The Cost of Kindness




I teach a student who doesn’t speak. In the six months I have worked with him, I’ve yet to hear his voice. Our communication consists of the occasional email, where he informs me of what he is struggling with, and I respond accordingly in an attempt to help him circumnavigate the assignments I provide. My class is easy to some, and a struggle for many, including this silent 16 year old boy.
When one day his counselor pulled me aside, I expected to be chastised for not explaining something well enough, not providing him additional opportunities or new ways to look at the work that I give. Instead, I was met with praise for a game I had my students play, a game which, despite his silence, he enthusiastically participated in. He was brought into the conversation of the game by another student, and responded by typing his answers on the computer and spinning it around for that other student to see.
This second student is often a troublemaker in class, being too loud, and sometimes coming off as combative in discussion, but when addressing the first student, he did it with kindness. I had told that second student months before, that I saw a leader in him, someone strong willed and opinionated with a lot to learn, but also somebody whose life had taught him lessons that no boy should have to learn at 16. We had an instant camaraderie from the day he told me his story, a certain mutual respect that may be rare for a Caucasian teacher to have with minority students.
I am open and honest with my students about the hardships I’ve seen in life, and fully acknowledge to them that I am aware of the privilege of the color of my skin. These are perhaps the two biggest reasons that I am a teacher that most of them appreciate. I am who they come to when they need advice or guidance, and I am the one they come to when they just want somebody to hear them. Because I hear them, many of them have begun to recognize that I see them as well. So all of those months later, after telling this second student about the leadership capabilities I saw in him, I was afforded the opportunity to tell him just how much what he did in bringing this quiet student into the game meant to him, and how it was proof that I was right, and that so many others who had always told him otherwise were wrong.
I don’t expect to be brought back to the school I currently teach in. The students are aware of this, and are somewhat heartbroken over the prospect of losing me. The administration wants a disciplinary, somebody who can pull the students in with structure and a firm fist, but… that is not who I am, and my classroom management suffers because of my kindness. I am not sure where the line is between kindness and weakness, or how often I straddle it, but I believe it is enough that I will be looking for new employment for the fall of 2023. Kindness is not just a pedagogical practice to me, it’s the only way I can make it through the day. Tattooed on my body is the phrase “Only through compassion” as I truly believe that understanding and kindness are the only ways to heal some wounds, and bridge some gaps.
According to this week’s readings, Kindness as a pedagogy requires for an educator to both believe students, and believe in students, and, if I can only muster the strength to say one positive thing about myself, let it be that I care. Believing in my students is easy, yet frustrating, as I see some of them so disengaged in class, yet with such raw and natural talent as writers, crafters, readers, and storytellers. Believing my students is also no difficult feat for me, as, despite the fact that 75 percent of my students are minorities, we come from places and have experienced such similar struggles that at times I find it humbling, I find them truly humbling.

“When I sit in the presence of my student’s words, when I try to listen deeply, when I stop placing any of my expectations on him for this writing, I don’t have to ask or urge him to find more meaning than the final sentence, than the simple fact that our labor-based grading contract ecology “got me used to reading and writing.” That is something, given his past experiences. He is becoming right in front of me, and I’m lucky enough to witness it.”

The above sentiment is why I became a teacher. It isn’t about who I want to be, it’s that I want to see with my own eyes, the growth and development of a generation that can potentially help to rectify the problems that my generation caused or are preexisting conditions from the ones that came before us. If the cost of kindness is me losing the ability to see these students grow as they transition from juniors to seniors and sophomores to juniors, than all I can say is I’m truly honored to be a part of their journeys for this short amount of time.


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