Building A Better Student: Delayed Reaction

four light bulbs on colored backgrounds

What happens when you walk into a room and flip the light switch? The bulbs immediately begin to shine, right? It’s been that way our entire lives; we throw a switch, and there’s light, instantly.

So you can imagine my delight when I moved into a house where two rooms have delayed lighting. It’s the oddest thing; you turn on the switch, and a full second passes before the lights come on. I’m sure there’s some technical reason for it, and it might not be all that rare, but I love the quirkiness of it.

It’s a reminder, too, that, even though we live in an age of instant gratification, we don’t always see immediate results.

When it comes to the student in your house, or in your classroom, this is a challenge. Talk about a generation that has never had to wait for anything! C’mon, they’ve even grown up with a tech feature called INSTANT messaging. The idea of waiting minutes is irritating, so you can imagine how well they do with something that requires years.

That lies at the core of the education issue for many kids in America. What they’re learning in school is often not something they’ll apply until years later, and so they have a difficult time embracing the subject. “Why do I need to know this?” is a question that teachers have heard so many times that they want to scream. But you and I have a frame of reference stretching back to our school days, and then weaving throughout our adult lives. We see the application.

Education, however, generally has a delayed reaction. Sure, we want students to grasp the knowledge right away, but not many sixteen-year-olds rush out and implement what they learn in an accounting class. They’re throwing a switch now, and the light will come on later.

An important element of our mission in The Big Brain Club is helping young people to envision their future, not in terms of what they want to be, but rather what it will take to achieve success in any field. To that end, my job – and yours – is to instill an appreciation for time and its consequences. That means understanding both the bad (negative outcomes from poor decisions) and the good (how a foundation put down today can build a successful tomorrow).

As parents and teachers we see what students are building toward, while they don’t have the experience yet to connect the dots. It’s our responsibility to teach them not just the skills they’ll need, but to help them visualize a future where their expertise pays off. They’re often impatient, and I can’t fault them; it’s an instant world, and we’re spoiled by speed and immediate results. I’ve chuckled more than once when a guest at my house throws one of those delayed light switches, then flips it back off before the light comes on. They’re sure they’ve used the wrong switch. “Give it a moment,” I say.

That’s a good message for young people in school, too; absorb everything you can, and trust that the light will come.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty two years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people recognize that Smart Is Cool. More info at www.DomTesta.com.

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