Empathy: The Biggest Lesson Learned during Tough Times

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A rather forgettable year is coming to an end. All of us have been affected by the ongoing pandemic in some way: loss of job security, a reduction in income, a sudden and arguably ill-thought out transition to online teaching, just to name a few. However, I believe our balance of 2020 should include one important learning opportunity: we have come to understand the meaning of empathy in our attitude towards students and colleagues.

This year has been the one where our commitment to our profession and our students has shone brightest. When the pandemic started, I am sure many teachers arranged team meetings to discuss the best way to continue providing instruction and find the best way to involve students. Central to these discussions were those students who were vulnerable for whatever the reason: lack of proper equipment, a loss in the family, or giving up all motivation to go on. We probably tried to get closer to them, undertook to appreciate their situation, and proceeded to adapt approaches, materials or even deadlines for them. We understood that, beyond delivering assignments and getting good results, there were human beings faced with an unprecedented situation that had shaken their world. And we had to get the best out of them while adopting a role as caregivers.

As for colleagues, there is so much to be said. Amid the ongoing changes in education in Peru (competency-based approach to teaching and assessment, letter grades, and the increasingly important role of technology), we had a brand-new challenge: to deliver effective lessons in an online medium, something that only a minority of teachers might had experienced beforehand. Teachers did not give up and shared their expertise with colleagues, possibly organized workshops and meetings to tell each other about “the activity that works,” or took the time to share the online tools that improved their lessons. They helped us turn names such as Kahoot, Quizlet, Canva, PearDeck, Flipgrid, Padlet into household names. Beyond this, I have learned that many teachers got together virtually to discuss their worries, their fears, their disappointment or just to vent their frustration at those things that were not going well. And I am sure that you took your time to listen, to lift their spirits, to help them see the silver lining. We understood that, beyond the image we want our students to see, there were also human beings who were vulnerable and needed time and some solace.

We have, without a doubt, developed empathy. Understanding and reacting to the tough situations that our students and colleagues experienced during the year, in my view, is the one positive point from these hard months, and my only hope for 2021 is that we never forget that the nature of our work is basically being in touch with human beings, beyond any LMS or ICT tools.

What do you think?

What have been the biggest challenges for you as a teacher?

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