Patience is a virtue, and it also seems to be the theme of the month. On April 21, Brian offered some thoughts on the role of patience in students’ mastery of writing. The latest issue of Real Simple (both the magazine and the website are pleasures) featured an article, “Wait for It,” by Ingela Ratledge detailing current research about variability in individual patience levels and techniques for increasing one’s patience quotient. While all the strategies sound promising, two of them reminded me of a pair of phrases that have become slogans in my classes: “Breathe deeply” and “Remain Calm”
Learning all the terms and processes in anatomy & physiology is a daunting prospect for most students. Even the most determined soul may “hit the wall” when faced with one-too-many busy diagrams. When faced with an apparently incomprehensible sequence of steps described in unfamiliar terminology, the desperate sensation of drowning can overwhelm. It’s hard to learn when you want to flee.
Anticipating these pits of mental quicksand, I offer my classes a couple of stories (’cause we love those stories, don’t we, Anne?) that seem to help.
When my younger son was three, he suffered a dental calamity that required sedation at our beloved pedodontist’s office. The protocol at Dr. Nunn’s place dictated that the patient was taken to the treatment room while the parent sat in the bright waiting room, pretending to be OK with this. After a very long time, a slightly drunken child was returned to me. I bundled him into his car seat and headed for home.
“What happened back there?” I asked.
“Well, dey put dis ting on my nose.” (The “th” blend was a late arrival at our house.)
“And then what happened?”
“And den I went home!”
“Breeve Deeply” became an enduring part of our family lore, offered up whenever any of us felt overwhelmed by life. I share the story in class, and soon someone calls out “Breathe deeply” whenever a slide suggests tough going ahead.
The second story grew out of the monthly ritual of checking the AED (automatic external defibrillator) at the clinic where I worked. As the apparatus was opened, a mechanical voice would loudly order us to “Remain Calm.” I’m not sure that remaining calm is an option—or even the best course of action—if someone is making a credible attempt to die right in front of you. Still, the ridiculously automated instruction was contagious. Crazy situations like overbooked flu shot clinics or the day before school started found us advising one another to “Remain Calm” in our best robot voices.
As I introduce a bewildering topic like cellular respiration, replete with crazy-making diagrams, I sprinkle a few “Remain Calm” slides into the presentation. Before long, a chorus of “Remain Calm” greets every frightening concept.
Perhaps this seems a little silly. And yet too many of my students have never been able to persevere through challenging coursework because they haven’t learned to be patient—to hang in there until the fog clears and the desperate confusion passes. If they can handle their frustration at not understanding a concept immediately, I can generally lead them through the swamp. Learning to tolerate the temporary discomfort of feeling lost allows them to eventually master the important concepts.
And that, friends, takes patience. Breathe deeply. Remain calm.