I don’t think I would be wrong to say that “wait” is not a word we often associate with Teach for America, or teaching in general. It doesn’t seem to mesh with our idea of urgency in the classroom. It is a high speed world that we live in. We need success, immediately, perfection – immediately, results – immediately. But, despite this fast paced world, things don’t really happen immediately.
We don’t learn algebra immediately. We don’t know all of Texas history immediately. We don’t learn social skills immediately. We must wait, we must allow knowledge to take root and develop. We must allow change to take place.
In college, I studied many great Thinkers, and an element similar to all of them is contemplation. Quiet solitude to reflect on thoughts and ideas; a time to let oneself be open to change, and in some way, embrace the change and be changed. Our students cannot change over night. Immediate change is no more than a mask, a costume change, playing a new role, but it is not inherent in who the person is. Change needs contemplation and time, and it takes patience on the part of the self and others.
And there is the tricky part. How can I be patient with my students when so many expect immediate change from them? It comes back to, always, Dignitas Personae. One must remember that everyone has inherent dignity, by the mere fact that they exist and they are human. That means that, especially as teachers, we cannot work with others and forget their humanity. We cannot forget that any change we want to see in them takes time and we must wait.
This is not, of course, an excuse to lower expectations. It is rather a reason to raise them. To teach social skills (as is anticipated and expected at my school), I must not only teach them how, but also why. I need to give them something to contemplate so that while I wait, it is not in vain but with hope. If I simply take 15 days to explain how to volunteer, how to get a teacher’s attention, how to give a compliment, all I am doing is giving the students a mask to put on, a role to play. But if I ask them to reflect on why the skill is necessary, the students now have a reason to think about it, and a reason to change. At that point all we can do is wait – and see what lessons have taken hold. We must step back, give the student time to reflect, contemplate, and let himself be changed.