A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Teaching patience in school and out.

We want our children to be happy and successful. Sadly, these days much of “success” has been defined by a student’s test scores. While tests and grades are important, there are more essential skills we can teach a child to help him be successful in the future.

I have been a public school teacher for over a quarter of a century at a school where only 32 percent of the kids finish high school. But the kids in my class, known as The Hobart Shakespeareans, finish college. They accomplish this goal for many reasons. Perhaps the most important one is that many of the lessons in the class revolve around the teaching of patience. I have learned that teaching children to have endurance is one of the best things we can do to help a young person be able to walk through doors we parents and teachers can open.

Of course, we adults have to set the example. We have to be the people we want our children to be, and model patient behavior. I have to be a patient teacher to help develop patience in students. When my students rehearse Shakespeare, I notice 50 things they are doing wrong. At the end of practice, we’ll talk about one or two of the mistakes. The rest can wait until the next day, week or even month. Children need to see that I know that the road to true excellence is a long one, and that I am happy to take my time. It’s a marathon and not a sprint.

It’s not easy. In this fast-food society, it is understandable that children are impatient. There are even books called Algebra Made Easy and Instant Shakespeare designed to motivate by simplifying complicated material. But the truth is that algebra isn’t easy. You have to work at it. It takes thousands of hours of dedicated and patient study to become good at anything. However, in the age of instant messaging and online shopping, many people believe there can be instant knowledge or immediate mastery of a subject. We must teach kids to delay their gratification. And in celebrating the gradual process of learning, our kids become better scholars and better people.

I use the arts to teach children to be patient. The children in Room 56 learn to read music and play instruments. In doing so, they discover things that have nothing to do with music. Certainly, music teaches children how to focus and listen. But the biggest lesson is the understanding that with persistence kids can master a particular piece of music. Upon hearing a wrong note, a student generally becomes motivated to play a tune again until it sounds right. It is exciting to get better at something, and music provides the vehicle to take kids away from instant gratification. A musical piece mastered after weeks of rehearsal provides a more lasting satisfaction than the temporary rewards that a child may feel after conquering a video game.

Art projects can also be used to teach patience. Children in my class learn to hook rugs at the beginning of the school year. It takes several months to finish a project. Yarn has to be sorted by color; directions have to be followed. Eventually, stitch by stitch, the rug begins to take shape. During the project, I often ask my students what they are learning. I teach the kids to articulate the fact that they are learning to be patient. I then ask them why this is important. The children answer, “If we are patient, our lives will be better.” Children in Room 56 constantly hear that we learn things to help us with our lives— and not for the test at the end of the year. Difficult books and essays become less problematic when a child realizes that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Parents and teachers make a huge impact when it comes to encouraging patience. Whether it is reading a book with your kids every night for several months until its completion or working on a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, the long hours are well spent while building a better future for a child. Ironically, it takes patience to teach patience. But a skill that can change a life should never be rushed.