Monday, December 12, 2016

A Mile in her Moccasins

The IB Learner Profile trait in December is always "Caring" and so we are given activities meant to instill empathy in the 11 and 12-year-olds in our homerooms. Today was the day designated for those discussions, and I confess to not doing the assigned lesson, mostly because it was not appropriate for my group.

My homeroom is comprised of 12 sixth graders who range in age from 12 in October to 11, turning 12 next September. They also represent the spectrum from life skills to Gifted, with 1/3 of them identified as qualifying for special education services. There are kids who grew up speaking Spanish, Urdu, and not speaking at all, and so this morning we watched a video about empathy, twice, and then another video about the difference between empathy and sympathy, also twice. Then we talked about caring and kindness.

I think it went pretty well, but often I am skeptical of such attempts to overtly instruct human beings on "character", especially out of context. Still, in the very next class, I gave the students a short passage from the novel Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. 
The desks were in five perfect lines of six. If ever these lines strayed from perfect, if someone should move his by scooting back too vigorously, or trying to get just the right angle to pass a note, Mrs. Jacobs got very cranky.
The topic of the lesson was finding big ideas about characters in small details. "What does this passage tell us about Mrs. Jacobs?" I asked.

I expected the students to answer with some variation of the idea that she was strict, a perfectionist, or inflexible; then I would push them to dig deeper into her motivation or at least into how her actions might affect her students.

One girl raised her hand immediately. "Maybe she has a lot of chaos in her life, and this is something she can control, so it's really important to her," she suggested.

I caught my breath. "Now, that is empathy," I told her.

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