Nothing so condescending as kindness.
May 10, 2013 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Call it many names, but not kindness. Nothing so condescending as kindness.

An educator on why "patience" and "kindness" miss much of what is going on in the classroom.
posted by klausman (14 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
They also forgot "oversensitive" and "droll."
posted by Debaser626 at 3:10 PM on May 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm working very hard right now to get the teachers in my school--a high school--to become better nurturers, because that's what young people need: Someone to help them learn, not someone to teach them.

Don't want me to call you "kind" and "patient"? Ok. You may be "excellent," but you're not the teacher I'm looking for.
posted by etc. at 4:33 PM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

etc.: "I'm working very hard right now to get the teachers in my school--a high school--to become better nurturers, because that's what young people need: Someone to help them learn, not someone to teach them.

Don't want me to call you "kind" and "patient"? Ok. You may be "excellent," but you're not the teacher I'm looking for.

I thought that was a fantastic piece and I almost feel like either you didn't read it, or missed the point. Because when we say 'teachers need to be nurturers' we do make it about personality, we do make it extremely gendered and we deprofessionalise it. The things in that article aren't about being nice and kind and patient, it's about how contextualising those things as part of a professional set of tools and it isn't kindness, it's a pedagogical understanding of how to create an environment for learning and how to facilitate the learning.

She sounds exactly like the teacher you're looking for, just not self-effacing and 'intuitive' about it.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:55 PM on May 10, 2013 [18 favorites]

In short, I’m not patient; I’m teaching.

Nice article.

Teaching is a fascinating job, endlessly interesting, bizarre, and funny, and people figure I must not be very bright if I am doing it.

And I'm not kind. I am demanding, consistent, firm, and sometimes amiably harsh.

All that time I spend with students who are actively resisting school? All that time I spend tracking them down and making sure they understand the material and start changing the way they approach learning? I don't do that because I'm kind. I know that. Nor do I do it because I crave power, or because I want to be remembered. Teachers have precious little power. Students forget most of their teachers except the last one, who benefited from all the work the previous ones had done.

I'm not sure why I do it.

Except that it's so extraordinarily satisfying to show someone the organized, coherent paragraph one of my 12-year-olds wrote yesterday, the one that uses evidence from the book to justify what he's saying, and say, "Look at what he wrote! All by himself!" And he did.

All by himself. It's a miracle.
posted by Peach at 4:59 PM on May 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

A great article, thanks for posting.
posted by rebent at 5:24 PM on May 10, 2013

And my students respond, not because they like me, but because I’m teaching!
This. And I really liked her comment that beneath patience is impatience- so true!
posted by variella at 6:20 PM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wonderful article, and the linked through NYTimes article is also worth the read.
posted by meinvt at 7:20 PM on May 10, 2013

Terrific article. I've had the privilege to attend a workshop the author gave on teaching numeracy. It was fantastic. You'd better believe she knows her stuff.

Those who think she is overreacting or that she is objecting to the idea of treating students gently or with respect have missed the point of the article. That's not what it's about at all. Like geek anachronism said, it's about recognizing that good teaching requires a sophisticated set of skills and a store of knowledge, not just about the subject but also about pedagogy. Good teachers make it look easy. But the reason it looks easy is because they're skilled and knowledgeable, and they're good at employing their skills and knowledge effectively.

People who don't have experience teaching basic literacy often observe what we do and call it kindness and patience. Our students may call it kindness and patience (and in fact Kate Nonesuch says she doesn't mind when her students regard her this way, and I don't mind it either). But the professionals in charge of evaluating us ought to know better than to reduce the very complex combination of knowledge, skill and technique to "kindness" and "patience."

