littlemavis

Little_Mavis' rants and musings


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Empathy

I read this the other day “Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns
I can’t remember who drew my attention to it but I found it interesting. I have always been able to put myself in the position of students and able to imagine how I would have felt if treated in a particular way. In fact, in spite of my advanced age, I can still remember what it felt like to be a student.
I was at school in the 60s, so I experienced first hand some of the methods which are being advocated in the desire to return to the good old days of education. I actually came out of it relatively unscathed. I was not too overtly rebellious, slightly subversive maybe, and managed to “get away” with minor infringements by producing good work on time, which has what has always been something of a “get out of jail free” card for children.

But we had

  • desks in rows
  • class position as well as percentage marks in each subject
  • loads of teacher talk being hit with rulers, board rubbers
  • occasional ridicule
  • standing when (some) teachers came into the room

I know what all this felt like from personal experience.
As a teacher, I was led to believe that this level of empathy with my students was counter-productive and I attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to stifle it. I was, however able to indulge it somewhat as a sixth-form personal tutor when part of my brief was to go into bat for my tutees when they were being unfairly treated by subject tutors. And I still have this awkward tendency to see students/pupils, even the little ones, as actual people. Not creatures to be moulded into my particular ways of doing things, but actual people, with thoughts, ideas and preferences of their own. And I think they have the right to possess those thoughts ideas and preferences.
This doesn’t mean I think they should be able to run riot in the classroom, or not do work, or disrupt other students’ learning. I also believe the teacher (or other adult) is in charge and can expect instructions to be followed. What I expect from children though isn’t deference but the sort of courtesy I expect from any other human being.
But it does mean I think they should have the right not to fold their hands in a prescribed way if that isn’t comfortable for them. I think the reason I wasn’t happy with the techniques I saw in the Uncommon Schools videos linked to by @HeyMissSmith is that they seem to dehumanise children. As I said. I was, generally speaking, a well behaved child, but I suspect I would have rebelled against that level of control. As it was I was constantly told off for not sitting correctly as my legs were always too short to sit comfortably on normal chairs so I always tucked one leg up. I may well have been excluded from such a school, so, no matter how excellent the teaching may have been otherwise, I would not have benefited from it.
And is that level of conformity really what we want?