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Teach Empathy

I have never experienced a more stressful time in our country and for teachers specifically in my 50 years in the classroom and as a parent. The media won’t let us stop worrying about one thing or another. Teachers aim to provide a nurturing safe space for their students so they can feel some relief from what awaits them on the other side of the classroom door.

Unfortunately, it is hard to do that when you are tied up in knots over those same worries. Silent worries can result in the most patient teacher becoming short with students.

In my recent coaching experience, I have been hearing from students in various grade levels complaining that their teacher is being rude and they are afraid to ask questions in class. Parents hear stories from their children of the teacher yelling a lot. There are teachers known as the yellers, while others are known to be calm and controlled. When I began hearing students complaining about teachers who were never known to yell, I realized, this is a perfect time to teacher empathy.

This is How I See It:

Most teachers I know teacher became chose this professional because they want to help children in the same way a teacher helped them.

They certainly didn’t go into it because they couldn’t do something else, or they wanted vacations. Try being with 32 children all day for 10 weeks, deal with demanding administrators, and calm the worried parents. It’s exhausting. And they are asked to do all of it with a smile on their faces.

They thrive on connection with children.

They want to be there to help children learn to survive challenges. Many love to be the warm hug that is needed when times get hard. For some children, the only hug they get is from their teacher. It is said that we need 8 hugs a day to grow and be healthy. Imagine wanting to hug a child and have to stay 6 feet away from them. I couldn’t do it.

The smiles of children are what make the poor pay worth it. But with masks on, the faces are visible.

The masks and the six feet demands aren’t the only thing they have to deal with. They need to make sure the children get caught up. They are expected to do school as usual, when there is nothing usual about school these days. Nothing predictable for teachers. The effective lesson plans of the past are no longer effective. Those who resisted technology feel even more pressure.

They are also dealing with students are hearing things on the news and are afraid and stressed themselves. The teacher is needing to deal with the students’ anxiety along with their own, without showing it on the outside. That is inhuman to ask.

When your child complains about the response of a teacher, help them recognize that their teacher was in a very stressful situation and hasn’t had time to recover. (I retired in June of 2020 and it has taken until November of 2021 for me to have recovered from the sudden change to on-line learning. I can’t imagine how the teachers who only had 2.5 months to recover from the insanity of 2020 could return to the classroom and be the cheerful, understanding, and calm teacher they once were.

If children could understand that a teacher might be a little short with them and it has nothing to do with them, they will have a better experience. Help them see the responses they may hear are a result of the pressure the teachers are under.

Coaching children how to deal with a stressed teacher can actually relieve some of the pressure the teachers are experiencing.

The following are scenarios students have shared and the suggestions made to ease the tension:

“I am afraid to ask questions because she yells at children who do.” When teachers are interrupted when presenting a lesson they may get frustrated with comments such as, “I don’t get it.” Help your children determine specifically what part of the instruction became unclear. One student said, “I don’t get it.” When asked what he didn’t get, he said, “All of it.” That doesn’t give the teacher any help. When ask if he understood all the words in the question, he then became clear that he didn’t understand the word piece the way it was used. That bit of information made it easy to help him. Encourage your children when they feel like saying, “I don’t get it.” to become clear and specific about the word or step that was unclear.

“The teacher tells me I wasn’t listening when I was.” This is a common assumption of many teachers. Encourage your children to preface their question with, “I know it might look like I wasn’t listening, but I was trying to make sense of the first part of the instruction when you went onto the second part. Could you explain the second step again?”

“When I stood by the teacher who was helping another student, she turned to me and said, “Could you give me a minute,” in a nasty tone. The teacher must be overstressed and just needs a break. Some have to do duty and can’t even be alone for 15 minutes in the day. The next time the teacher responded in a nasty tone, my student said, “I can wait. Just let me know when you are ready for me.” She reported that the teacher looked relieved.

Do we expect more from teachers than we do from ourselves. I think we do. We expect them to be kind, considerate, and understanding. When a child is throwing up we expect them to care for the child even when their own needs aren’t being met. We expect them to be a role model of a problem solver, when it’s impossible to problem solve when you are stressed to the max.

As parents, we tend to become a “mama bear” when our children feel that their teacher isn’t being kind. I suggest we all put ourselves in the teacher’s shoes. The best thing we can do as parents is to help them recognize that their teachers are human and they can only take so much before they can’t be what they want to be to their students.

If you need help with how to approach this with your children, I am here to help. I offer FREE Zooms designed to help children develop the coping skills and to develop and strengthen empathy for others. We want them to be less about me, and more about how others might feel.

Please share this blog with others and help make the teacher’s life a little easier.

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