The quality of teaching is not strained

August 12, 2009 at 6:54 am
filed under leadership, Teaching
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The more I think about recent conversations around teaching – about why some people leave, and others don’t, about why some choose it over more lucrative or socially respected professions (in some circles) – the more this phrase spins in my head:

The quality of teaching is not strained

Of course, that was stolen from Portia’s famous lines to Shylock in a Merchant of Venice in her speech on mercy:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Act IV, Scene I

In this case strained means something that can not be forced. Mercy’s greatest quality is that it is voluntary. It must be naturally so or else it is no longer true mercy.

I think about this in relation to teaching. We can train teachers in pedagogy, even show them what it means to be compassionate, to love children. But that compassion, that love of children, that recognition that true learning depends on relationship and sharing your story. That part, that can not be strained. That part, that’s the passion that calls many of us to our profession. And it is what keeps the majority of us who stay.

Kindness, I’ve discovered, is everything in life.
~Isaac Bashevis Singer

Why do anything unless it is going to be great?
~Peter Block

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  1. elonahartjes

    on August 12, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Tracy,
    “Kindness is everything.” I've found that some of the kids I teach are not used to kindness. They encounter it so seldomly in their lives that they don't quite know what to make of it. By meeting the troublesome behaviour of my troubled students with kindness, I've been able to develop positive relationships with many of these kids. It's not easy to do,nd it doesn't happen all the time. I'll be the first to admit, but it happens often enough to know that kindness makes a difference.

    When I have particularly troublesome students, I try to remember to send say this prayer

    May we be filled with loving kindness
    May we be happy
    May we be peaceful and at ease
    May we be well

    I say “we” because we're in the classroom together, and I, the teacher, need to be happy in the classroom as well as my students so that the classroom experience is a positive one for all of us. I often talk to my students about my needs as well as theirs. I tell them we're in it together.

  2. More on Sarah Fine from yesterday… How much is kindess worth? | Inner Education for Inward Educators

    on August 12, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    [...] around the Washington Post article by Sarah Fine (see yesterday’s post) should also check out Traci at leadingfromtheheart.org and Michael Doyle.  Everyone agrees that Fine’s problem is a symptom of a larger systemic [...]

  3. JasonP

    on August 12, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Tracy, (thanks for visiting my blog) I agree that kindness and compassion are needed, but I worry that we put them too much on a pedestal. The field of teaching is littered with teachers who “cared” or had “passion” at some point. Yet, if people with passion were great teachers and only people with passion stayed, all our schools would be fantastic houses of love and goodness. Yet, schools are often just the opposite–buildings of strife, jealousy, and selfishness.

    While I would not advocate ignoring kindness, it seems to me that being a returning teacher must take more then that. There is a diligence and perseverance and confidence in one's work and being able to be pleased with one's own work despite internal factors. That's a personality trait that I believe is not installed in most beginning teacher's outlooks, which are likely more geared towards pleasing everyone else around them then pleasing themselves.

    And, Tracy, thank you so much for visiting InnerEd. http://www.innered.edublogs.org

  4. JasonP

    on August 12, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Tracy, (thanks for visiting my blog) I agree that kindness and compassion are needed, but I worry that we put them too much on a pedestal. The field of teaching is littered with teachers who “cared” or had “passion” at some point. Yet, if people with passion were great teachers and only people with passion stayed, all our schools would be fantastic houses of love and goodness. Yet, schools are often just the opposite–buildings of strife, jealousy, and selfishness.

    While I would not advocate ignoring kindness, it seems to me that being a returning teacher must take more then that. There is a diligence and perseverance and confidence in one's work and being able to be pleased with one's own work despite internal factors. That's a personality trait that I believe is not installed in most beginning teacher's outlooks, which are likely more geared towards pleasing everyone else around them then pleasing themselves.

    And, Tracy, thank you so much for visiting InnerEd. http://www.innered.edublogs.org

  5. tracyrosen

    on August 13, 2009 at 7:55 am

    Jason,
    A) Kindness and compassion are NOT necessarily tree-hugging, group-hug, lovey-dovey, let's all feel good all the time states of being. I've written about that before, here –> On Being Together and here –> It's Basically About Shifting From Getting People to Love You, To You Loving Them and I'm sure in a few other places :)

    B) I agree, on their own they aren't enough. They must be integrated with a good, strong understanding of pedagogy and curriculum. Those 2 are easy to learn, but when they are all you do as a teacher they aren't enough. As I wrote earlier (can't quite remember where), I would not be being kind or caring toward my students if I did not challenge them with rigorous pedagogy and curricular objectives.

    Thanks for getting me to make that distinction. It's an important one. Very.

    Elona,
    I have discovered the same. Many students are not used to kindness at all. For some, we are it in their lives. I remember once keeping a girl in and telling her that I didn't want to make her stay home for profanity and rudeness to other kids in the class because we would miss her but she had to get her act together, blah, blah, blah and after my big long speech her only reaction was, 'you'd miss me?'
    I have been known to repeat mantras like that in class as well :) Thanks for sharing that one!

  6. Damien Riley

    on August 13, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Beautiful poetry, thanks for that flashback to college :) The older I get, the more I believe we all should be kinder and more merciful with one another. When I was younger (now am 40) people in the profession were merciful to me, now it's my turn. Very nice reminder.