▲ The fracturing of our emotional education Photo courtesy Okan Caliskan
Mr. Hall taught math to 5th graders. He was tall, at least to an 11-year-old. He was also dour, humorless, and strict. He threw chalk board erasers at you when you made a mistake.
After I got a D on his midterm, I worked hard. I studied, I practiced, I improved. I raised my scores over the second half of the semester and aced the final.
At the end of the year I received an F.
This sudden, unexpected turn profoundly effected a young boy who had more troubles at home than any child should have to endure, and Mr Hall wasn’t finished adding to them.
In what would turn out to be an ugly life lesson, he told me, “I gave you an F to teach you a lesson".
Mr. Hall was an appalling teacher who was eventually fired for assaulting one of his students. However, he is much more than just an extreme example of a failed educator. Mr. Hall is symbolic of a more subtle, far reaching issue.
We teach the way we are, and Mr. Hall is my personal posterchild for the kind of emotional bankruptcy that’s crippling modern education.
Globally, as well as here in Korea, education is overflowing with disengaged instructors. And if teaching at a distance seem innocuous - or even “professional” - it’s a perfect place to begin questioning your educational strategies.
In the last article I discussed the fact that the majority of expatriate teachers have a weak grasp of the cultural realities here in Korea. Similarly, teachers almost everywhere enter their chosen field without even a basic understanding of their own emotions, much less formal training in how to provide the emotional support necessary for effective learning.
Without a mature cultural context, foreign instructors often misunderstand the culture-specific needs of their students, inadvertently damaging motivation, confidence, and retention.
And without a mature emotional context, teachers misunderstand the frustration, anger, and despair that result from emotionally deficient learning environments, folding their own reactivity to the mix, adding insult to injury.
I believe that this kind of subtle, blundering, emotionally anesthetized teaching represents as serious a threat to the well being of students as blatantly abusive teachers like Mr. Hall.
Building classes on a foundation of emotional deficiency teaches students to do the same, promoting long term, widespread educational and interpersonal failure.
Cultivating the ability to control and detach one’s self from emotions is an important and necessary tool. However, modern education advocates impersonal rationalism both as an academic imperative and a way of life.
The teachers who really made a difference to me did so by sharing the tools they’d crafted in order to relate to not only concepts but also emotions.
They courageously (and conscientiously) revealed some of their own ongoing difficulties as both lifelong learners and emotional beings.
They invested their lesson plans with an authenticity that showed me I wasn't alone. They put some of their own, very real feelings on the line, giving me access to crucial emotional cues on not only how to think, but how to live.
In short, they didn’t hide their humanity from me in a misguided attempt to project an idealized image of adulthood or of being a teacher.
So ask yourself, are you working together in a relationship with your students? Are you learning as much about yourself from them as they are from you? Or are you just "teaching them a lesson"?
Affective Pedagogy: Emotions and Instructional Methods
In order to begin discussing practical, hands-on approaches to integrating emotions into your teaching strategies, let’s break emotional relevance down into three main categories: the teacher’s emotions, the student’s emotions, and the emotional content of the subject matter.
First, teachers must do the work necessary to understand themselves before they can hope to teach others how to do the same.
There is a vulnerability inherent in feeling our emotions that we have been taught to associate with weakness, loss of control, and irrationality; and a wealth of disparaging stereotypes that encourage these misconceptions, promulgating insidiously negative archetypes in everything from gender and relationships, to healthcare and politics.
School is a breeding ground for these patterns.
A perfect example of this is Edith Sand and Victor Lavy at Tel Aviv University. They experimented with the math test scores of about 3,000 students and found that when teachers knew the gender of the student, girls got lower grades than they deserved.
Why? Because girls are weaker at math?
Never underestimate the power of your cognitive and emotional biases. We all bring an enormous number of automatic assumptions into the classroom.
Online resources such as Project Implicit provide some helpful self tests for hidden biases.
However, the fact is all of these resources rely on intellectual analysis and cognition. Simply thinking about these issues is not enough. Teachers must build a foundation of active, conscious engagement with their emotions in order to breathe life into ideas of self knowledge.
In part III, we will finish exploring a teacher’s emotional foundation and begin talking about how to better work with students’ emotions.
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