So, you all probably know the drill. When someone says they are a special education teacher, there are a few favorite responses. One of these responses often goes something like this: “Wow, it takes a lot of patience to do your job…”
To do the job WELL, am thinking that yes, yes it does.
Does it mean that it is easy to be patient? Nope. No it does not.
And it’s funny. I’ve realized something about myself. Being patient with a student who has had some emotional trauma or is dealing with some behavioral crisis is not where my patience is tried the most. Do you know what situations try me the most? The situations that take every ounce of self-control for me are the situations where I need to let things take their course and not rescue a student in the silent waiting period.
It might go something like this: “Sam, tell me what you think this character was feeling when…” such and such….
Then comes… student with a deer-in-the-headlights look along with “…… s i l e n c e ………………………….”…(silence except for the the talking in my head that is saying, “don’t answer Heather. Wait. He can do this. Don’t answer…one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand…………ten one thousand……..”)
Then, student looks at me with big eyes and says something like “I think he was happy.”…………………
“Yes! Great job, Sam! I think he was happy, too!”…and I want to say ‘because’ and tell him why ….why he was happy and to try to tell more about the character. But nooooo….because good teachers S T R E T C H the thinking abilities of their students and don’t just quickly tell the answers.
Good teachers want their students to think, to feel, to process information…to be active learners who apply what has been taught. So, because I want to be a good teacher…..instead of TELLING him the whys (the answers) …I say, (courageously I might add, because I know what’s coming), “Why do you think he was happy?” (The “Whys” are way more difficult than the “whats”) And then… I will probably see a student with a deer-in-the-headlights look and …
“…… s i l e n c e ………………………….”
Repeat lesson number one.
But not only do I have to use self control to be silent. Do you know who can be the biggest deterrent to that student coming up with an answer on his own? Ironically, what can slow down the learning process the most can be another well-meaning student coming alongside to “help” him who quickly blurts out the answer. (This might have the “SQUIRREL!!” effect on student number one…as in being a distraction to that student.)
Yes, “Helping” can look like giving quick answers to fill the uncomfortable void of silence. It can look like speaking for another when they are having trouble speaking for themselves. It can look like thinking for another and filling the void with gaps when the other person was coming up with some very good viable answers of their own that don’t match the fillers or timing of the contributor. Rescuing from silence can look like “you’re not quick enough.” “you’re not smart enough” “You’re taking too long.”
The message being given can be the opposite of helping. It can often be one that not only undermines the development of some important processing skills, but can also reinforce insecurities in the student who might just have the answer on the tip of their tongue before another person fills the void with his thoughts. When fillers fill the void, what could have been better understood by the student through his own eyes, mind, experience and understanding can end up defaulting to the quick answer. Defaults are good for computer settings. They are not so beneficial for the process of students learning to think on their own.
What’s the implication here? Well, I was thinking about silence and how sometimes as believers, we can wonder why a prayer hasn’t been answered, or a longing hasn’t been filled. We can wonder why it feels as though there’s a silence there.
Remember how I said, “Good teachers want their students to think, to feel, to process information…to be active learners who apply what has been taught.” They don’t fill the voids, but use silence as a tool to encourage development of new insights, thinking processes and understanding. They help lead the student to new understandings by not spoon feeding, but encouraging thought. Well…I think that God probably knows a thing or two about being a good teacher. Yes, probably so. I’m also thinking that it is ours to decide whether or not we’re going to be a good student. When those periods of silence come, do I fill the voids with stuff or activity or quick fixes? Or do I allow myself time to see if there’s a question, or something I should see, or a question that has been left unanswered? Is He looking at me with my deer-in-the-headlights look waiting for me to respond? Is he waiting for me to act? And here’s another question…Do I take the time to let the seeming silence draw me nearer to the Lord or push me away? Gulp, Yikes, and ouch for me on some of those questions.
