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Teachers must be patient to succeed

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Posted: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 12:32 pm, Wed Sep 11, 2013.

I need to reread each year the chapter on “Patience” in “The Elements of Teaching” by James M. Banner, Jr. and Harold C. Cannon.  I need to reread this chapter because I tend to lose patience with myself and with my students.  According to Banner and Cannon, teachers must learn to cultivate patience.  They write that “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.

  Banner and Cannon believe that the act of teaching “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.”  They cite “the classic case of inexhaustible patience . . . 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.”

 According to Banner and Cannon “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.”  Of course, patience is not always possible in teaching.  “Teachers,” Banner and Cannon write, “are understandably impatient with those students who do not try to learn or who squander the gifts they 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?”

  Patience requires extra work and extra time.  Banner and Cannon write that “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.”

  We all know those individuals who do not suffer fools gladly, but Banner and Cannon believe that patient teachers learn to “suffer fools gladly.”  Patient teaching requires it.

 Teachers also want to teach students to be patient themselves.  “Where else will students find better models of fortitude, tolerance, and equanimity than their teachers?” Banner and Cannon ask.  “Generally we may hope that they will find such models in their parents and older relatives.  Yet if not there, teachers may be the sole exemplars of forbearance that many youths meet;  their teachers may be the only ones who can explain quietly the benefits of restraint or deliberation.”

 I have the benefit of such exemplars of patience in my own Department of History at the University.  Dr. Charlotte Beahan was named Murray State's Distinguished Professor, the highest award for a faculty member.  It is not unusual for Dr. Beahan to have a line of students waiting outside her office door for advising or instruction and she patiently counsels each one.  Dr. Stephanie Carpenter, the department's adviser for our History honor society, patiently works with students, taking them to History conferences and hosting them in her home.  Dr. T erry Strieter, the chair of the department, exhibits patience in the myriad responsibilities he has, working with students and faculty members, attending countless committee meetings, and completing endless paperwork.  And Kay Hays, the department secretary, teaches all of us patience day after day.  For examples of patient teaching I have to look no further than my own department.

Duane Bolin teaches in the Department of History at Murray State University.  Contact him at

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