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Why do we need empathy from our Teachers?

While writing on this subject, the first thing I noticed is the possibility of the existence of this question and also retaining a befitting answer to it. Empathy from a teacher, this thought gives rise to several questions. Shouldn’t it be a given that a teacher should already possess empathy? Is empathy a necessary trait for a teacher to have? Does demonstrating sympathy and compassion somehow even affect a student’s emotional and mental proficiencies?

student teacher relation

Should be like this — But sometime its opposite

To answer all these questions, I must also share the reason why I decided to write about this particular topic. I believe that every now and then, there comes a time during a student’s life where he or she crosses paths with a teacher that seems to stir quite some complications for them. Is quite stern and strict in their set ways, does not believe in compensating anyone and can occasionally practice favoritism. The teacher can either have all these characteristics and traits or just might own one of these. It does not matter. The only thing that does matter, is the fact that the teacher is viewed as a threat to our educational efforts, academic goals, and grades and there is not much we can do about it.

In every phase of my academic life, either school, college or university, I have faced this trope of tutors. As my educational level increased so did the mistreatment from them. I would like to firstly make it known that I am a hard-working, respectful, class decorum and grades maintaining student who looks up to her teachers and tends to draw inspiration from them. This is partly the reason why I came across this question. During my matriculation I faced abusive teachers who focused on students cramming entire books cementing Pakistan’s cramming culture. It definitely ensured good grades but scarred me for life.

College came with the promise of an easy going environment but along came another teacher carrying with her all the detrimental effects to our mental health. That teacher was revered by many as well as myself but after some time, I stumbled upon the realization that toxicity can be masked with sweetness. I went through college life, dreading Urdu, cramming Urdu essays and 2 page verse summaries word by word so as to not fail, yet ended up being discriminated and attained lowest possible marks in that subject.

University life had its own challenges, an even powerful professor with a strong administrative position having hard lined narrow minded rules that could not have been implemented even in the previous century, put my former unpleasant teachers to shame. The exact opposite epitome of what higher educational professors are considered as. If academic terror was a popular term and a recognized sentiment, then it perfectly encapsulates my thought. The anxiety used to be crippling with recurring palpitations, sweaty palms and the deadly silence during the lectures. It was laced with the constant agony of my name being called to provide an answer to a question that I fully know but will never be accurate enough with regards to them. The constant gas lighting of us students, never taking our word for it, concreted anxiety and mental issues in the entire batch.

As I write about my experiences, I wonder, had these respective teachers shown a tiny drop of sympathy, how different it would have been. What did these teachers generate with the amount of fear they had stirred among us students? I, for one do not ever recall my fellow students remembering them with any good intentions as students do or as showcased in the movies. The opposite of this can be stated about my teachers who have been an outstanding role model for me. Who have in fact, practically taught me empathy and compassion by their actions bursting with generosity and sweet anecdotes.

It can be quite easily deducted from the above discussion that a teacher retains a certain sense of effect on a student’s life. She or he possess the power to inspire, develop and transform a student’s goals, aspirations, hopes and dreams as well as have a direct role in their life achievements. A student is impressionable, a blank slate if you will. A person who is responsible for incorporating information and knowledge to young gullible and vulnerable minds should be selected by a rigorous process. They should already be aware of the responsibility they carry on their shoulders and must not take it for granted. Everyone agrees that educating a woman is necessary as they ensure the education of their entire family (nation). Then how do we tend to look past this? Our literal teachers whose entire purpose of inculcating aspirations, shaping our minds, developing our personalities, paving a possible direction in our lives in other words simply, teaching us.

To answer the above questions, yes, it should be a given that all teachers must know how to empathize in order to create a safe environment for the students where they feel heard and acknowledged. What student would not benefit from an educator who is open to their student’s point of views and are able to understand any difficulty they might face. The necessity of the presence of this trait in anyone who teaches us lies in the fact that it makes way for great life lessons to be taught. Those tiny moments of compassion and sympathy do inherently affect the students.

Cognitive empathy, a type of empathy where one is able to understand the other’s mental state or mind, that is the one which a teacher should be embedded with mostly. As teaching is mostly about realizing a person’s understanding level and then further elevating it. This form of empathy promotes a certain attitude to help people. It increases people’s helpful behavior and brings people together. This ensures strong social connections and ushers in a semblance of peace and harmony among them benefitting the society at the end. We need teachers to empathize with us so that at certain times they understand our particular case and/or difficulties.

The need to create a positive space for everyone is very crucial at this significant time. This era, specifically this decade has made it clear of what challenges are to come ahead. With several social movements on the rise, people should be more focused on developing channels where discussions pertaining to these social dilemmas must take place. Movements such as the Feminist movement, Black Lives Matter, Anti-corruption, Climate change, human rights etc. are all a result of the times where our ancestors were not educated in positive environments. The world was still in the dark ages, embedded in chaotic wars and bloodthirsty partitions. The stage was being set for the world to buckle down now by developing economies and assemble a world order.

As Arundhati Roy put it impeccably, “Empathy can be the single most important quality that must be nurtured in order to give peace a fighting chance”. Our educators, teachers, professors, life coaches, mentors and guides all should preach compassion, not only verbally but by their actions. God as our witness knows we need it more than ever at these challenging times now.

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Category: Education

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