IN CONVERSATIONS concerning professional behavior, discussions of feelings are often dismissed as improper.Yet it is impossible to understand teaching without acknowledging the chief emotion that prompts and motivates it when it is at its best a profound concern for students that springs from the heart as well as from the head,
an irresistible desire to help the young overcome their natural weaknesses and to dispel all people's ignorance. A remarkable teacher, one of the greatest the world has ever known, broke down and wept when brought face to face with the confusion and unhappiness that afflicted those who came to hear his teachings. "When he saw the multitudes," Matthew reports of Jesus, "he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd."
When asked what they do for a living, teachers often describe themselves as promoting or professing particular subjects: "I teach English" or "I teach tenth-grade Latin." Yet these expressions are elliptical. What the teachers mean is that they teach English to undergraduates or Latin to tenth-grade students. The best of them have chosen their profession not necessarily because they have great affection for adolescent ~outh, but
1.because they believe that the language or science they teach is important to the development of other, usually younger, minds and because they feel able to impart certain kinds of knowledge to the students in their classes. There is in the best teachers a profound enthusiasm for conveying their subject matter, a zeal which is almost missionary in intensity, which frequently makes every effort they make to do so exciting to teachers themselves as well as to their students. Compassion in teaching is therefore not simply affection; it is an emotional reaction to the ignorance of the young, which creates in teachers a desire to wrestle with ignorance, substitute knowledge, and establish order and certainty wherever students' intellectual chaos and doubt are evident. Thus
2. compassion is the basis for the necessary patience of teachers; no matter how inept or clumsy students' attempts at grasping the material may be, compassion ensures that teachers, rather than being scornful or condescending, will be tolerant and understanding.
The word compassion is appropriately used to describe these attributes of teaching because it connotes experience as well as sharing. The original Latin components of the English word mean "suffering with." Compassion is therefore inherent in teaching because teachers share with their students a sense of frustration, regret, and pain at the difficulties and struggles they must undergo to learn. It is not that students feel the same emotion but rather that their teachers remember the difficulties they experienced as students and are moved by that recollection. Those who have forgotten how hard it was to attain their achieved levels of mastery in a discipline will never be successful or happy instructors. The finest piano teachers remember their early struggles with their first five-finger exercises, the torment of the scales, and the stage at which the mere thought of playing anything that had more than three sharps or flats in a key signature prompted despair. That kind of summoned memory enables compassionate teachers to go through elements of instruction over and over again without the experience becoming stale or boring to them. The difference of one such experience from another, of course, is in the students, who are never the same, except in their difficulties and perplexities. Compassionate teachers therefore repeatedly "suffer with" their students.
Without this sense of common experience, no matter how controlled, suppressed, or concealed it may be, there is no successful practice of the art of teaching. It is a gut-wrenching emotion, as Matthew related it was for Jesus. The word used in the New Testament Greek and translated as "moved with compassion" means literally "to eat the inner organs," a phrase similar to our expression "to eat one's heart out." Since the inner organs include the heart, the expression is used metaphorically to mean "to feel emotion, pity, or compassion." This is no light sensation or passing fancy; it is a powerful reaction to the awareness of the difficulties that afflict others. Teachers often know its results as emotional, sometimes physical, exhaustion.
But if it is so important - indeed, crucial - to effective teaching, how does compassion manifest itself in the classroom?
Compassion requires first that teachers know who their students are. Even such simple practices as learning the names of students or asking them to complete questionnaires about themselves on the first day of class is a step in this direction. It begins the process of discovering how each student differs from others, how their minds work, what their views and experiences are, what particular strengths and weaknesses each has. Teachers who ignore such considerations will get to know only the problem cases and the overachievers in each class; the other students, most of whom fall between these two extremes, will believe that their teachers have little concern for them or interest in their development, and their work will reflect that belief.
Compassion demands an adherence to high standards. It does not imply a lowering of them or a failure to hold students to account. Quite the contrary: a teacher's compassion arises from understanding students' travails as they strive to meet the challenges the teacher has set for them. True compassion is the identification by one person with the difficulties of another the acknowledgement, not the denial, of those difficulties. A teacher's responsibility is in fact precisely to set those difficulties before the students, to provide the goals, incentives, encouragements, and rewards that will enable them to overcome their ignorance or their momentary helplessness so that they will be able to know more.
The confusion of compassion with charity is one of the principal misunderstandings of contemporary teaching. Teachers show regard for their students by setting high, though always reasonable, standards, by holding students responsible for meeting them, and then by exhibiting compassion toward them as they struggle to meet those standards. Making the work easier for students by adjusting their expectations downward is not compassion but negligent condescension. A compassionate regard for students requires setting appropriately high standards in the students' own interest. It is only by challenging students that a teacher reveals true compassion- a determination to relieve them of the ignorance that exacts severe penalties from both students and society together. To become known by students as "tough, but fair" is one of the crowning achievements of teaching.
1.Compassion requires that teachers put themselves in their students' places. This imaginative act enables teachers to anticipate the difficulties and reactions of their students. "Although that is wrong, I understand why you are making that mistake. Let me explain why," is the statement of a compassionate teacher, who tries to imagine the problems each student faces in learning something. The effort to see the material through the eyes of the students, to get inside their minds so as to understand their confusions and desires, helps teachers anticipate their students' questions and thus show them that they understand and appreciate the difficulties the students are encountering. Often teachers can reveal compassion for their students' confusions by asking them to report any difficulties in completing an assignment; or, in personal conferences, teachers can elicit from students those misunderstandings or difficulties they fail to admit to when surrounded by their peers. Compassion also means that
2.while teachers try to avoid criticizing their students' intellectual performance, they are also honest and fair in their evaluations of it and in reproving any misbehavior.