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Classic denial of exceptional promise: Origins of the journey

Over the years that I have taught and learned, I have always struggled with or been the cause of struggle for others when it came to the notion of patience. Whether this was as a fifth grader who was gifted but was easily influenced by his peers to deny his gifts. Or when I was a high schooler who made all types of wrong decisions related to learning and my giftedness. I did not understand what or why I was doing what I was doing beyond the limited vision that I had with the coinciding age. Yet, those who were  charged with educating me both as a student and young man of African descent knew better. They, in retrospect, exhibited what I’m now calling “educational patience”. They hung in there with me by calling my parents, with mainly my mom visiting, to hear the latest development in my misguided decisions. They always talked in terms of my potential and promise with her which made their disappointment with me during those mishaps even more striking and pertinent to this post.

I can so clearly see their faces and recall their names as if I were still in their respective classes doing whatever I was doing as I exemplified denial or the outcomes of stereotype threat, which I would learn about during my graduate experience. I can remember how their demeanors changed or were influenced by the things that I did that were not of their approval. My justifiable excuse, if those are truly possible, is that I was a young person who really did not understand what he was gifted with in terms of intellect, creativity, and character. As a result, I saw those qualities as deficits to who I thought I should be in order to be viewed as one of the “cool kids”. In every case and interaction, my teachers were exuding to the highest degree, educational patience.  And with each enactment, they paid an internal price that I would not myself understand until I shared the role of teacher educator.

Roles reversed: Claiming the Mantle for Educational Patience

Years later, my first encounter with educational patience met me in Houston, Texas while teaching the first grade. I inherited a group of children who I grew to love for so many reasons. They were students who, like me, developed reputations that did not always mirror who they really were. Working through personality conflicts and the normal activities of 6 year olds should not be thought of lightly, and I know any parents of this age group can attest to this statement easily. The energy that they expended through questioning and the need of repetition of educational tasks was something, as a new teacher, that I was not prepared for. Fortunately for me, I was a young tall man with a powerful voice and stern demeanor, I truly thank my father for modeling facial expressions that set definitive tones (I say that kindly, LMBO). Yet, to help my students develop, I often had to forget about where I wanted them to be in order to understand and support where they actually were. As many teachers often remind me, even now at the university level, that we often plant the seeds in students that we very rarely get to see grow.

As a first grade teacher, watching my students grow or at least seeing their seeds take root was the greatest experience for me outside of seeing them physically change and grow. I must admit that I was always moved when my students lost their first tooth then proceeded to give me that open door smile, LMBO. Educational patience always took its toll on me, like my own teachers, yet in its own way. It hurt to see some of the situations and circumstances that my students were in. It hurt to see that sometimes I was one of the only adults who was invested in them. Sometimes my enactments of educational patience, resulted in additional roles beyond the one I was hired for as a self-contained teacher. Sacrifice is the name of the game when it comes to teaching students who may not have all of the world at their finger tips. Sacrifice can amount to spending your lunch break working on additional activities for students later that afternoon. Sacrifice could mean earlier morning check-ins in your classroom or late evening check-outs right before the janitorial staff/or principal makes the last call to go home for the day. Let us not forget the many weekends that are logged to complete grading and course development.

Upholding the mantle in a different space: A university setting in Florida

Much of what my experiences as an elementary teacher taught me about education still reside in me as I now work with university students. Just as I did then, I struggled. I struggled with adjusting to the new context, the different students, and, more importantly, who I wanted to now be at this stage of my life. As a semi-newly minted PhD who had all of these aspirations and knowledge, at least in my mind, to achieve great things within the field of education.  I was both so wrong and so right. I was wrong in that I made some mistakes that ultimately resulted from my unwillingness to be authentic with my students. I did not fully commit to being present with my students as I now know that I must always do. I must make myself both vulnerable and human in the eyes of my students. Not in a way that is forced but in ways that simply mean just being me. I was right in my belief that my students deserve and require so much from us as well as the requirement that they are also to bring all that they have to the task. I was right to believe that my students are knowledge holders and able constructors who have every right to be at this educational table with me. I was right in my belief that enabling learning is a harmful thing if you don’t provide them with the means and opportunities to develop independence and self-efficacy. I was right in my belief that their futures and the futures of the students who they will one day teacher are the most important outcomes in my role as an educator. I was right in my belief that I am a more than capable and passionate educator who wishes to impact the lives of those who I meet as I continue my journey.

Educational Patience: Bearing its fruits

Ironically, as I confess to all of those who have taken the interest and time to read my thoughts reflected within these words, I am forever grateful to all of those who evoked educational patience at their own peril. That young 5th grader and high schooler has embarked on a lifelong quest to better himself and hopefully others through the valuable lessons that were afforded to him by each and every one of you. That first grade teacher who was the inheritor of such wonderful and promising young people is now a developing scholar and intellectual who cherishes the bonds that were forged so long ago. So I hope to be a testament to other educators who are also demonstrating educational patience. There are many more like me who are forever thankful for all that you have done. Please know that we attempt to pay it forward in our own unique ways with your influence in mind.