What is the Covenant Difference?

Around this time last year, I began preparing for my first year of teaching at Covenant. My family and I were moving to the area from Brooklyn, New York, and I was thrilled about becoming part of the Covenant community, but not sure what to expect in the classroom. Up to this point I had been a college professor, and my training had prepared me for working with older students. I imagined that my new students here would be, by virtue of their youth, restless and unfocused. And I worried that, with high-schoolers, even polite ones, I’d eventually encounter disinterest if I failed to conclude each discussion by making it about them, asking how they personally related to each literary or historical figure rather than helping them discover times and places that were not entirely like their own.

After a full year of teaching at Covenant, I can report with great delight that not only was none of this the case, but that the students at this school are some of the finest I’ve ever worked with. I found this year, that, as a group, Covenant students have several outstanding qualities, which I will try to summarize here.

1. Covenant students have a deep capacity to learn. By this I mean that they have become accustomed, from their earliest school days, to listening with sustained attention, a skill that in turn allows them to wait patiently for a big idea to emerge from discussion and, more important, to pursue it. Our students can take a difficult question and use it not only to look backward (When else has this question occurred, and in what circumstances? What did Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Brontë, or C.S. Lewis have to say about it?) but also forward (What other ways can this issue be framed? How should I look for it in my future reading?). This allows them to seek out and articulate answers independently, a habit of mind that will, I believe, shape and support them for the rest of their lives. That they can already practice this approach to the world is, in my experience, rare, and a pleasure to engage with.

2. Covenant students have been taught to use their whole selves, and use them well; it seems to me that, rather than separating intellectual pursuits from other aspects of their lives, they bring everything they know and enjoy into the classroom, and, conversely, are able to apply classroom disciplines and pursuits to what they do outside of school. This may help explain why so many of my students this year, in addition to regularly engaging in discussions, participated in conversations in other ways: by drawing on paper or on the board, reciting a memorized verse or musical refrain, and even, in one case, respectfully requesting permission (and receiving it) to execute a cartwheel in the classroom, to illustrate a point. This kind of free, open pursuit of understanding is what Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain suggest, in The Liberal Arts Tradition, is the goal of education, with students who are “cultivated in body and soul – mind, will, and affections” (2), and it seems to be flourishing here.

3. Covenant students have a quality of joy. I of course don’t mean that they are always happy (nor, I think, would anyone want them to be), but rather that they generally have an air of expecting, when they enter a classroom, to enjoy themselves, to hear something pleasing, intriguing, or worthy of their consideration, not only after they’ve mastered something fascinating or difficult but even before they experience learning. I think this is the fruit of Covenant’s Biblical pursuit of that which is “excellent and praiseworthy”; it is also, surely, another habit that this school’s outstanding faculty has formed in these young people, by shaping them over the course of their education with such love and with such high standards. I can gratefully say that my colleagues and students have, this year, given me the expectation of joy in the classroom as well.

– Dr. Flora Armetta June 2016