WHEN SHAKESPEAR, in Twelfth Night, put patience "on a monument, smiling at grief," he characterized it as the ability to accept loss gracefully in a world of sadness and tragedy. He also called up the image of an inert and passive victim too weak to rise up from adversity, an image that survives in our current word for a doctor's client.
Yet even if teachers sometimes suffer- from hard, undercompensated, underappreciated labor, or from students who do not learn quickly or well enough- and if they sometimes feel that they cannot drag themselves through another day of punishing work, the patience required of them is an active, not a passive, virtue. Persistence allied with a determination to help others learn, as well as a kind of resignation to the difficulties students face, requires endurance, equanimity, and tolerance in about equal measures. Patience is thus one of the elements of teaching-unlike learning and imagination that necessitates restraint rather than release; it requires teachers to harness their frustrations and fatigue, and to keep a steady eye on what they hope will be others' understanding of what they teach. If there is a classic case of inexhaustible patience, it is that of Helen Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy, who never ceased to invent and hope and thus led her gifted student out of darkness and silence to a rich life of understanding and inspiration to others-a gift of unremitting devotion that gained its recipient worldwide renown.
Acquired through constant practice, patience enables teachers to suspend disappointment and frustration out of an understanding of the difficulties students have in catching on to what their teachers already know. If the young are by nature impatient and impetuous, it is all the more important that their mentors be imperturbable and judicious. 1.
It is teachers, after all, who are supposed to be persuasive exemplars of better and more mature behavior; it is they who must teach and explain the values and utility of prudence, balance, and self-control. Experienced teachers, for instance, resist the temptation to rush through subject material they know well, because their students, for whom most new material is strange and challenging, must have time to digest and comprehend it.
2.Patience in teachers is their willingness to accept students' limitations in their efforts to acquire knowledge so that the students may sense that they have company in its pursuit.
Patience also allows teachers to bear with their students' misconceptions and misunderstandings. Errors, after all, provoke both teaching and understanding; patience helps to arm teachers against dismissing errors as lacking utility or as unworthy of discussion. Errors provide opportunities for teachers to extend their lessons, try out fresh approaches, offer additional illustrations; and they establish a standard, albeit a negative one, against which students can measure their own progress and satisfy their aspirations to know.
Yet critical as is the teaching value of errors and mistakes, that value can come into being only through students' trust of their teachers-trust gained in good part by teachers' patience with and generosity toward their students' flounderings and confusions. If teachers treat mistakes as evidence of stupidity, if they forget that errors frustrate, often mortify, the very students who commit them, they risk creating an impassable barrier between themselves and their students. Will students try again to answer a question, solve a problem, or write an essay if the teacher is likely to be contemptuous of the effort or scorn them for failing to get it right?
Teachers without the trust of their students are like actors without audiences-all show and no response. It is patience above all elements of teaching that invites and wins the desired response from students: more learning.
If patience is one of the principal foundations of trust, it also bears a close link to industry and diligence, without both of which, as most students are likely sooner or later to learn, learning does not occur.
A teacher's patience teaches students to strive and strive again to get something right, to have patience with their own difficulties. In this way again, patience provides an example of behavior that the best teachers are always trying to provide. Patient teachers do not expect any greater achievement from their students than those students are capable of; teachers should instead be satisfied with their students' gradually increasing maturity and growing awareness and should expect great leaps of neither-though how gratifying both are!
Of course, teachers are understandably impatient with those students who do not try to learn or who squander the gifts they may possess in frivolity, dissipation, or laziness. Yet who can be sure that what appears to be a student's indolence is not something else- say, a physical or emotional difficulty of some kind? Recalling their own youthful indiscretions or difficulties may temper teachers' frustration about their own students' unfortunate behavior.
Teachers' candor about their own past failings and the reasons for their natural frustrations about their students' foolishness may go far to alleviate their own impatience and suggest to their students that its source is the teachers' desire that the students learn and that they learn for their own good.
All this being said, what does patience contribute to instruction?
Patience gives students time to learn. Let time be on the students' side. Patient teachers restrain themselves from accelerating their instruction where their material seems relatively easy to their students; instead, they hold to a steady pace, one consistent not only with the abilities of their students to comprehend and to master what they are studying, but also with the customary rate of a class. Such teachers, while moving toward the goal of their students' comprehension of a subject, pause or backtrack when they find students unsure of the material they have already covered. Yet if a single student is having particular difficulty, these teachers try to find time for one-on-one coaching outside regular class hours rather than detain the entire group by addressing that student's needs in class sessions.
Patient teachers also extend themselves without complaining that additional effort may be unpaid work or that the extra work is not part of their professional obligations. Is this not, some will wonder, asking too much of teachers already burdened by the characteristic importunings of students, demanding hours of preparation, administrative duties, and their own lives, of which teaching is but one part? While it may be unjust to expect uncompensated work from everyone, teachers accept the responsibility of extra work when they take up their calling. The graceful acceptance of necessary tedium is one of the marks of great teaching, for it is really a gift of time, without which no student can learn.