You need empathy to teach well, not just skills and degrees
In modern times, where the scope for academia is so open and expanding, a sustainable teaching strategy is the key
What should be the sole purpose of teaching? How should the teacher-student relationship be? These are questions asked too often. Individual responses to these questions may vary.
As a father always endeavours to cast an influence on his child, a teacher also has the same role in the lives of his/her students. With wisdom, knowledge, charisma and care, a teacher influences them to cultivate the best in themselves. In modern times, where the scope of academia is so open and expanding, a sustainable teaching strategy is the key. To understand what sustainable teaching is, at first, we must understand what it is not.
Perhaps, studying the night before the exam has become one of the core components of the entire education culture of Bangladesh, as well as the entire world. This approach might be effective in acquiring higher grades but it is totally invalid in terms of acquiring knowledge.
This is a disease that seems to have infected both the students and the teachers. Students initiate their study just the night before the exam and so does their teacher, before entering a class. Both of them try to take down a completely unexplored topic within a very brief time.
The amount of time they allocate for this task might not be enough to read the topic thoroughly once with proper concentration. This practice leads to a shallow understanding of the subject matter, which is really scattered and hazy. Therefore, most of our lectures and answers in the exam paper are incoherent and often make no sense. It is one of the biggest hindrances to a sustainable teaching practice.
This bad practice serves no purpose except making the 45-minute session dull. Setting conditions for attending these monotonous classes has hardly served any purpose, let alone any progress.
The obvious question is what should we do? The answer is simple. Do we have to study to the end of the world? Absolutely not! Elbert Einstein did not think of himself as a highly educated person or a prodigy but he was extremely curious and dedicated to his work. In his own words: "I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious". We, the teachers, have to be curious at first so that we can make the students "passionately curious".
Then comes sustainability in teaching. About sustainability, Skinner was right to say: "Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten." In the balance of learnt and forgotten, we should always try to make the learnt side heavier. But the reality is going in a completely different direction. We must put a stop to this.
Now the question is how can one be an influential teacher with the skills of sustainable teaching?
One may emphasise that to be one of these teachers, one should be strictly academic, well-spoken and charismatic in nature. However, I see this differently. It is hard to expect all of our teachers to be like this. This is even unthinkable for every region of the world. Regardless, there is one quality that human beings, especially teachers, must have: empathy.
We must put on another person's shoes - our students' shoes. We must always try to consider the perspective of the students whenever making decisions. This is a way to stay close and acceptable to the students. Perhaps, this is the simplest and most effective way to achieve the ability to teach sustainably.
Take my decade long experience of teaching at a university. Believe me, I try to exist as close as possible to the students. I try to show as much empathy as possible to them. Although it cost me a few bucks, the thing I have achieved is beyond description. They come running to me for their tiniest inconvenience. This feeling is totally out of this world.
Now, I think I am able to influence my students more than I ever could. The secret behind that is really simple. It is because I listen to them and in return, they listen to me. If I teach something to them or give them any advice, it does not go in vain.
Now we must take advantage of this academically. No matter how much we have studied or how far the depth of our knowledge is, we must deliver these to the students with empathy. It does not cost much except an effort from the heart.
Abraham Lincoln's words regarding classrooms convey the justification to do so: "The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next." Does that not make us powerful, being the ultimate determinant of the faith of a nation? Yes, it does.
With great power comes great responsibility, this cannot be truer to anyone other than teachers. Our tiniest slip of mind, tongue or hands might mislead and cause irreparable damage to many in the long run. All of these might seem like a heavy task or a burden at the beginning. But take my words, this is not new.
Our predecessors have accomplished this over and over. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and even our great prophet Mohammad (SM) have accomplished it. Each of them had possessed an extraordinary teaching ability. To nurture these abilities, it takes more than just studying and compiling degrees from overseas. It is way beyond increasing the number of publications.
Let's act now. Let's act once and for all, for an empathetic generation that will craft this nation with skilful hands; and for a warm heart that will rear and care!
AKM Mahmudul Haque is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Rajshahi. Email: [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.