Are we there yet?

by Jess Hill

August 2018

The excitement of the first day at Harpeth Hall is truly electrifying.  The ear-piercing squeals in the halls and on the sidewalks let everyone know that the girls are back in town!  Indeed, the heart and soul of the school are back, and the blood is coursing through the veins of our campus once again.  Nothing makes me happier than the beginning of a school year at Harpeth Hall.  Our pages are clean and our heads are clear.  We are ready to take on the world.  The energy after the renewal of the summer is palpable.  We feel invincible!

The first few days turn into the first few weeks and soon enough, some of the newness rubs off.  I am not sure exactly when it happens, but we should prepare for it.  In only a few short weeks, someone in one of our classes or pods will have a familiar pang.  She will begin to feel a little restless in the same way she felt as a young child in the back seat of a car, impatient at the beginning of a long journey.  “Are we there yet?”  

Can I see my grade?  Are we finished yet?  Am I a success yet?  How much longer?

We know time passes much more slowly for a 10-year-old or 14-year-old than it does for an adult.  The time from August to October, from Monday to Friday, or even from 8:00 until 8:45 AM, can feel like an eternity to them.  No matter how we look at time, one thing is certain:  deep learning takes a very long time.  Try as we might, we have not yet found a way to speed up the acquisition of understanding, much less the acquisition of maturity.  It seems to require us to make mistakes and spend the time to try again and do it better.
I remember reading an article last year which pointed to a significant drop in our attention spans.  According to research, the article stated, “the average attention span had fallen to eight seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000.”  These articles are quite unsettling to me.  After reading them, I search for comfort in knowing that we are working to help our girls buck the current trend.

Our job, as teachers and parents, must be to take the long view as often as we can with our girls.  We understand that things like conquering systems of equations or deciphering a first Shakespeare play take time and focus.  According to that same article, the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, stated that “The true scarce commodity” of the future will be, “human attention.” We are all driven to distraction and look for immediate results.  That is precisely why we are embarking on a journey with your daughters to acquire something which is counter-cultural.  That something is delayed gratification.
A couple of years ago, while visiting a girls’ school in New York, several of us enjoyed a conversation with one of their English teachers.  She remarked that this sense of impatience with learning was a bit like “potting a plant and pulling it up every few minutes to see if it had taken root.”  We must give the learning process time, just as we must give the plant time to settle in.
The starts and stops of growth are sometimes beyond our control.  Yet, when we measure time in seasons or years, and not in blocks and quizzes, we can see progress.  We are honored to till the soil for your daughter’s education this year.  It will be one of many years of a long journey.  We look forward to witnessing her growth and discovery as she cultivates her seeds of patience.  We are not there yet, but we are making good time.