Empathizing Pedagogy

Mariet Simonyan

Try as I would I couldn’t perceive pedagogy as a profession. Do they become educators with education, with the certificate they received? If so, why are there so few good pedagogues today, when the number of people with pedagogical certificates is constantly increasing? I do not dispute that a pedagogue should be a good specialist in the field of the school subject he/she teaches. That, of course, is a must. But it is not enough to be a good educator is not enough.  

In my clear consciousness, pedagogy is a humanitarian profession where a non-loving person, regardless of his professional qualities, has nothing to do. What scientific methods, tricks can make you a good pedagogue if you do not have empathy for a person? For me, teaching is a natural, non-obligatory, but at the same time inspiring, accommodating, kind-hearted, and of course, demanding relationship of the people who may be junior or senior, experienced or just gaining  inexperience, skilled or who have not yet fully developed their skills. And in my opinion, kind-hearted, warm, benevolent, and persistent people are a success in this work, and their students become a dear family with its difficulties, successes and failures, joys and disappointments. In this family, everybody gets happy for the achievements of others, get upset because of failures and give a hand in case of difficulties. And the one who wants to be helpful, who is kind-hearted, who is responsible for his/her work and for others, can’t but find methods, solutions and approaches to organize the educational process effectively. If you consider something to be your own problem and have a great wish to solve it, you are sure to find the right solution. 

We were recently discussing a passage of John Holt’s book How Children Fail. John Holt is of the opinion that we do not feel the obligation to be honest to children. He writes that if you ask the child to stop doing something, as it is distracting you, he/she will stop it as he/she knows what it is. I agrre with him. I know it from my own experience. In pedagogy, as in all human relationships, honesty is a necessary condition. Why is it not possible to establish a simple relationship with students, to be direct and honest?

During the lesson in class, I say something connected with their activities. A learner is typing something in haste. The keyboard tick-tack disturbs me. I cannot concentrate, and I have to ask him to stop working.

“But I am listening to you. Do you want me to repeat what you are saying?”

“I know that you are listening but you know, I can’t concentrate. Your movements and the keyboard sound distract me.”

I say what I am really thinking. I do not tell him not to do anything else when I am speaking, or he doesn’t have the right to do anything else during the Armenian lesson, etc. I'm not saying that because I am not thinking so. Everything is much simpler. The movement and sound distract me.  And that's what I say. The learner, of course, quickly shuts down the computer without objecting. He understood me. There was no tension. We went on working.

When empathy enters into the teacher-learner relationship, that relationship becomes human, it becomes easier, and our nerves are not tense. Cooperation becomes easier. After all, teaching is cooperation. Different functions of the same, common cause are presumed.

Why are we, teachers, afraid of intimate, human relationships and always avoid of having such relationships? Does it hinder the educational work, why? What's wrong with that? Are we worried that we will have less respect? Will the learner take advantage of it? My experience shows something else. I have never been in a formal relationship with my students, and in my long teaching career I have never had a student who crossed the line of respect by abusing my peaceful approach.     

I highlight the quality of making each other closer, feeling each other, supporting and sparing each other. I honestly tell my students that it is difficult for me to speak in a loud voice, and that I have a sore throat, and I need silence to express what is in my mind and that I don’t feel at ease when they are not tactful to each other… in a word, I say what I am thinking about. It is not that you must keep silent and listen to me or each other. Let’s help each other, and why not spare each other? Why should we offend each other or be offended?    

We can have different ways of making each other closer.

Albert is in my sixth grade. He does not like learning so much. He is a master of avoiding the activities his classmates are engaged in. Everyone works independently. Albert's gaze sometimes stops on me. I feel that he has something important to tell me. I see him sitting and doing nothing. He doesn’t seem to have any question concerning the lesson. But obviously he has got something to say.  As I walk around the classroom, following the students' work, I approach Albert. He stretches to my ear and whispers, “Do you know that we are going to have triplets?”   
There is so much tenderness and happiness in his voice! … to the extent of  excitement. Albert is the only child in their family.

“Are you serious, Albert? What good news!”
I am truly happy for Albert and his family. It is really good news. And every day during the lesson, I find a moment to approach Albert. My questions are about his mother's and the time of the triplets’ expected birth. Albert speaks excitedly, in a whisper, as a secret between me and him. He wants one of the triplets to be a boy so that they can be two brothers and two sisters.

It is interesting that Albert slowly began to complete his language tasks. In the middle of talking about the triplets, we managed to talk about the tasks and the difficulties of their fulfillment. Maybe Albert had a feeling of gratitude for sharing his joy with me, a desire to do something good for me? I do not know, I can’t say. In this way Albert began to work a little. It was something that hardly seemed to happen.

And there is always a common topic of conversation with the students. For example, I taught this learner’s brother years ago, from that student’s essay it becomes clear that he usually spends his summer holidays in our village. Another student suddenly becomes sincere to me about something ... And believe me, such sincere communications create an atmosphere of such kinship that any seemingly unsolvable problem becomes solvable when we are together.

9th grader Vahan’s family lives in the village of Gokht, and we live in Garni. So we live in the same region. Our nature is common. Our snakes are also common, for example, Gyurza. Vahan has a big advantage over me. I am terribly scared of snakes, and Vahan is not. I explain to him how to do the language tasks, and he explains to me how I can distinguish Gyurza from other snakes, and how I can be aware of it. This is the way I and the computer game lover Vahan work together.

There will always be learners who are closer to you and your world outlook.  John Holt says that it is natural and it shouldn’t be concealed. And, in fact, you can’t do it. It is one of the most important expressions of love. The learner feels and sees your joy, your inspiration for his progress, his effort and his desire. He has the feeling that he is not the same for you, and you are not indifferent to him, his progress and difficulties.  

It is important that we should throw formality out of education: the formality of approaches, relationships, petrified habits, meaningless orders and obligatory requirements.

Why are individual curriculums worked out only for the students with special educational needs? Why doesn’t each student have a real individual curriculum? You may say that it is impossible to work out so many real individual curriculums. In that case, do not work out any individual curriculum since it is a formality in its nature.    

People fill it in with the power of inertia, with a few standard formulations, because in reality, it is impossible to record the growth of a slow-growing person. Or we say that separate packages should be made for students with special needs. Is this an unequivocal statement? And can there be an unequivocal thing in pedagogy?

I made such a package in a proper way. I tried to make sure that the title of the package didn’t indicate who it was intended for. I entitled the package as For You. These were practical, simple and small tasks for the learners with special educational needs in my classes. But no learner with special educational needs in my classes wanted to use this package. They didn’t want to be secluded from their classmates. They wanted to work with them. It is so natural. Why should they be secluded? They will do as much as they can. Their friends will help them.  Especially that they do not think that they cannot, they are to be secluded, they are different. Instead, two students from the Armenian Diaspora and a boy whose family speaks Russian, gladly chose that educational package. There wasn’t any feeling of inferiority. It was convenient, easy and effective for them. It was also interesting that there were some capable students who expressed their wish to work with that package for a short time. Maybe it is sometimes interesting to work on an easy task just for pleasure. Who knows?

So let’s throw any kind of artificiality, formality and power of inertia out of pedagogy and confide in the teacher’s mind and heart. And everything will fall into its place.


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