A recent comment on my “Learning to Knit” post made me so sad. Linda wrote that a “ferocious” teacher had taught her knitting in primary school and she was so traumatised by it she could hardly bear the thought of trying to knit again. I’ve been thinking for a while about teaching and kindness, and Linda’s experience confirmed my idea that it isn’t actually possible to teach anything positive without an approach that includes kindness.
In my job, I often work one-to-one with students who want to improve their academic writing. This is always challenging and interesting to me – identifying the problems, trying to find creative solutions that fit the student’s own personality and preferences. I love language, and the magic of what good editing can do, for example.
But all of these considerations are secondary to to fact that the person who has come to see me very often needs kindness above all else. Because in my job we only ever look at work that’s already been submitted and marked, I go through the essay feedback with the student. How often do I experience inside myself a sharp intake of breath at the callous comments I see in the margins! I limit myself to saying things like, “Yes, I can see how this feedback would make you feel quite dispirited about your writing.” And I often spend the hour building up the student’s confidence in themselves so that they can set out to undertake, once again, that daunting task of writing. They need to see their own potential, and believe that improving their writing is within their capabilities.
I have huge regard for discipline and rigour in intellectual pursuits. Students do need to be told when their logic isn’t strong, when they have missed an important point, and when their writing isn’t the best it could be. But there are ways of doing this with kindness. Certainly delivering criticism constructively is far more effective than slashing someone’s work (and thus, in some ways, self) apart.
It’s a cliché but the older I get, the more often I reflect that the most important thing of all is kindness. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1st Corinthians, 13:13)