If I could choose one single quality that I find most important for a teacher, it would be empathy. In my opinion, empathy is the cornerstone of any teaching process, the essential element, the sine qua non. An empathetic teacher is imaginative, reflective, kind, and shows understanding (Simpson & Sacken, 2014). Some of the best teachers on this planet have one trait in common – empathy. When they look at a child or young adult they see an individual with his or her feelings, thoughts, observations, and ideas. They do not see an object, but a human being with an inner world that should be respected.
When it comes down to my philosophy of teaching I strongly agree with the following quote: “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are” (Henson, 2005). This is exactly how I feel about teaching. A good teacher never judges a student by his grades, learning potential, or academic success. As a matter of fact, a good teacher does not judge.
In my lifetime I have seen numerous teachers, professors, and scholars, many of them were smart, educated, and witty. However, it was not their knowledge that ignited a love for learning inside of me. Not at all. As a matter of fact, teachers I appreciated the most were those who perceived me as an individual with my unique strengths and weaknesses. Going back to the times when I was a student myself, some events that occurred in the school classroom make me shiver. For instance, once a teacher humiliated a fellow student for blowing his nose too loudly during class. Similar humiliating situations occurred on several occasions in relation to different students, however, at the end of the day, this teacher positioned himself as very smart. When I think about it, was he really that smart, taking into account his behavior in relation to students? It felt like he enjoyed exercising his authority more than teaching.
In my opinion, it is essential that a teacher is able to show empathy toward students in moments of weakness. Furthermore, a teacher should never be a source of humiliation for his or her students. On the contrary, it is a teacher’s professional responsibility to defend those students who are being stomped on by others.
During my academic career, I have often encountered situations when a student who was not keeping up with the class was disrespected by the teacher or professor. When I saw these situations unroll before me, I asked myself, “Will this student ever recover enough from this embarrassing situation to actually want to engage in the learning process?” The answer was always “no”.
One of the worst things that a teacher can do is to disengage from the students by showing disrespect. After the teacher has shown disrespect it is very difficult to recover the student-teacher relationship, if not impossible. In fact, the learning process is highly influenced by the student-teacher relationship, hence, it is a number one priority that this relationship remains mutually beneficial and respectful.
During college, for one of the classes we had to conduct a survey asking students which qualities they valued most in their professors and later researched how this correlated with academic success. It was no surprise to find out that students did best in those classes where they were respected by the professor. Based on this short research, academic success closely correlated with a positive student-teacher relationship in most of the cases.
Lastly, a teacher must show understanding toward the student. Each individual is unique. We all have different characters, mindsets, and biographies. It is important to understand and respect these differences. Students who lag behind may be experiencing pressure at home or among peers; henceforth, it is the teacher’s number one priority to understand the student’s situation and treat him/her with empathy and respect.
In conclusion, my teaching philosophy relies on three important pillars: empathy, respect, and understanding. These three qualities reinforce each other and form the basis for a beneficial relationship between a teacher and his/her students. Only when these elements are present can the educational process truly manifest itself.
- Henson, J. (2015). It’s not easy being green: And other things to consider. New York, NY: Hyperion.
- Simpson, D. J., & Sacken, D. M. (2014). The sympathetic-and-empathetic teacher: A Deweyan analysis. Journal of Philosophy and History of Education, 64(1), p. 1-20.