An analogy would be if we as patients like our doctors because we feel they are kind and patient. That's fine; as laypeople we aren't expected to know more. But it would be ridiculous for their med school evaluations to pronounce them "excellent physicians" by just talking about kindness and patience and failing to note the depth of their knowledge and skill at diagnosis.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:42 PM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

This makes me think of two of the things I outright tell my undergrads near the start of every semester. One, I hold them and myself to a single standard - we are all human beings, and I will try my damnedest to treat them as such before anything else, if they agree to do the same. And, two, that I do not, under any circumstances, consider myself a nice person. I am a good person, but not a nice one. If hurting your sensibilities is the best thing I can do to make you learn, I'll tear them all down and back up again. If being gentle with you will work better, I'll do that. But you will learn, at least to the best of my ability and your willingness.

Both of these things I see as an expression of empathy towards my students. I've had a teacher drop my grade a whole letter because I was absent more times than she thought reasonable, despite having a documented disability. I've had a teach not let me make up a test when something beyond my control happened. I've had a teacher treat me as sub-human, simply because I was in an undergrad intro class they didn't want to teach. I've been made to take an exam on a Saturday at 8 am with a 108F fever or else fail the entire class on the spot.

I WILL NOT do that to another person. They are people who paid - or have others paying for them - to learn. I will not abuse that. They might abuse it and neglect it. But I will not. Ever.

Is this "kindness"? No, it is merely me wanting these people to be treated as people. Maybe that will help make things better for others, somewhere down the line, when my students remember the teacher who helped at a bad time.

Or maybe they'll just remember being REALLY uncomfortable for the entire week I lecture about the Roman obsession with the penis.

Either way, I win.
posted by strixus at 8:03 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is excellent.
posted by Miko at 9:14 PM on May 10, 2013

They are virtues associated most closely with women, and the stereotype raises its ugly head again–lower level students, basic literacy students, can (should) be taught by women because of their warm and nurturing natures; students at a higher level need to be taught by people with real skills and knowledge of subject matter.

I agree with this. Ten years ago I would have said that teacher training in college is not useful, and that time should be spent on substantive topics to be taught.

All that changed when I had kids enter the educational system and I look through adult eyes at teaching methods. There is a tremendous amount of thought and systematization going into each exercise and how it works. And the better teachers go beyond that, teaching at different levels to different children, strategically nudging along the ones with focus issues, noting the learning styles and needs of each kid in the class, and yes, also being patient and kind. But we had patient and kind without the experience and skill behind it last year, and my son started to hate school. It is necessary but not sufficient.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 11:43 PM on May 10, 2013

"But sustained, chronic stress—or too many repeated shocks of unpredictable acute stress, such as exposure to abuse or violence— can actually damage parts of the developing mind that are crucial for memory, learning, cognition, planning, impulse control, and judgment. Specifically, the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus are among the areas of the brain most sensitive to the stress hormone cortisol, whose release overrides some of those higher functions."

“You want to give your kids the best shot?” Medina asks. “I’ll give you the research answer: The single greatest academic predictor that exists is the stability of the home.”

Some kids don't have the luxury of a stable home. Perhaps a teacher can help.
posted by dragonsi55 at 4:50 AM on May 11, 2013

Geek Anachronism:

Point taken.

Maybe I'm the oversensitive one. I'm just frustrated by the prospect of saying nice things to my teachers and having them gripe that it isn't the "right" nice thing.

But you're right.
posted by etc. at 2:14 PM on May 11, 2013

etc.: I hope no one would object to having someone say something nice in an informal conversation. I sympathize if you're feeling as though you have to walk on eggshells--that must be frustrating indeed.

However, the situation the author is describing is not an informal, friendly conversation. It's a formal classroom teaching observation/evaluation. Evaluations are serious business and are supposed to provide meaningful feedback so teachers can improve their performance or know that they're doing something effectively--as such, they should contain specifics. Teaching evaluations are supposed to comment on the teacher's skills and methods, not her character.

I think if the evaluator had said something like "Kate facilitates learning by doing X, Y and Z to create a supportive, warm learning environment" the author would not have objected. As she replies in one of the comments, "Certainly kindness and patiences are virtues. But being virtuous in this way does not make me a good teacher. The evaluator who focused on my virtues did nothing to improve my teaching or to help me understand why she gave me a grade of 'excellent'."
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:09 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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