Don’t be too quick to label that child in your classroom as a pest, troublemaker or menace, because that child might well be displaying behaviours indicative of some underlying issue that requires intervention. This is the view of the T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA), as it seeks to implore teachers through its initiative Teaching with Empathy, to become more cognisant of the “unseen” when dealing with children.
Via its weekly radio programme ‘TTUTA Speaks,’ the association has been illustrating ways in which teachers could improve on their interaction with students who may have authentic behavioural issues.
Asked why the association felt the need to embark on such an initiative at this time, TTUTA president Lynsley Doodhai said there are children throughout the country dealing with a multiplicity of issues that are not conducive to learning and they bring them to school. These students, he related, do not have the coping mechanisms that adults have developed, therefore if they cannot deal with their problems, they will act out and display behaviours that are their cries for help. He said these students are often referred to the Student Support Services Division of the Ministry of Education, but teachers can also play a huge role in reaching out to the student in an effort to find out what is going on with them.
“We are seeing this in our schools today. Teachers need to recognise some of these behaviours and help students to deal with these issues so that we do not lose them,” said Doodhai
“Just as modelling kindness is vital to teaching students kindness, so is modelling empathy vital to teaching students empathy. The most important thing that can be done to encourage empathy in students is to empathise with them.”
Doodhai was quick to note that a great majority of teachers pay close attention to students with behavioural issues, but the association felt the programme was essential to act as a reinforcement of the importance of being empathetic to students.
According to Doodhai, there was a greater need for teaching with empathy particularly because of the alarming statistics on sex child abuse in T&T, recently revealed by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi during the proposal of legislation which seeks to amend the Sexual Offences Act to introduce a national sex offenders registry to be kept by the Police Service and which also provides for the Immigration Division to be mandated to stamp “child offender” on the passport of such a person.
He said this was cause for serious concern by everyone including teachers. And in an attempt to do its part to alleviate this scourge, TTUTA has developed a working relationship with the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and other bodies working with and for the protection of children.
Asked if the initiative would be a “one-off” approach, Doodhai said the association intended to continue its advocacy for an education system that was all inclusive and which caters for all students and allows them to develop their own potential.
A teacher must have passion for people
Guidance officer and social worker Alsoona Boswell-Jackson is in agreement with TTUTA’s initiative but said it must follow a practical process. She contended it may not always be feasible for teachers to go ‘above and beyond the call,’ of their teaching duty to evaluate, assess and diagnose students’ behaviours to determine the underlying cause, as the issue of time and completing a curriculum are to be taken into consideration. Additionally, there are a number of causes that a teacher may have to eliminate to ascertain a student’s behaviour, she noted.
“Children act out of peer influence, sometimes it could be just plain ‘attention seeking,’ trauma, abuse or it could even be as a result of a spectrum disorder, like autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some teachers may not know how to diagnose these issues and that is where training needs to step in,” Boswell-Jackson advised.
According to her, more than a passion to teach, a teacher must also have a passion for people, which can foster effective classroom management.
“Classroom management is very important for teachers to master in order for them to recognise students that have authentic behavioural issues that require empathy further evaluation and intervention,” she said.
Boswell-Jackson also said that in order for a teacher to have that “discerning eye” to distinguish authentic behavioural issues from those that are not, they needed to be taught emotional intelligence and mindfulness—a 21st-century approach educators are now being encouraged to embrace.
Emotional intelligence and mindfulness as described by positivepsychologyprogram.com are defined as the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and those of other people. It incorporates emotional awareness, emotional application, and emotional management.
Speaking on Student Support Services, Boswell-Jackson revealed the programme, which is made up of guidance counsellors, social workers, and behavioural specialist, lacked sorely, in the latter department, as such there aren’t enough behavioural specialists in schools to deal with the children who need their intervention. This, she underscored, is a serious challenge, which needed to be urgently addressed.
She said for ‘teaching with empathy’ to be effective there was a combination of fractions that make up a whole that will aid in ascertaining a child experiencing psycho-social or personal-social issues. The main ingredient, Boswell-Jackson reiterated, must be passion for people.