Accompanying podcast episode (audio version of this blog post, read by Richard):
He was a mediocre student for many years: achieving unremarkable grades across the board at IGCSE level. He was reticent, stealthy and seemed somewhat shy. At IB Diploma level, however, things seemed to change. His personality remained somewhat the same as it always had, but his grades were increasing at a surprising rate. He seemed to be ‘getting it’: at least on paper.
In the end, he achieved the highest score in the whole school for his IB Diploma, and was well-above the world average. It was, by everyone’s judgement, a monumental achievement.
How many times has this happened to you as a teacher: a student shows improvement over time and even surprises you with how much progress they make? Sometimes our students just seem to ‘grow’ into achievement. Some grow slowly and steadily like a plant that is regularly fed and watered. Some shoot up in a surprising spurt: defying everyone’s initial predictions.
I believe strongly in the power of patience when working with students. This takes emotional control on the part of the teacher, but the reward is well-worth the wait. By being supportive, referring students to the most helpful resources and allowing each day to offer a ‘fresh start’ for every learner, I’ve found that even my greatest expectations are often exceeded.
Does patience begin and end with ‘waiting’ for our students to succeed? No, I don’t believe so. In fact, I’m convinced that effective teachers use patience as a useful tool for dealing with a number of situations:
- Patience with ourselves as we approach deadlines and work steadily towards getting everything done (we must be forgiving to ourselves and learn to ‘leave work at work’, where possible).
- Patience with colleagues when dealing with requests and projects. We’re all busy, and we have to acknowledge that our peers have commitments internally (many of which we may not be aware of) and at-home, or in life generally.
- Patience with our students, especially when dealing with late homework and ‘waiting’ for progress to happen. I acknowledge that we may have to follow whole-school sanctions systems (e.g. a detention may be mandatory in the case of a late homework). However, where possible, patience should be deployed in my opinion. If a student consistently hands-in work on-time, but fails to bring a piece of homework to you one day, then should that student be sanctioned immediately? The answer to that question will depend on school policy, and your judgement.
Can you think of any other areas in which you would need to use patience as a teacher? Perhaps in waiting for the queue at the photocopier to subside (I’ve been there, many times!). Perhaps it’s in waiting for a re-imbursement for some petty cash you had to spend on school expenses. Perhaps we need more patience when waiting for e-mail replies?
According to Leslie Schwab, a college science and maths professor, patience may be the most important characteristic that all outstanding teachers posses. In her article at schoolofeducators.com, she writes:
There are several characteristics that all good teachers have in common. They are patience; concern for their students; willingness to adapt, and; knowledge of the subject being taught. If these characteristics are lacking, a teacher cannot be an effective educator. Patience may be the most important characteristic of all. It is most important for teachers of subjects in science and mathematics. Some students can comprehend this subject material with minimal effort, while others may require more extensive explanations that may have to be repeated a number of times. As a college professor, I have had more students express anxiety over having to take basic college algebra over any other subject. When questioned about the reasons for this anxiety, the overwhelming response was that their high school math teachers were terrible. Their main critique of math teachers was their inability to explain solutions to math problems in a clear and concise manner. When these students would continue to state their lack of understanding, the teachers would lose their patience, and simply tell them to go home and practice more problems. When some students requested extra help, their teachers informed them they were unavailable for tutoring after class.Leslie Schwab. Patience may be the most important.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with Leslie’s thoughts on patience?