Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Humble Word

We just dropped our son off at college. It's a bittersweet experience. A few weeks before leaving, he had a confidence crisis. His freshman course assigned some reading and a short paper. His comments (read, grumblings)when writing the paper— “This just doesn’t read like a college paper to me-I must not be ready for this.”

I was proud that he was looking at his work with care, but my urging was that he need not worry about whether it was a college paper or not— after all, he was about to START college— and college writing was what he was going to learn while in college. It wasn’t a goal to be accomplished in high school.

What my son needed, was patience-- with himself.

Patience with oneself is a rather meek goal. It might be confused with passivity or lack of ambition. In a world where so much can happen so fast, patience hardly seems as necessary as it once was.

In its mild way, though, patience with oneself, may be just the characteristic I hope for in my students in this year. Students who are patience with themselves are also trusting and confident. When we are patient with ourselves, we realize that whatever we are practicing or working on will improve over time. There is a calmness, and a mindfulness to patience, that some other terms don’t have. 

I can compare it to its cousin, grit, which will have to be banished from my vocabulary, except in those instances when I am working with sand.

Grit has been accused of social injustice, and as an excuse for poor teaching. It's been linked with misery and pain. It may not be a middle class value, but rather one that encourages different expectations for less privileged children. Given its cloud, it would be unwise to ever speak the word in the classroom.

Patience with oneself, though, is infused with hope and calm. Patience can happen without pain and misery. It contains a belief that things will get better.

And, it applies as much to me as a teacher, as it does to my students. It’s democratic, asking only that a little more time and understanding be found, than might otherwise. It is an internal state, not necessarily one that can be observed by others, as grit seems to have been judged to be.

Patience, I hope, will remain an uncontroversial term. I want to keep it.