When I entered the ninth-grade English classroom, I had a clear vision of the first-year teacher I wanted to be: a strict, but thoughtful, educator who held students accountable for their behavior in the classroom. While my intentions were not flawed, the execution of this teaching style was poor, and left my students with a different impression of me: apathetic.
Rather than showing my students I was attempting to serve both their needs and my own with my classroom rules and expectations, I introduced my classroom management strategies as a series of consequences. I expressed no compassion for my students, and did not address them as trustworthy young adults.
As the school year progressed, my interactions with my students changed. I became more comfortable with demonstrating my love and respect for them, and my classroom management strategies became centered on compassion instead of consequences. When my students could see that I cared about their lives and well-being, they were better able to trust me. And that meant I could request more of them, and expect more in return.
All of the pre-service pedagogy and theory I had learned about wrangling a class of twenty-three 14-year-olds for 90 minutes became infinitely more applicable once my students knew I had compassion for them. Here are some things I learned that first year.
Show You Care
I began teaching under the incorrect assumption that my students would somehow naturally know that I cared deeply about their success and livelihood. Many students, especially ones who are prone to behavioral issues, expect the exact opposite from teachers, and it’s important to establish that you’re different from their expectations.
The simplest way to demonstrate to your students you care and have compassion for them is to tell them often and in different ways. Genuine praise for tasks, asking questions about their day, and sharing with them tidbits from your life are excellent ways to show students you care.
Another way to do this is by attending extracurricular events when your students are involved. Making the effort to support your students in a non-classroom environment can be extraordinarily meaningful.
Assume Students’ Lives Are Complicated
When a student acts out, it’s often a reflection of problems in their lives outside of the classroom. It’s key to be compassionate to these students as they learn to face tumultuous issues in their everyday life.
Teachers can show compassion by avoiding classroom management techniques that humiliate students or force them to address their behavior in a public setting. Speak to students in private, and always ask them how things are going.
Behavioral issues in the classroom should cause teachers concern for their students’ well-being, and we should work to understand what’s going on in their lives. Even as adults, when we have disruptive life events it’s challenging to maintain a cheerful attitude at all times.
Each Day Is a Clean Slate
Forgiveness is critical to classroom management through compassion. If a student feels as though they’re constantly reminded of their past errors, they’ll feel as though they are permanently labeled a “bad kid.”
When we forgive students for making mistakes, realizing that there are many factors in their lives that lie outside the school, we can make each day a little better than the one before.
And holding grudges against students who have made poor or hurtful decisions is tiring and wastes time. For the sake of your own happiness, it’s crucial to forgive and forget student behavioral issues.
The Difference Between Compassion and Friendship
Demonstrating compassion for your students is not the same as wanting your students to like you. Many new teachers fall into the trap of desiring their students’ approval, especially when teaching older students who are close to the teacher in age, but that can lead to a lack of mutual respect.
To show compassion to students is to take the time and effort to understand their perspective, while continuing to make choices that are best for their learning experience. Showing compassion does not mean you’re a student’s friend—it means you care about their progress and are invested in their future.
By itself, compassion is an important life skill. As a part of classroom management, compassion can enhance the effectiveness of any strategies you would normally put in place. Compassion gives students an opportunity to trust your choices and have faith in the requests you make of them. Classroom management procedures and explicit instruction are important, but students who know you’re invested in them are more inclined to respect you and follow your lead.