheaper ones three hours away then the more expensive ones an hour away… I have a masters degree, but I can’t tell you how that logic actually worked in my head. However, what a gift in the end, because Andy and Kyle put on the most amazing show to less than twenty people scattered on a carpet in the upper room of some random Stuttgart club. They even joined us on the carpet for the encore. This night will get a full chapter in my future biography by Maggie because of the beautiful chain of events that led me there.

Carrie and Amanda were all in, and we hung around after the final songs to meet these amazing musicians who were incredibly kind and down to earth. The whole event was so much fun – driving up with two friends who are so much fun to talk with, hearing one of my absolute favourite songs ever written sung by the musician, having banter with these guys and the audience as they asked for questions every couple of songs, getting to share what novel I’m teaching my students with an interested person, having a Hamilton sing-a-long on the way home. My life is wild and weird, and the wheelchair part isn’t ever fun, but I had an amazing experience with people who were willing to go all in without batting an eye at the inconvenience of carting my chair around.

I’d asked Lissy if she wanted to use the extra ticket, but she unfortunately had to work. She was mostly sad that she didn’t get to hang out with Amanda, Carrie, and I together. Lissy is another student who showed up in my class with a readiness to learn several years ago. By her admission, that was not the case earlier in her schooling experience. Now, however, she’s interested in asking questions and seeking out honest answers. She hung out with me this afternoon, and I spontaneously got invited to an English tea with her and her mom at one of my favourite places around. I told Lissy that Ettenbühl was one of the first places I came when I moved to Germany because we had an English department meeting there. She got excited about the idea of having English tea with the English teachers who she couldn’t go to the concert with. “And Miss Young,” she added, “I just want you, Miss Page, Mrs. Dressler, and Miss Young to come here with me so I can listen to you talk.”

I laughed, “You absolutely would be fully involved in the conversation.”

Having high tea with that group would be amazing not because of pretentious literary references but because we are all women invested in conversations about how we can love Jesus and love others better. I can’t force any of my students to learn, and I don’t know if those kids who are so mean will make any progress in understanding the purpose of reading the Bible, but I will not give up on teaching them to the absolute best of my ability.

Andy made a comment that if he wasn’t a musician he’d love to have been an English teacher. Lissy asked me this afternoon related to my career choice. Honestly, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I absolutely love education. I know there’s a very real possibility I won’t last in the classroom forever, but I will grieve giving that up whenever it happens. I love my students; I love so much about my job. When people tell you they teach because it is a calling, I can confirm that it’s absolutely true. I feel it in my bones that this is my life’s passion. I love helping young people to learn new things and to get excited about learning. And to foster loving relationships with God and other people. Here’s the kicker: I work to the best of my ability to give God glory.

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