The last two weeks I graded my Honors students’ Annotated Bibliographies (160 papers that averaged 14 typed-single-spaced pages!) And then graded all my students’ journals (260 journals!). I enjoy reading what they have written, but the sheer numbers cause brain fatigue! As I’ve read, however, I’ve learned a lot from my students. I require them to read from the scriptures ½ hour a day and then record their thoughts and feelings in a journal. In addition I stop the discussion a few minutes before the bell and have them record their thoughts and feelings about the things we have discussed.
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how students in the same class, listening to the same words can learn (or not learn!) such different things. One student writes in his/her journal how touched he/she was and how much he/she learned and another writes that nothing made sense. This has made me a much better student in Sunday School and Relief Society classes I attend. I realize that as a student, I have to be open to the spirit and ready to learn. If I come out of a class or Sacrament Meeting feeling that I haven’t learned anything, I know that I haven’t had the Spirit with me. If the Spirit is with me, I can learn something no matter who is speaking or teaching.
I’ve also seen how pride and a negative attitude influence what we are able to learn. Especially in the classes for Returned Missionaries, some students will identify everything they haven’t already learned as "undoctrinal." The underlying premise is that if they don’t already know it, it must not be true. That smacks of pride! I work hard at teaching correct doctrine, but it isn’t even the doctrines that students will question. Some figure they already know everything in the book. When teaching Mosiah 18 a few years back, I read aloud verse 30 where Mormon who in abridging the book writes, "All this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer." Can’t you just hear Mormon rejoicing as he reads and writes about the place he had been named after! In no other place does he repeat something like this. It delights me in that I feel like I’m getting a glimpse into his personality.
But that day as I brought this point out, one young man called out, "You can’t make that kind of assumption! There’s no way you can know he was named after that place!" The intensity of his rebuke startled me. I knew I had read it and that I was right, but at the time I couldn’t remember the chapter and verse that backed me up. It only took a few minutes once I was back in my office to find 3 Nephi 5:12 where Mormon says, "I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon." This was no assumption on my part, but throughout the semester I watched as his negative and critical attitude kept him from learning anything. One student this semester took offense at something said the first five minutes of class. In her journal entry, she ranted about the remarks made in such a way that it was obvious she hadn’t heard anything after that remark. But other students’ journals talked about how strong the Spirit was during the class and what they had learned. This has caused me to monitor my own attitude. Sometimes teachers do unknowingly teach false doctrine or wrong facts. I’m sure I have done it on other occasions, but if I’m in a class waiting and watching for something wrong, I know that critical attitude drives away the Spirit and I don’t learn.
Another thing I’ve realized - students often resist religion classes that are graded. They want religion classes here to be like Institute or Seminary where no grade is given. "We should just be able to learn what we want to learn. Religion classes shouldn’t be graded!" one student told me this semester. But grading gives me as a teacher a lot of leverage that works to the students’ long term advantage. When points are at stake, reviewing for tests, writing papers, keeping journals, even attending regularly reinforce teachings that might otherwise go unnoticed or not learned as deeply. But again the most important thing I recognize is that the advantage of age and life experience has taught me things I realize are important that young people don’t. Instead of balking, students could benefit by exploring the direction a teacher points them in. The whole rest of their lives they can "learn what they want to learn." But right now they have the opportunity to learn from other’s experiences and from many years of concentrated study and to be "forced" to study in depth. Again, I have to ask myself, do I let this kind of pride keep me from learning in other situations?
I do know that the Lord is constantly teaching and directing me. What I have learned from my students is that it is up to me what I learn. Negative, critical attitudes block gospel learning. Positive, loving attitudes increase learning.