The following blog was written by Christina Musa, a faculty member at the School of Global Access.
What is compassion, and what does it mean to us as teachers? Compassion is about awareness and being fully present in the classroom. It is not just about showing sympathy, but it is also about showing understanding, empathy, and consideration. Compassion is seeing our students as individuals rather than as non-descript parts of a larger class. We need to see the individual uniqueness of each member of our class and recognize the various struggles each one faces on a daily, even hourly, basis.
I faced a situation a couple of semesters ago that prompted me to reflect on classroom expectations. I had a wonderful student who was punctual, motivated, and engaged. She always completed her homework to the best of her ability. She participated in class and encouraged her classmates to participate as well. One day, on an assignment due date, she was uncharacteristically late, and she had not emailed me or called me to explain why. As a result, she missed the due date of an assignment with a stipulation of no late submissions. Here is the reason she was late. She commuted by bus from Airdrie. Her bus was late leaving Airdrie, the roads were snow covered, and the Deerfoot was at a standstill. She wanted to call me but realized she had left her phone at home. She was stuck. She had no control of the situation. She had no safety net to tap into to arrive at a different outcome. Given her situation, I question whether or not she deserved a zero.
This situation prompted me to reflect on the value of applying late penalties to learner work. In our daily interactions with students, teachers need to consider the multiple factors that affect them. These include culture, religion, gender, age, family, health, and finances. They also include whether they have a car, whether they rely on daycare, and whether they have a job. Students may work long hours, face lengthy commute times or even serious health issues. These factors overlap and intersect with one another and produce new and unique combinations in each person on each day. Some of our students have strong support networks, so being on top of their studies is manageable. Others, however, are entirely on their own. We need to create an open dialogue with our students about these factors, and how the factors are interacting, to build connections and understanding and compassion.
Compassion needs to be a regular part of our classroom practice. As teachers, we need to distinguish between a minor infraction and habitual behavior. If being late and not doing homework becomes routine, then we should be concerned. If a given offense is the exception rather than the norm, perhaps we ought to show compassion.
Building compassion and being aware of how each individual student is coping is important. We should check in with our students regularly to see how they are that day and at that time. This can be very casual, but when done regularly, it lets students know we see them as the unique individual they are. Putting the time and effort into understanding how our students are doing or what they are thinking shows we are interested in their progress and invested in their future success. Knowing our students’ perspective allows us to make choices which will be best for their learning experience.