And here’s another question. When a friend is going through a difficult time, do I try to fill the voids with fillers? I mean, by all means we should be there for each other. But sometimes I think we’re too quick to give short answers and explanations for things we barely understand. Pat answers have no place when making genuine attempts to ‘be there’ for someone going through a rough patch or ‘silent period’. Sometimes the best being there is just,…well, …being there. And not having to fill any voids with words, but just actions of …being there.
We often want to rescue each other…friends, family members, students… and fill in the voids of silence and space and time and experience with fillers. (But fillers are fillers. They aren’t the real deal…just substitutes for the real thing.) If I do that as a teacher, I’m selling my student short. I mean, if a student always has someone telling them the answer, they won’t be developing the thinking strategies they desperately need. They won’t be increasing their processing speed. They won’t be gaining confidence. And they learn to default to whatever fillers anyone puts in the void. They can learn to believe that their voice is not important. That’s not good.
A reliance on others for ‘finding the answers’ can produce a passivity, apathy, and make people lose motivation for owning their own lives. It can also produce the looking to the left or the right that enforces a false belief that my life should look like another’s. It can produce a measurement stick of comparing life to another’s rather than embracing my own.
Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices.” It’s interesting to me that after saying to ‘be still and wait patiently for the Lord’ that it talks about not worrying about people who seem to be doing great despite being ‘evil-doers’. I’m sure there are lots of reasons for this pairing, but I so believe that something that can rob our peace and fill our voids with an even greater void is comparing our lives to the lives of another and wanting what is not ours.
Again, the left or right isn’t our path. Our path is the one we’re walking. And that’s where we can find the most joy and fulfillment and purpose…living our lives in the shoes we’re in. Interesting that just before this verse in Psalm 37 is verse 4 that says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Am thinking the delighting in Him helps us tap in to who we are, and what God has for us, rather than defaulting to desires of what we see to the left or to the right. It could be that He has things way better than what we would imagine for ourselves. In fact, that’s what the Bible says… (see Ephesians 3 below <3) Or maybe the timing just isn’t right.Kind of like a good peach…you might want it now, but if it’s not ripe, well, it’s just a disappointment. Sometimes wait time is good.
So sometimes, silence— and the space and time it provides, can encourage self-searching and growth. Silence can bring on “think time” that wouldn’t occur without the void that silence brings. I love Psalm 62:5. It says, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” I love how it’s as though David is giving his soul a directive…”Oh my soul…” do this. I think sometimes silence is a gift because we need space to re-acclimate ourselves…reprioritize things, take a reboot of heart and mind. Silence has a way of helping us SEEK rather than just defaulting to what is seen on the surface.
Yes, maybe sometimes silence is a great teacher. Maybe so. Maybe when we’re asking God to speak and fill the needs, voids, gaps, His silence may help us ask different questions and come up with way different answers than we would if we were just quick to jump to fill in the voids with a quick fix. Silence might just be something He uses to help us see things in a new light. Like a good teacher who believes in the ability of his students and pushes through the learning process, God knows our gifts and abilities better than anyone and might just let us sit in uncomfortable spaces to help us grow…to help us see…to draw us near. He’s a good teacher…but He’s more than that. He’s Creator and Redeemer. He can do amazing things in the lives of willing disciples….students, that is.
So, the saying goes, “Silence is golden.” Am thinking maybe it is— for the students in my classroom, and for people (like me) who are waiting on God to speak, direct, and fill. I’m going to try to remember that the next time I face a student with a deer-in-the-headlights look. (And I’m pretty certain that that will happen by tomorrow morning.. <3). (I’m sure God has seen that look in me a time or two.) And I’ll try to have grace and space and patience knowing that God is so very patient with me… I happen to believe He’s the best ‘special education’ teacher around…
P.S. I probably should’ve posted a warning at the beginning of this post stating it is “unabridged”, a.k.a. L O N G … I wrote it a week ago and didn’t post because it’s def lengthy…but decided to post because it will probably just sit with the other many drafts if I don’t. Thanks for those of you who are with me on the tangent thoughts and in on the saying things in ten different ways. I guess that’s what this teacher often does…(as much for myself as for my own students.) Hope you have a good week ❤
“But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
“As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.”
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”