Friday, March 30, 2012
A Test of Patience
God might have given me Shoo (not his real name) for a student to test my patience. He knows I have very little of it.
Shoo is not a Filipino, 6'4" at age 17, and like a gangly teener that he is, he has a stoop, especially when he talks to me.
Many of my students in the foreign university where I teach come from different countries, where English is hardly spoken. But after a month of English class, they come around quite easily. Before long, they gain many friends, excel, and become part of the here and now.
But Shoo is different. For him to understand me, I have to drawl (much slower than the allowed speed limit), use extravagant gestures, and put on histrionics. Sometimes I sing and dance.
Most of the time, Shoo asks what this or that word means. I'd tell him to look it up in his dictionary.
That's not what's frustrating about mentoring Shoo. In the beginning I thought his thoughts were elsewhere, and so I kept trying to bring him back to terra firma. But he is actually nowhere. And that's a harder place to come from.
Each time I ask him a question, he answers, "I don't know." Or, "No." Or, "Nothing." His favorite, and probably his only, gesture is the shaking of his huge head.
I don't want to give up on you, I thought. But I said, “I don't know what to do with you!”
I've asked him all possible questions: What is it you really want to do? Do you have friends? Do you want to go back to your country? How do you want me to teach you? Did you read the reference book? Did you do your assignment? What are the things you want to know? What interests you? What is your favorite activity? Subject? Topic?
Because of his difficulty with English, or his indifference to everything, or both, he is on a one-on-one tutorial program, where he has all the attention of the teacher, who adjusts to his learning pace.
Now I'm afraid that if our department chair asked about Shoo, I'd reply, "I don't know.” “No.” “Nothing.”
Giving up? Or is my patience still holding?
I remember wild, unmanageable, deaf-mute-blind Helen Keller, who became the luminary that she was because of her teacher, Annie Sullivan (dubbed "The Miracle Worker" in a play and movie of the same title).
When I decided to teach part-time after leaving the corporate world, I dreamed of likewise becoming a miracle worker.
Shoo is nowhere near Helen Keller. He has all his faculties intact: hearing, seeing, talking. He is as tame as she was fierce. He is as polite as she was bratty. Alas, there is only one teacher of note with godly patience: Annie Sullivan.
My dream has shrunk into a wish: a tad more grace to stretch my patience till the end of this term (which is next week).
All I want is to continue encouraging Shoo to leave the nowhere land—and find himself where the rest of us are.