It is difficult to walk into any bookstore these days and not be overwhelmed with the number of self-help and advice books that dominate the shelves. From business coaching to dog walking, taming the stock market to buying a car, there seems to be an advice-filled book out there for everyone and everything. While access to this much advice is oftentimes beneficial, the sheer volume (no pun intended), of information and frequently conflicting methods or strategies offered up can be confusing.
As school administrators and teachers, we have access to the same high volume of how to books. The vast number of self-appointed experts brimming with advice gives credence to that old adage about how everyone is an expert on education because everyone has been educated. However, as educators – and frequently as in life – the simplest advice is often the best. In this case, the most profound advice for someone involved in teaching and working with children comes from CNN producer, Ayesha Siddiqi:
“Be the person you needed when you were younger.”
In reality, the quote above can be applied to virtually any area of life – parenting, business relationships, coaching, friendships, and more. If each of us were to approach life from this perspective – to remember our own childhood with all of its learning issues, hesitations, fears, and needs – how much better will that make us in our jobs and relationships? The sense of empathy that this basic phrase asks of us can have a transforming effect on our world and the people around us.
Over the years, when we as administrators look to hire new teachers to the school, there are certain basic criteria we look for in addition to the subject degree and related professional experience and qualifications. At least equal in importance – if not more so – must also be a sense of passion: a passion for working with children, and a passion for learning – both for one’s students and personally. Without passion, new teachers or any teacher would simply become the instructor or two we all remember that simply seemed to go through the motions and phone in their time – teaching us very little along the way.
In addition to competence and passion, the concepts of empathy and understanding articulated in the quote are what distinguish great teachers from the rest. The ability to remember yourself as a student, to recall the pressures and frustrations – as well as the many shining moments – and to be able to use these memories to help students in similar circumstances – these are the great qualities of teachers that are life-changers for our children. To teach, to understand, and to empathize with every student as they go through their learning process is to help them beyond measure.
Whether teacher, administrator, parent, or other professional, the willingness to pause frequently throughout our daily lives and recall how we once were and how much better we have become – all the while recognizing this same potential in those that are in our care – is to be not only empathetic, but also, the best that we can be. For most of us, that is the only advice we will ever need.