November 18, 2012

Chemistry Teaching Musings: Flexibility and Compassion

Posted in Character, Chemistry, Social Commentary, Teaching/Education tagged , , , , , , , , at 8:55 am by faith786

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Assalamu Alaikum,

The past couple months, I have been in observing in a middle school life science classroom. I have never seen such a unique, crazy and vibrant science classroom in any of my previous observation placements. Or in my life for that matter.

In addition, this teacher is a model of what a science teacher should be–full of passion for learning, caring for his students, their ideas and the subject. He has over a 150 students and I find numerous stacks of papers (like, foot and a half tall stacks) that he has to grade, stacks of papers he photocopies for his lessons, future lessons, boxes of materials for labs, etc. etc. The students will never really know how many countless hours and deep thought the teacher puts into his profession of teaching them science.

But it was a recent event that warranted this post. 

A student had personal circumstances that could not permit him from taking a test on test day at the middle school I am placed at. Without getting into many details, there was a family situation for the student and my teacher, who is under incredible work and stress to finish grades by the end of the quarter, etc. etc. made plans for the student to take it at another time.

Seems like good teaching. Nothing wrong with this picture. Shoot, if I want to teach science next year, I need to learn to be that flexible and adaptable, even if I am under that kind of stress.

Back in college though, I have a friend who’s mother is dying from cancer. She had to take her mother to the hospital and she asked one of her teachers if she can take her exam on another day because she was helping her mother. The teacher refused to reschedule the exam for her and told her that she (the student) can blame it on him (the teacher) if she wants. Talk about cold.

To add insult to injury, he rescheduled the exam for certain students on school athletic teams (which are extra curricular). And not for a student **whose mother is dying from cancer.**

(Is there anything drastically wrong with that picture? Seriously, where is Waldo?)

Now reader, if you are a teacher (or future teacher like me), you might be thinking that it might still be equitable because being part of an athletic team, you can plan more in advanced to reschedule exams but if a family needs to go to the hospital, it is more sudden and difficult to reschedule. On behalf of teachers who care about the profession:

I do not care if you are having unfavorable personal circumstances in life–if one of your students has a family emergency like that, you need to be thoughtful and accommodating to the student. This isn’t even an issue of being a good teacher. This is about being a decent human being. If you have serious life situations like that in the real world, your workplace would be conscious of that. And not tell you that it is your problem and if you want, you can blame it on them.  (Seriously, what kind of teacher says that to a student?!)

And to keep going on that note to other teachers who do such disrespectful practices:

If you are going to be nice, be nice to all your students. And I do not promote this, but if you are going to be an asshole, then at least be an asshole to all your students. Favoritism (yes, I do believe the latter exam case involves favoritism) is unprofessional as a teacher. A student can have favorite teachers or classes. A teacher cannot.

And the quote: “People may not remember what you did or said but they will always remember how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou) is never more true in teaching. That student may not remember the concepts she was learning in that class, but she will never forget how her professor so callously treated her. As a (future) teacher, I am not in the profession to be liked, but I will treat my students with a level of decency and compassion.

If my middle school teacher who has a family, a full workload, extracurricular load for his school and his kids can be accommodating to others, I suspect that all teachers around the world can be too. (I hold myself to that expectation too.)

Message of the story:

Pedagogy and student-teacher rapport are just as important as knowing one’s subject knowledge and being able to explain it. As one of my teachers said–you can have all the powerpoints, worksheets and exercises in the world planned for your class, but if you don’t sincerely care for your student’s progress and well being from inside your heart, you can never be a great teacher. Students know when a teacher cares or doesn’t care. They can sense it and it has a deep effect on their education. In both cases stated, I believe it is very true.

Flexibility and compassion are two very important qualities of a good teacher. And here I saw two examples why that is the case. I hope as a future teacher, I will keep that in mind with whatever students come into my classroom.

***

(Any readers out there that feel the latter teacher is justified in his actions towards the student with the mother with cancer, please tell me why. I honestly cannot come up with a single excuse for that behavior.)

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