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Compassion—the Elements of Teaching 8.2

Compassion makes approval enjoyable and correction palatable. The "carrot and stick" approaches to teaching must be carefully balanced. Compassionate teachers know to what extent approval and correction are to be used, and they ensure that the critique of the work of an individual student in no way discourages or intimidates either that student or listening classmates. This is a matter of ethics, and compassionate teachers will do their utmost to reprove students only in confidential settings. To be praised in the presence of peers is a rich reward, but to be rebuked in public adds humiliation to reprimand, often out of all proportion to the fault itself. Good teachers correct their students, but always in such a way as to protect the students' dignity and self-respect.


Compassion requires avoiding favoritism. A teacher's compassion must be general and must apply equally to all students; compassionate teachers single out no one student for particular favor or criticism. Compassion as well as ethics therefore makes teachers fair in dealing with their students. A responsible teacher cannot treat all members of a class in the same way; there will always be some students who require more attention than others if they are to have any success at all and others who can learn without special consideration. While compassion requires a uniform level of concern and interest, it does not demand a rigidly equitable division of teachers' time among all students. What it does require is that no member of a class should be or feel neglected or excluded.


Often this means that a teacher will have to search out those students who, for various reasons, remove themselves from involvement with a class and its work. In almost every class there will be those students who desperately want to ask their teacher for more attention and help but are fearful of stepping forward. It is a teacher's duty to find and help those students. Similarly, there will always be objectionable, impertinent, and rude students whose behavior will tempt teachers to succumb to sarcasm or hostility. Handling these students-distinguishing between the students and their behavior-is among the truest tests of compassion.

Compassion moves teachers to acknowledge their students' struggles. This avowed and exemplified act of identification with students makes teachers' demands bearable to those who are trying to learn from them. Few things impede students' learning more than teachers who seem dismissive of their difficulties or who diminish or deride their achievements. Although criticisms are necessary ingredients of all teachers' methods, praise and empathy must fill each classroom. Success in learning invites celebration.

Most teachers are superior to their students in age, experience, and learning; but teachers must beware of allowing that superiority to dominate their attitudes toward those who study with them. Instead of saying, "I find this easy. Why do you find it so difficult?" good teachers will say, "Yes, this is difficult. I had an awful time with it when I was learning it. But let me see if I can explain it to you so that you can find it a bit easier than I did." Then, when the students have grasped the concept, it will be time for praise: "I remember spending three weeks grappling with that, and you've managed it in four days. Well done!"


Compassion means acting as a whole person. This aspect of compassion distinguishes great teachers from merely effective ones. 1.Compassionate teachers bring their full personalities to class and do not act as if they have left significant parts of themselves at home. They are professionals sufficiently mature to have emotional lives that embrace, undergird, and strengthen professional engagement. Those teachers who check their emotions at the classroom door are usually dismissed by their students as "cold fish" or "phonies." These are the automata who wrongly believe that discipline and control can be established and maintained only if they behave in a mechanical and unfeeling way. There are no people without emotions; but many people in their professional lives, confusing rationality with lack of feeling, consider feelings obstructive, unprofessional, or threatening to their authority and thus dispense with them altogether. That is an error. Teachers who display no emotions often silence the already introverted, reticent students who speak only when comfortable with a teacher. 2.Teachers with no obvious signs of human feeling cannot establish that sense of comfort and security that is so necessary to creating a teaching environment that invites and encourages participation.


Compassion is evident in a steady devotion to each student's future. It ought to be a concentration on each student's best interests that sustains teachers as they face resistance from their students, directives from their supervisors, complaints from parents, and criticism from the community at large. This desire to serve each student's interests guides the best teachers through such trials and gives them the fortitude to stick it out day after day.

Compassion is the foundation of this devotion, whose strength springs from acknowledgement of how the teacher's own life has been enriched through knowledge and by the hard labor needed to gain it. That devotion does not lie in seeking students' ease. It lies in challenging them to work-and then alleviating one's own concern for the pain involved in their working so hard by acknowledging what they are going through. "No pain, no gain" should be the motto of the classroom as much as the sports field, with the teacher seeking to ease the difficulties of learning with caring attentiveness and thus to encourage students to persevere.


Anyone contemplating teaching as a profession should consider compassion as a measure of suitability. The physical and emotional toll exacted by teaching will be too much for those lacking it; better by far that they leave the care of the ignorant multitudes to those who find their difficulties and their hunger to learn innately compelling. Those who experience difficulty in accepting the place of compassion in the classroom, who resist the idea of sympathetic emotions, or who prefer their working lives to be exclusively intellectual should avoid teaching altogether and probably consider devoting themselves to less demanding occupations, such as politics or crime.


Compassion—the Elements of Teaching 8.2
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