As a teacher, one of the most frustrating parts of my job is when I have spent time and energy planning and explaining an assignment or topic only to discover that my students have been left bewildered and overwhelmed by my presentation. Some times it feels as though I honestly could not make the topic any simpler (or spell out the directions any clearer) and yet they are still confused. I have vented about this to other teachers and have found that they often experience the same reaction and difficulties when explaining topics that seem to be so simple to us.
At first I thought that maybe the students in this current generation are losing brainpower. Then I thought that maybe they just don’t care enough to spend time trying to understand. Another theory was that I hadn’t explained it correctly. Although I have not decided why exactly this seems to happen so often in the classroom, as I was praying one day, I realized that Jesus probably experienced something very similar with his disciples while He was on earth (and still experiences this with each of us on a daily basis).
Time and time again we hear in the Gospels how the disciples-the men who were with Him from the beginning, who travelled around with God-incarnate- questioned Jesus and needed Him to re-explain even the most basic of His teachings. They saw Him perform miracles, they felt the power of His words as He spoke to the people, they were able to live in the physical, bodily presence of God, and yet they really had no idea what He was about in the end (and most of them didn’t even understand that He was God). Even Peter, the head of His followers who was to be the rock of the Church, did not understand the heart of Jesus’ mission.
That sounds a little more frustrating to me than spending time explaining every detail of a project only to have ten kids raise their hands at the end because they don’t understand.
My conclusion from all of this: the core of the problem is not that the kids are failing to understand, but rather that I am so quick to condemn them for their lack of understanding. Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that I will accept their laziness in my classroom. What I mean, instead, is that the first step in this scenario is for me to learn a great lesson from the Teacher: patience. (My favorite lesson to learn….please note that this is said with sincerity, but through gritted teeth.)
The first thing that must change is my approach. I need to sit in what Matthew Kelly calls “the classroom of silence” and come to understand how to be patient when people do not understand. My students are children. They are still growing. In reality, we are all still growing. Even as adults, we still have to learn the same lessons over and over again (and we still make the same mistakes). The best lesson I can teach my students in all of this is that it’s ok if they do not understand, but that does not mean they are off the hook. They still need to try and be willing to put in the hard work that is sometimes needed to understand a topic. If I can show them patience and compassion while teaching them to strive for better understanding, then I will be one step closer to imitating the ultimate Teacher.
May God be praised!