Friday, December 7, 2007

You Don't Learn Empathy From a Textbook

There are moments when I'm teaching when I can see that there is some good in humanity, that today's youth may provide some hope for the future. Yesterday we had a fire drill during lunch so all the students marched outside in the cold. My plan period is during lunch so I didn't have any students to watch. Being the good teacher that I am, I went outside to supervise and keep order. Most of the kids were pretty wired and bouncing around, but that's to be expected. After a few minutes we got the all clear and the students started to trickle back in.

While we were coming back inside I saw something that made my heart catch in my throat. I'm serious; I could feel the emotion welling up inside me and I had to bite back not to show it. One of my 8th grade students really impressed me that day because instead of running back inside or talking with his other 8th grade friends, he made sure this younger student with arm braces made it back inside the building. He helped her up the hill, opened the door for her and walked her back to her class. He was the only one who bothered to make sure she made it back inside. The girl's teacher sure didn't help and her Para was no where to be seen. Now, I've actually talked about this student before on this blog. He's the student who enjoyed reading this book about a female character, but felt the pressure from his male friends not to show it. He's a pretty normal teenage boy who likes dirt bikes, paint ball, and hunting. But what impresses me is his developed sense of empathy and maturity that you just don't normally expect from a 14 year old boy. He's a good kid. I knew that before, but seeing it in action reminds me what a great job I have.

Today I gave him a gift certificate for a free pizza for good citizenship. He just shrugged and said it was no big deal, but he kind of smiled when I handed it to him because he knew that he had done good and I think it pleased him that someone noticed and recognized that fact. He doesn't brute around the fact that he helps others in need. In fact, I've seen him help other students with homework though he doesn't make a big deal about it. One time, I watched him help a struggling reader read aloud during class by helping to correct some of the words the other student got stuck on. Now I'm not trying to say this student is a saint. He's got a stubborn streak a mile wide sometimes. He likes to talk, but that works both ways since he also participates in class discussion a lot as well. Good kid all and all though. He's going to grow up into mature and well balanced adult.

One of the best things that has happened to me since I've started teaching is that my complete and utter reliance on thinking has given way to an increased ability and willingness to look at the world through feeling and emotion. I'm invested in my students, every single last one of them, even the ones who get under my skin. It's impossible to be invested in your students from a purely analytical and thinking process. I see my students as a community of learners which I'm a part of. It's fun to theorize about best practice and pedagogical methods, but nothing in any of my education courses could prepare me for the human aspect of working with students.
People ask me why would I want to teach. The pay isn't great and the hours are long and hard. The answer is simple. It's because of the students; it'll always be because of the students.

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