Monday, April 15, 2019

Professional Patience

When I tell people that I'm a preschool teacher, among the most common responses is something along the lines of, "You must be a very patient person." Indeed, among the most common compliments I receive from the parents of the children I teach is about my patience.

I had ample opportunity to reflect on my own patience during the past week as I spent two full days traveling to Athens, Greece and back in order to take part in the Play On Early Childhood Education conference. Air travel is a great tester of patience and as I found myself grinding my teeth as I dodged through crowded concourses, tapping my toe while waiting on queue, and being filled with tension by flight delays, I recognized that contrary to popular opinion, I struggle with patience at least as much as the next person.

Patience is tested by feeling thwarted in our attempts to achieve something or get somewhere. We have a goal, and circumstances, usually of the human variety, are preventing us from attaining it on our schedule. I suppose this is why I can so readily exhibit patience while working with children: I generally have no particular goals nor other places to be. I'm not beholden to learning objectives passed down from on high. I'm not required to produce test scores or grades. I'm not expected to document learning nor in any way hurry children through a curriculum. The institutional drive to compel children to learn specific things according to an arbitrary schedule, and in ways that we can "measure," makes patience a near impossibility.

If there are goals in our classroom, they come from the children themselves. If there are schedules, they likewise emerge from the children. In fact, a big part of my job is to be patiently present with the children, available should they need me, and any agenda of my own tends to get in the way of doing that.

During her keynote address at the Athens conference Suzanne Axelsson (Interaction Imagination) discussed the concept of "professional love," as explored through the research of Dr. Jools Page, lecturer at the University of Brighton's School of Education. It occurs to me that this patience for which I'm sometimes praised could be similarly labeled "profession patience," and is probably an aspect of professional love.

I know that I'm fortunate, that not all teachers are in a position to simply be with children as they pursue their own goals in their own time, directing their own learning. Not every teacher has this luxury, but if we are going to create the kinds of learning environments children need in order to achieve their highest potential, they should. And this isn't to say that there are not times when I feel impatient during the school day, like when we're out on a field trip, there's a bus to catch, and the kids are stopping to smell the flowers, but for the most part, patience or impatience does not come into it because my goals don't come into it. I'm not a patient person, but my job, if I'm doing it professionally, requires it.

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