Instant Gratification

I think most people like instant gratification. It’s nice not to have to wait for something to happen. Patience isn’t many peoples’ strong suit. This used to be a problem for me while teaching. I would give a direction and expect my students to follow it right away. In fact, one of my rules was to follow directions the first time they’re given. This did not usually happen, though. I found myself repeating the directions several times in just a minute or two because my students did not immediately do what I asked. This was especially problematic for my “challenging” students. The ones who didn’t want to do any work. The ones who wore their hoodies up even though it was against dress code. The ones who just wanted to put their heads down and sleep. I found myself getting into power struggles with these students because I would ask them to do something and they wouldn’t do it right away and so I’d ask again (in a more frustrated tone) and it would escalate from there, sometimes resulting in the student just walking out of class.

This was not working. I knew I had to try something else. Throughout my years as a teacher, I’ve had to take more than one professional development course that stressed the importance of ‘wait time’. When you ask a question during a discussion, you have to give several seconds of wait time for students to process the question and formulate an answer. One day I had the epiphany that if I was expected to have wait time for academic questions, shouldn’t I have it for directions, too? What would happen if I gave a direction and simply waited longer before repeating myself? I decided to give it a try.

Magic. I noticed immediately that this was effective. My students who would have otherwise been belligerent and confrontational were not any longer. I gave my directive (please take off your hood) and I just waited. (And while I waited, I went about my business, teaching class as usual.) Sometimes I waited a lot longer than I wanted to, but I waited. And the vast majority of the time, the student eventually complied. Maybe it was because they wanted to wait long enough for the other students to forget I’d asked them to do it, so when they did it, it would seem like their own idea. Who knows? The point is, I dramatically reduced the behavior problems in my room because I simply gave my students the freedom to work on their own timetable.

Side note: I have a two-year-old son, and I have found this works really well with him, too. It requires a LOT of patience on my part, but I avoid frustration and power struggles with him. Sometimes it takes more time than I think I have, but then I think about the time a struggle or tantrum would take and I realize it’s a great pay off. I ask (put your bat down, please) and I wait. And I wait. And sometimes I ask one more time gently. And I wait. And then, on his own timetable, he does it. And life is good.


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