Patient Learners – A Tale of Two Kids


This is a reflection on two weekends, two kids, and the importance of context. It is a reminder for me that being a patient learner is critical to success as a parent, teacher, and student.

The Soccer Tournament and the Volatile Goalie

Last weekend, my wife, my son, and I made the trek to our first soccer tournament of the season. As we watched one game, the goalie had meltdown on the field. To give you a quick breakdown of the events, the goalie’s team was winning 3-1. He let in a goal and was visibly upset, teary eyed and punching the net behind him. The intensity of the game continued to increase when he stepped out of his box to pick up the ball (this is not legal). The ref blew his whistle to call the foul and the goalie began his descent. Realizing his mistake, he turned to slam the ball down on the ground, but it slipped from his hands and pelted an opposing player in the head. Adding fuel to the fire, he fell and smacked, inconsolably crying. His coaches yelled, “It’s okay.” The ref kindly helped him up and coaxed him back into the goal. Players and parents looked around awkwardly, except for the goalie’s parents, whose heads slowly tilted down and hands rose up to cover their face. Fortunately for the goalie, the other team missed their shot and his team ended up winning, so nuclear meltdown mode seemed to be avoided.

The Birthday Party and the Perfect Student

Today, my family gathered together to celebrate my son’s ninth birthday. He is our one and only and since his birth, my wife and I have been repeatedly reminded that we have had it pretty easy. Early on, other parents complained about their babies not sleeping or eating, and we would happily/guiltily reply that our son was easy in both regards. At parent-teacher conferences, we heard what a focused student he is. This year, a teacher relayed a story of a few of his classmates debating over who he is friends with before one said, “Oh, he’s just friends with everybody.”

A More Complete Story

I’m sorry if it sounds like I wrote this post to compare my awesome kid to the less-than-awesome goalie. The reason I wrote this post is because my son is both kids. He is the awesome student and friend, as well as the goalie who lacks self-control. I am writing because I I feel awkward when others tell me what a great kid I have. I am writing because I feel like a a terrible parent when my son throws a tantrum on the field. I was the parent with my head in my hands, considering how little I could do to help the situation, knowing that most things I wanted to say would only make it worse.

Fortunately for my son, his coaches and the ref had nothing but supportive words, the parents and players didn’t judge him or his parents out loud. I happened to be sitting in front of two parents who are new to our team. I couldn’t help but wonder what they were thinking, let alone the assumptions the other team’s parents made about my son from that one moment: I can only imagine what that kid gets away with at home. I can only imagine what that kid is like in school. I’m glad that kid isn’t on my kid’s team. My kid would never do that…

Importance of Context

Once I was able to move past thinking about my kid, this dichotomy made me think about how often we judge others based on one or two interactions. How often do we jump to a conclusion about someone’s character after just one incident. Many of us fear that others might be judged off of our worst moments. With the school year right around the corner, or already here, it would benefit us to remember: no one wants to be judged, and parents definitely don’t want their child to be judged off of one or two moments.

For teachers, if we saw a student’s name on our class list that gave us pause, take it as an opportunity to be the teacher that sees the greatness in him/her. When a student inevitably makes a mistake in our room, take a second to think, “What can I say now that will help them learn from that mistake?” When we’re writing that email home, share what happened clearly, but pause before adding words of judgment.

For parents, when we receive that email about your child, know that teachers understand your child is a work in progress. When our child comes home with a story about ‘that kid’ in their class, be patient in response – listen carefully, ask what role your child played, and don’t rush to judgment.

The first few weeks of school can be tense for many. Students, teachers, and parents will be meeting each other for the first time. Most will have very little context to initiate this relationship, but build a relationship they must. They will enter the relationships with specific goals, expectations, and baggage. In just one classroom you have at least one teacher with twenty or more students, which means 40 or more parents or adults looking after those children. The number of relationships to manage is significant to say the least. And that is just one classroom.

Without context, there can not be real understanding. With kids, this can be an even greater challenge, as their emotional highs and lows can swing so quickly. We, teachers and parents, have to set the example for our children as patient learners who won’t rush to judge. We have to show the patience that is the calm to our child’s storm. We have to approach each situation with curiosity to learn, to seek understanding, and to help our child work toward a solution.

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