“I don’t know how you can be so patient.”
“I’d have lost it.”
“Hmm.” You don’t talk about student A with student B, but the comment stuck with me. When had that happened? When had I become patient? Or had I always been? Is patience the ability to calmly put up with shit or the ability to wait?
It’s been a great gift wherever it came from. Teaching post-adolescents definitely helped me develop patience. People between the ages of 17 and 20/21 are categorically out of their minds but they’re also wonderfully entertaining, reckless, enthusiastic and consummately confused without knowing it. I happened to like them – having spent my life around them from the time I was 25 they were my “peer group” in a way.
It wasn’t patience that made them copable for me; it was my sense of humor and perspective. I “got” them. The day one of my students told me to “fuck off” I looked at him and thought, “You just shot yourself in the foot, kid. I sill like you. I get where that came from, but you’re going to be in a world of hurt until you sort that out and apologize to me.”
Unlike the kid, I could see into the future — two or three days of missed class, an embarrassed meeting in the hallway before class, “I’m sorry, prof. I really like you. I don’t know why I said that.”
“You were angry, kid. Watch your temper in the future, and you won’t have to miss class or meet up with your teacher in the hallway to apologize.” Did I say that? Yeah, but I used his name.
I don’t recall if he then tried to defend his anger, but it’s likely. Something like, “I don’t know why you gave me a B.” It’s probable, but not certain.
They were never easy to deal with. That joke about herding cats more-or-less applies to teaching several classes of post-adolescents, but not really. The thing that makes the herd of cats joke funny is that the cats aren’t paying attention to the herdsman, but my “cats” paid attention to me. They were just driven by forces more powerful than the teacher in the front of the room. Their emotional intensity and impatience with life and the future, their raging hormones, their search for identity. the sudden experience of contradiction in a world that was never what they expected it to be. The more sheltered kids experienced culture shock suddenly living in a dorm at a university with more than 30k students with teachers of every hue and philosophy.
I used to eat my lunch on a shady bench near the bookstore and often watched the parade during the first few weeks of school. I could identify the freshman and the type of freshman by what they came out of the bookstore with. There were invariably the tousled hair kid who emerged with a Bob Marley black light poster and the three blond girls clinging to each other in a mixture of friendship and need. Every year. Thinking about it this morning, I’m a little surprised at how similar it was to watching the birds at the Refuge.
I loved it when I taught the lower and upper divisions of the same basic course, though, of course, the content wasn’t the same. Sometimes I got to teach the freshman version of a kid then, two or three years later, the senior. They were often two different people.
It is very difficult to persuade a nineteen year old, though, that all he or she has to do is wait. Patience is an uncommon attribute of that moment of life. I sure didn’t have it.
P.S. As of today I am allegedly immune to Covid 19. I’m still picking up my groceries at the store. It was strange to think that I COULD mask up, run in and get a gallon of milk.