Monday, March 02, 2015

Teaching with Compassion

For more years than I’d like to recall, I lived with chronic pain. It was difficult to hide from anyone at my school, but I did my best to make sure it didn’t get in the way of my teaching. I would pace the back of the room during faculty meetings because I couldn’t sit for more than 15 minutes at a time. I would lie on the torn hunter green vinyl couch in the teacher’s lounge when no one was around even for five minutes just to take the pressure off. I didn’t want pity, and I didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to make concessions for me. But in my quest to appear strong I never received compassion either. No one understood why I couldn’t do bus duty or hall duty. They couldn’t see the source of my pain and it wasn’t an easy thing to explain. It’s hard enough dealing with our own afflictions. How can we then nurture those students whose special needs baffle or even disturb us?
            Students with learning, physical or developmental difficulties battle daily for a chance to learn. Some disabilities are easy to see when they wheel down the hallway or open their mouth to speak. Others are less visible, and some are even hidden from our view. Some students will go to great lengths to go unnoticed, while others have no way to control their explosion onto the scene. They don’t want your pity, but they desperately need your compassion.
            How do you respond to a child in need, especially a child whose needs you don’t readily understand nor relate to? Discomfort might sometimes slow us, but it should never stop us from answering the call God has placed on us – to reach and teach His children.
            Another’s infirmity is your chance to bestow an act of mercy or compassion. But we’re all disabled in some way. In your own feeble state you, too, can do whatever it takes to strengthen yourself even in your weakness, so that only holiness will be center stage and not your disability.
            Each child placed in your care this year is by divine assignment. If you catch yourself cringing when you realize the extra paperwork, additional conferences, and accommodations and modifications you’ll have to make for particular children, take a breath and remember it’s not a mistake. Your class roster is filled with children hand-picked just for you. When their many needs threaten to overwhelm you, be encouraged that God always equips those He calls.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:12-15).

            If a child’s affliction feels like a thorn in the side to you, be mindful of it for what it truly is – a way to keep you humble, a reminder to be more compassionate, and an opportunity to pour grace by the buckets full on anyone within reach. Their afflictions should never be a burden to us. God will give you the grace new every morning so that you in turn can give grace to those who need you the most. I know it’s hard, but remember, you’re practicing your acts of mercy.

Vicki Caruana is an assistant professor of education at Mount Saint Mary College in New York as well as the author of a number of books to encourage teachers including Apples & Chalkdust, Kisses of Sunshine for Teachers, and Recess for Teachers. Visit her website for more encouragement at