This was part of a piece I wrote for a class when I was going for my Education Masters. It was in response to a scholarly article on the role of empathy in education.
The first thought I had reading Wender’s piece (33) was that I’m not looking forward to the inevitable situation of teaching a kid teachers in the school don’t like. I did co-teach for a summer school, and the cooperating teacher knew the students, but the warnings I received were relatively mild. I had the sense that the teacher legitimately liked the students, which was a fortunate experience come to think of it.
Tying into my comments on observer bias in the last reflection, I am automatically skeptical of any anecdotal evidence meant to prove a point, so there is the question of selection bias in the story of students Wender had failed to help. (33) Maybe the stories she remembers aren’t that illustrative. I do admire her willingness to consider mistakes that were made, which has been rarity in writings about education policies.
Wender has a good point about the difference between empathy and pity/ approval. (34) I think I can be empathetic, although it may sometimes require a deeper understanding of a student’s situation, in order to appreciate their priorities. Her impromptu letters (36) are an interesting idea, although I don’t know if it’s practical enough to lose so much time in the curriculum. It’s the type of stuff that can add up. I’m intrigued by the idea of making empathy part of the teaching culture, although I do have some questions. How does that work? How is it practical? And how would it be assessed (which might not be something anyone worried about excessive testing wants asked)?
Wender has another strong point on how students tend to have multiple literacies, and how schools have a tendency to ignore most of them. (35) The ELA Supervisor who rejected a student’s use of Spanish in a piece still meant for an English-speaking audience seemed to have more empathy for unqualified graders who wouldn’t know how to handle something like that than for the students, which shows a significant problem in the system.
She describes how beginning teachers tend to focus more on content than on students (36) although this does make sense. Educators who are just starting out tend to be less experienced, and tend to know their content area more than the nuances of how children learn. To fix this, it might not be enough for the standard education programs to change, since there will be some teachers who start out without significant education training. When I was in Teaching Fellows, they had everyone in the class co-teach a summer school after a six credit basic course, and another course that was essentially a book club for Dan Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion. I believe Teach For America has similar training, and a few private schools don’t require much of a background in education in order for a teacher to be employed. So even if education programs got better at teaching people how to teach, it might not be enough.
The consensus is that teachers get better as they spend more years at it. But in my year at this university, I haven’t seen anyone address the elephant in the room: What students should be made to work under novice teachers? Whose kids will be the guinea pigs? I guess there’s the claim that teachers need more preparation so that no one is a novice on their first day, although that seems very expensive for a profession with such high turnover.