Compassion: Cure for the Soul

I got into the teaching profession because I love working with children. Sure, they can drive me crazy (did I mention that I teach middle school?!?!), but they also bring such joy in their innocence and goof-ball antics. I’m lucky in that I work with a culturally diverse faculty and student body because there’s so much to learn and appreciate from those who have a different story. It’s not always sunshine and puppies, but that’s the purpose of growing pains.

I came across an article shared by a peer in my doctoral program (TY @19Chr1stine) that asked the question “Can Equity be Taught?” It brought to light the fact that quite a bit of the struggles teachers experience in the classroom are due to factors that are not necessarily academic. The Edutopia article focused on disciplinary and academic issues that stemmed from a teacher’s disconnect between their cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds and that of their students. Another article was based on a study that examined racial mismatch that influenced teacher expectations for their students. This study was enlightening because it highlighted the differences in expectations between teachers and students who shared the same race or whose race was different. It’s a bit hard to read in that I think all of us have been guilty of this offense at some point in our career.

While the Edutopia article introduced ways that districts and other educational organizations are attempting to address this issue, it might feel to some as if teachers are being demonized for not being sensitive or cognizant enough to racial, ethnic, or cultural differences. But I want to make it very clear…teaching and being a teacher is a learning process. It’s a process of discovery that occurs not only between teacher-student or student-student, but also introspectively within oneself. In fact, I think what everyone in the world needs right now is a huge dose of compassion. Compassion for each other. Compassion for oneself. Compassion for those with whom you disagree. You get my drift.

I think if teachers came from a place of compassion when approaching each and every day with their students, it would change the dynamic of the entire classroom environment and the relationships within. This topic brings to mind a book I read last summer called The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model by Dr. Mariele Hardiman. In this book (as well as the website), Dr. Hardiman highlights ways to develop and nurture a learning environment that is inclusive for all learners. In particular, Brain-Target 1 Emotional Climate is one area that could help build a learning community that is supportive, safe, and caring. It’s a great read and if you’re a classroom teacher, I almost feel like it’s a must read especially if you work with a culturally diverse student population.

I’ll leave you with a question from the Edutopia article: “Is a problem that a teacher sees as stemming from a student’s character or behavior sometimes really about the school’s discipline policies, or about cultural differences between the way the teacher and student perceive the unfolding situation?” (Berwick, 2017).

Just remember, show compassion to yourself. Make it a goal, a project that you constantly keep in the forefront of your mind. Emotional, spiritual, and mental growth does not happen overnight. And for some of us, it’s a mindset change to think different. But we need to do this. Our students deserve teachers who are kind to themselves, but also who are not above admitting that perhaps the current way of doing things isn’t necessarily going to work any more. To be a culturally responsive educator, we need to be open to all that we are and all that our students bring to our classrooms. It’s not easy holding a mirror up to one’s actions and thoughts. But how else will we ever grow as a human being?

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