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Caring, the Role of a Teacher Teacher-StudentArticle Critique

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Caring, the Role of a Teacher

Teacher-Student relationships in the classroom can often be a daunting task to undertake. People usually blame large classroom sizes or limited availability of resources. That being said, educational discourse concerning the teacher-student dynamic is frequently constructed on the basis of teacher taking action students in the sense of teaching students to behave appropriately. There are neutral and universal sets of behavior as well as cognitive skills teachers tend to reinforce in students to instill a specific outcome when it comes to learning and classroom etiquette. Here, instructors define their comprehension of behavior in relation to individual or personal accountability and rational decision.

Classroom management therefore become a framework concerning rules, contracts, activities, choices, organizational structures, where form replaces feeling, structure replaces substance. It becomes a tricky and difficult dynamic because learning takes a different form, a different meaning because of the context of behavior surrounding it. Nurturance and cultivation then subsides into and in essence drowns, within a discourse of technocratic, instrumentalist, and individualism. Some may even say due to such structured thinking and transformation of framework, that it generate a form or sense of disconnect between the teacher and student. Should one vie for ideal of care or adequate instruction and behavior? "…if educators are to cultivate caring relations with their students, the focus needs to shift from educators doing something to their students to educators doing something to themselves" (Sinha & Thornburg, 2012, p. 24).

a. Ideal of care promotes supportive relationships, emotional responsiveness, and social warmth. Where students lack understanding of curriculum and need further guidance, ideal of care may be an adequate form of teach-student relations as it provides the support and connection students sometimes need to fully grasp educational material. Cultivation of caring relationships is defined mainly through measureable aspects that can be evaluated and assessed for efficacy. However, certain dynamics within this kind of teacher-student interaction cannot be so simply measured or quantified. Still it is something that is necessary for creation of caring student-teacher relations.

b. When attempting to create a caring teacher-student relation, it can be difficult because students' lives are varied and some are harder to reach. This brings in the need for rules, focus on behavior standards, and ethical considerations. Teachers cannot form personal relationships with students outside of the teacher and student role. Teachers cannot be a student's friend. They are there professionally, to assist them in the academic endeavor. That's why so much structure exists within behavior frameworks to avoid crossing those lines of personal and professional relations.

c. The article dives into accounts by teachers and examines them through the lens of "Nel Noddings' phenomenology of caring, alongside additional insights of other theorists of education. They explore the concept of cultivating of caring relations through actions by teacher to students and actions by teachers to themselves. The teacher accounts vary in terms of the teacher's ethnicity, gender, and experience teaching. It not only offers a wider lens from which to observe instances of these kinds of situations and relations, but how teachers in general attempt to connect to students and fulfill their job responsibilities as paid educators.

II. Short Summary

The article features several snippets from various teachers and their experiences reaching out to and connecting with students. The first example is that of an African-American male physical education teacher. He has twelve years of experience teaching in a middle school. He complains about students not meeting him halfway. He tries in vain at times, to support the students, to ask about their home life, but still maintain some level of professionalism. He says it's hard for him because these students' lives are so varied. Some are babied, while others are neglected, or even worse, abused. He often doesn't understand how to approach them, much less communicate with them.

Another teacher, a Caucasian female, mathematics teacher discusses her students lack of desire to learn and explains the difficulties in communicating with them. "It's like they speak a different language. And some of them do, actually. I am thinking of a couple of students in my pre-calculus class who are very bright but simply do not care" (Sinha & Thornburg, 2012, p. 24). Sometimes she feels as though attempting to discipline them, enforce certain expectations, conflicts with her desire to care for the students and communicate with them. Here is a good example of wanting a certain behavior out of students like meeting their academic objectives, but also wanting to reach out and make sure the students are listening, learning, caring to learn.

Another experience, this time by a Male Asian high school art teacher who has five years of teaching experience, explains the difficulties of reaching out to troubled students, students in general. He says the education he received about cultural diversity does not prepare him enough to understand the students' perspective, their own "youth culture." He sees students, talented ones, waste their skills and yet he cannot connect with them enough to guide them to a higher level of education and career ambition. "There is a student who I think is very talented in one of my classes, and I would like to see him go further with his education. But he just is unreachable to me and I could stand on my head…it wouldn't matter a bitabout learning." (Sinha & Thornburg, 2012, p. 24).

These small vignettes offer valuable insight in the desire of teachers to care for and nurture their students. The first one complained about a lack of participation by his students in meeting him halfway, the second said she couldn't understand them, and the third said he just didn't know how to reach out to them, guide them. What's been apparently made clear from these instances is that teachers have trouble connecting to students, communicating to students, and guiding students. Could this be a mixture of wanting to impose structure and regulation or simply not knowing or understanding current "youth culture"?

The other vignettes move towards guilt and external expectations. One teacher comments on how little the students care about their scores as long as they pass, while others comment on things like poverty and poor parenting that could influence the way children behave in the classroom. This then becomes a driving force for teachers to focus less on nurturing and caring, and more on making students understand the material and get high scores. To them, they feel that the high scores, the better grades will bring students higher self-esteem, more chances, and a better outcome when it came to applying for colleges. They thought, "Hey if I get them to understand the grammatical structures, maybe it can help them overall." These teachers although wishing to connect with the students, didn't feel they could. They didn't feel as though it was their job and saw it more as an act of counseling.

Teachers are often seen to take varied roles. And this is true in the present day. They may take on supplementary roles of counselor, guiding students to making better choices, they take the role of educator, but sometimes they have to take the role of enforcer. The article discusses such dynamics as it relates to school pressure for students to do well for government funding. Sometimes in these situations it's not the talent of the student that counts, but their test scores. The narratives of the second half focus more on these external influences and present them as hurdles in learning, in connection, and most importantly, in understanding.

So what can be done?

Noddings can be seen to point educators towards a shift that needs to take place in their orientation to emotional risk if caring relations with students are to be cultivated. Rather than viewing our discomfort and guilt as something from which we need to flee, Noddings helps us understand it as something with which we may need to tarry, as that from which we as educators may learn, since it is that which primordially connects us to what the other person asks and may need of us (Sinha & Thornburg, 2012, p. 28).

This is where the authors suggest the fuel needed to reconnect teachers to students comes from the same source that seems to disconnect them. Guilt, in essence is what can enable teachers to do more, understand more, cultivate a deeper connection to their students. It takes a little bit more leg work, but in the grand scheme of things, sometime such leg work is needed in order to get past the obstacles, the hurdles in life, to reach these troubled students.

Noddings suggest that instead of using "blueprints" of understanding, that teachers, in order to facilitate connection between students, must be open to and be aware of how students respond and behave. It's like learning to ride the bicycle. Teachers essentially have to learn what students will respond to and what are they responding to already. Things like poverty, race, invite teachers to further reflect on what can… [END OF PREVIEW]

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