“Why can’t they listen to me?!” I’m sure I often asked back when I was a teacher. (Parents, managers, and bosses likely all ask this question from time to time.)
I was a teacher once and I remember this depressing statistic: students only retain about 10% of the things they learn. It’s a bit gloomy to think that if you talk for an hour, a total of 6 minutes really count.
But I’m pretty sure I was the same as a student. Not all the coffee in the college could keep me alert and interested in every class and I’m sure my teachers felt the same way about me. Why do her eyes look glazed over as if she isn’t listening?
But, just the other day in a cozy bedroom with wall art and pretty clothes, I heard the voice of one of my teachers. I had the diaphragm of a stethoscope against the stomach of a little patient and I was having trouble hearing bowel sounds.
Now I knew my patient was probably okay, but the rule is you have to listen until you hear noise in each quadrant of the stomach for up to one minute each, and then another minute overall, for a total of five minutes. The abdomen and it’s contents should never be completely asleep. If you hear NOTHING for five minutes, something is wrong.
I really wanted to cut a corner and quit listening, because, like I said, the odds of there being truly a bad problem were very low, and it was taking so long. The metal stethoscope was intruding on my patient’s stomach and causing either annoyance or discomfort.
Then I heard my teacher’s voice.
From a classroom in South Bend her voice came, over the intervening years and geography: “A minute (or five) is a really long time!”
Nine years later, maybe ten, and miles away, I felt a wave of reassurance. This is normal to be listening, listening, and it always seems like a really long time. But you have to do it.
I’m not certain which teacher it was who said those words, even though I can hear the inflections in her words. So even if I wanted to thank her? Can’t.
I continued listening until I heard bowel sounds and knew for sure that everything was okay. That is what it means to be a nurse. Maybe, by doing the right thing for my patient, I did exactly what she would have considered the highest form of thanks.
Perhaps my former students at odd moments, in odd places, have thanked me in just this way. I’ll probably never know, and that is what it means to be a teacher, to be a leader of any kind… to doggedly keep presenting truth, with no idea of what will stick, and no thanks for the moments when your words do make the world a better place.