Why teachers need to be listeners

Every teacher, novice or veteran, experiences occasional moments of outbursts and unprecedented jiffies when students get into their nerves. While every so often this is caused by student behaviour—or so it may seem— sometimes the teacher is overwhelmed to the point that anything is an emotional trigger.

I vividly remember a very humbling incident when a student called out to me after I had left their class. Without looking back, I hurriedly responded with a, “Not now! Come after lunch!” I had just gone through the mid-semester scripts with them and was sure that all he wanted was to complain about a grade. Having burnt the midnight oil grading the scripts throughout the week, I was not willing to have a chat with anybody about grades, much less a student. To my consternation, the student persisted and followed me to the office calling out, “instructor...instructor.”

With each call rose my anger. Why couldn’t the student fathom my exhaustion? Why couldn’t he hold his fire until I had had my lunch? The student had now caught up with me, panting, having ran all the way. “Instructor, I was just bringing your bunch of keys that you had forgotten in class.” With a single act of benevolence, this student taught me something about mindfulness, patience and kindness—attributes that teachers should possess to enhance learning and rapport.

My four years of training as a teacher provided me with content and pedagogy, but did not prepare me for real social, emotional, and cognitive demands of today’s classroom.  However, in all fairness, even with enough emotional training, nobody—humanly speaking— would be prepared enough for the myriad of personalities, varied backgrounds and different experiences that define the students we meet in the classroom. Is it too late for us to train our minds consciously to become more aware of our inner and outer experience, and how to manage our emotions?

When I teach, I sometimes notice that my mind is keen on what I need to do and how to do it that I don’t devote to the contemporaneous moment. This causes misery, making me emotionally volatile and more sensitive to threat. I may envisage a student’s disruptive behaviour as an intentionally designed attack on me when, in fact, it is the normal behaviour of a child who needs help with his self-regulation. Being more considerate puts teachers in control of their motional patterns and enables them to proactively regulate how we behave, especially around students.

How then can one develop the attribute of mindfulness? One of the ways is to remind yourself weekly of why you teach or what gives you passion in teaching. If we cannot go back to the drawing board and constantly relive the bigger picture, all the hiccups and teething issues will soon cause the burnout. Similarly, we should rekindle those moments of joy we experience in the process, in lieu of the not-so-good ones. Additionally, we must exercise our breathing just like musicians do. There is magic in breathing in and out before an outburst. Also, remember to talk cautiously with learners and practice a generous level of patience.

Without emotional intelligence and mindfulness, pedagogy and content may be futile to learning. Since we are spending this holiday season with people around us, we may as well try practicing the mindfulness of our speeches, actions and thoughts. It takes time but when we master it, the benefits are unmatched.