As a teacher, you’re taught to provide students with “wait time.” Wait time is the space of time between when you ask a question and when students are supposed to provide an answer. This way, students have a chance to think and process.
This is how real life should work as well I know, for me, I can’t process everything right away. Sometimes it takes me time to think. I need that space to breathe, process, and figure out my response.
But unfortunately, I also recognize this is not the case. It seems to me that people are supposed to have an answer right away to things. Something goes wrong, and you’re expected to have an answer right away. But sometimes the answer is that you need to think about it.
I know that when I’m overwhelmed, one of the first things I’ll do is cry. My brain just gets overstimulated and can’t handle the stress coming in. I also know that I won’t give my best self and best response when I’m overwhelmed.
Another time that processing time is appropriate is job interviews. I recognize I am fortunate in that I can think on my feet pretty well, but I know many who can’t. It definitely should not be an issue to tell an interviewer, “I heard your question, and I am just processing so I can give you the best response.” Personally, I would rather hire someone who thought about their answer and gave a thorough response rather than someone who just spouted the first thing our of the top of their head.
It’s okay to need a minute. It’s okay to take a breath. We all need processing time. Some people need more time than others. And that’s okay too. Processing time is not a bad thing. You don’t need a knee-jerk reaction to every situation. Take a breath, take a moment to think, and try to figure things out.
Going back to my students, especially within the district that I teach, giving that processing time is so important. Some of my students don’t speak English as their first language. Some of my students don’t make the best grades. Some of my students have a lot of issues going on outside of my classroom and have things that distract them. I also have to repeat things. That’s okay too. By giving my students that time to process, I can both get a better answer and meet them at their level.
Not everything can be solved at once. Sometimes the best response is a delayed response. One of my favorite things as a teacher is to help my students by setting up a problem for them and watching them solve it.
The most recent unit I’ve been teaching with them has been honestly one of the most interesting units. We’re discussing events that still plague the modern world. Because I teach world history, we’re mentioning places like Rwanda, Sudan (and South Sudan), Somalia, Myanmar, and Hong Kong. Obviously, these aren’t fun things to talk about. They are all rough topics in their own way. And when asked, I’ll talk about some of the things going on in Europe with Russia and Ukraine right now too. And while the unit is hard some days, it has been so amazing watching my students make these connections and understanding the atrocities committed. My students are able to process and understand the things of the world. Watching them comprehend and figure things out like that has got to be one of my top 5 teaching moments.
Processing time isn’t about being smart or dumb. Processing time is about how you organize your brain and information. From a neuroscience perspective, your brain processes and organizes information in specific ways called schemas. When you receive a new piece of information, your brain has to figure out where that piece of information belongs and categorizes it appropriately. That also takes some time. And that’s fine! Your brain needs to process and organize appropriately so that you know how to respond if you ever come across information like that again.
It’s okay to process things. Take your time, take a breath, and figure the situation out. Most things don’t have to be solved right away.