September 19, 2014

Patience Need Not Apply by Eloise Hellyer

Patience in the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as “the suffering or enduring (of pain, trouble or evil) with calmness and composure….forbearance under provocation of any kind.” The very word comes from the Latin word for suffering. You might think that this is a valuable quality for a teacher to have, but think again; having patience with people or situations connotes putting up with something.  Just what is it that teachers should be tolerating?

Do we tolerate our students and the problems of teaching them? If a student is not learning fast enough or just can’t get a concept or technical point we are trying to get across, do we have to control ourselves to avoid becoming frustrated with him or with ourselves? If we do this, are we thinking about how we feel or about what we are doing? Let’s see how this patience works:

  1.   you show the student something
  2.   you stop and think how silly or slow he is that he doesn’t get it
  3.   you think how incompetent you are for not being able to transmit it
  4.   you realize that you have probably transmitted all this to your student
  5.   your student is dismayed, feeling incompetent and that he has let you down
  6.   realizing this, you get a grip on  yourself, calm down and encourage him
  7.   you start thinking of another way to get through to him

Teaching is steps 1 and 7. Patience is steps 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Cut out these intermediate steps and you are doing something positive. Neither you nor your student has time to get discouraged; you are both too busy trying to figure out how to solve the problem. Patience is therefore a waste of time and energy and can even be deleterious. If the student thinks you are being patient with him, he will translate this into feeling he is slow, incapable, stupid, you name it, which is certainly counterproductive.

If I am a student (and any teacher is), I don’t want you to be patient with me. I want you to HELP me without judging yourself, me or my capacities. It is the judgment part that brings you to exercise patience.

Don’t be patient, be impatient!  – in the sense of not tolerating failure. “What? My explanation doesn’t seem to be working. Okay, let me try something else. Let me break it into smaller steps. Let me try yet another way. Let me and my student rejoice in whatever small step the student has succeeded in mastering.” If you think that a child has failed at something, then he will think so, too. In that case, the only thing the child learns is that he is incapable.

Teaching is all about the other person. Patience is all about you, your feelings and your judgments. Teaching is action. Patience is reaction.

end of Part 1

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