Avoiding the cold shower treatment!

Published on 10th March, 2011 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

Empathy is an important quality of a teacher. All too often we get carried away with our lesson, especially one we have spent time planning. We can become so caught up in it that we forget to stand back and envisage what it is like to be immersed in our lesson afresh, as a student is; we can forget that learners often come to our class with their heads already spinning. Sometimes, our inability to ease students with some grace into the lesson is comparable to plunging them under a cold shower!

Teaching is about coaxing students to forget their busy outside lives and to prioritise, for just a few hours a week, their language learning. Empathy is one way to interpret and understand how to approach different elements of our planning and teaching. For example, it can explain why we need a logical, staged approach to readings and listenings. When we ask students to look at a new text, it is the teacher or coursebook writer who has selected it, not the student himself or herself (which is radically different from ‘real life’ reading or listening). When we ask learners to begin reading, their minds are often burdened with other thoughts and ideas: urgent tasks they need to do at work; a recent problem conversation they have had; even a classmate’s new hairdo!

Empathising with students can help us to approach longer readings or listenings (and indeed many other aspects of a lesson) in a more student-friendly way. It enables the teacher to step back and stage the lesson gently, in a way which captures the interest and curiosity of the learners; in a way which is accessible.

So, if you sometimes struggle to create a logical lesson, then try using this simple strategy of putting yourself into your students’ shoes.