Teachers and empathy Essay
Teachers and empathy
Rogers (1962) defined empathy in perspective of teaching as “understanding the student’s private world, and being able to communicate some of the significant fragments of that understanding. To sense the student’s inner world of private, personal meanings as if they were your own, but without ever losing the ‘as if’ quality. To sense his confusion or his timidity as his anger, or his feeling of being treated unfairly as if it were your own” (Don et al, 1995)
The understanding of the student implies that the teacher has the knowledge of what the student is feeling and uses it as a basis for implementing change in the relationship. When the teacher understands the student through the student’s perspective and the student senses this understanding, it is very likely that the student will allow the teacher to enter more of his or her world of experience. In this way, teacher may be able to aid the student in exploring feelings of the students which they themselves may not be aware of.
This will serve as a basis for the student to learn, change and form basis for development. Virginia Axline, a pioneer in the use of play therapy with children describes an incident that describes a classroom situation where the empathy of the therapist helps the student. A seven year old boy had been classified as a slow learner, difficult to manage, acting out and using profanity. This boy received paddling from the school principal when it came to his notice on use of profanity. Subsequently, a therapist attended to this student.
In a play session with the therapist, the boy constructed a clay model of a man. This model closely resembled the school principal. When the therapist enquired about the identity of the model, the boy provided an answer that he did not know. The therapist then suggested that the model resembled his school principal. The boy agreed to this observation, but began tearing off the head. The boy seemed to get a sense of satisfaction through this act. The therapist empathically responded to the boy by saying “sometimes you get so mad at him you feel like tearing his head off, don’t you?”.
Upon hearing this, the boy destroyed the rest of the model by pulling out the arms and beating the model. The therapist however did not stop the boy from his act. When the boy had finished, the therapist said to him “you must be feeling much better now”. The boy smiled and started rebuilding the model again. This example shows how the therapist was able to really get into the boy’s position and understand the feelings. This understanding was demonstrated without being judgemental or evaluative.
Although the therapist may not have approved of the behaviour of the child, she fully understood the boy’s feelings and also communicated the understanding in an empathic way. This gained the trust of the student and also encouraged him to start thinking positively. It is important for the teacher not to pretend to understand the student when he or she does not really do. Any unenthusiastic or unnatural expression of empathy can confuse the students and hence produce distrust. One of the main reasons for students to accept and trust the teacher is genuineness.
This means that the teacher is honest and real in the relationship with the students. The classroom is a good setting for students to learn to label their emotions and also learn to express them appropriately to others. By being genuine, the teacher provides the students a role model to emulate. The student learns the honest means of expressing various emotions such as anger, anxiety, hostility, fear, happiness and other emotions. Rogers (1969) describes the behaviour of a sixth grade arts teacher in developing the trust and communicating genuine emotions to the children.
The teacher provided the children liberty in her classroom and in the process shares her genuineness with them. The teacher shared both her feelings of happiness as well as anger and disappointment according to the situations. The teacher gave the students the freedom to select their own art supplies. One of the problems that arouse because of this was that the classroom became untidy frequently. The teacher communicated her feelings for wanting to provide the freedom to the students but at the same time the need to have the room neat and orderly.
The teacher asked the students for a solution. The students recommended that those who volunteered to clean the classroom would be allowed the freedom to choose their art supplies. The teacher explained that the solution looked unfair to her but she would accept it. The teacher was able to communicate her genuine emotions to the students that allowed them to understand the importance of the issue. It is important for the teachers to accept the students without conditions, judgement or evaluation.
This unconditional positive regard involves sending an assurance to each student that he or she is worth attention irrespective of the student’s behaviour or any other characteristics that may be unacceptable or not liked. This unconditional positive regard can be communicated by the teacher by actively listening to each student and by showing warmth and care. The underlying principle behind the teacher’s behaviour is that the teacher accepts the student’s imperfections in the context that faults are a part of the student’s individual human conditions.
This approach of unconditional positive regard facilitates the development of feelings, reason, emotions and intellect in the students as there are no role expectations and the student chooses his or her own way of behaving. This helps the students to take up responsibilities and make individual decisions. However this approach of the teacher has the boundary of inappropriate behaviour. The teacher first communicates and convinces the students of unconditional positive regard, but shares the dislike of the behaviour with the student. This involves separation of the person from the acts of the person. (Don et al, 1995).