Thursday, December 16, 2010

Are You a Student of Human Nature?

If you are a teacher or are planning to become a teacher, then your answer to this question should be a resounding, "Yes!" Teaching is not just a matter of passing along information and knowledge from one generation to the next; it is also all about understanding and interacting with human beings. While caught up in the rush of lesson planning, grading papers, school paperwork, meetings, and staff development, it can be hard to remember that we are dealing with a group of human beings on a daily basis. Whether you teach young children, youths, adolescents, young adults, or adults, they are all still human beings at the core and will react and respond to you as a human being.

So what can you do to better understand and interact with the group of human beings you currently teach? Become a student of human nature. This means that you distance yourself from the actions and start asking, "Why?" Why is this student so angry when he or she comes into my class every day? What is causing this anger? Is it me? Is it school? Is it because of parents or friends? Is it something happening outside of school? Until you know the answers to these questions, your interactions will be based on half-truths and conjecture.

Why is this parent constantly in my face? Is it something I've done or not done with their child? Is it based on past interactions with teachers and false assumptions about me as a teacher? Is it based on past treatment from the school or other schools? Does it come from a true desire to be an advocate for the child or is it a control issue?

When we take the words and actions of students, parents, and colleagues personally, we react as though what is being said or done is a personal attack on us. When we distance ourselves, ask the questions, and engage in communication with that person, we have better understanding. With clearer understanding, it is easier for us to work towards a solution to whatever the issue may be.

Another part of this understanding comes from looking at both sides of the issue fairly. As human beings, we tend to want to look at only our side of a situation and not the perspective of the other side. This is human nature. Take some time to put yourself "in the shoes" of the other person and ask how you would feel and react in the same situation. This includes your students sitting in your class and the parents with whom you communicate. The more we can understand other people, the better we can interact in a positive manner.

As a student of human nature, watch the interactions between your students when you have a moment or two. Watch the interactions between your administrator and the staff. Watch the interactions between your colleagues. Especially take note of the interactions between yourself and others. Then take some time to think about those interactions. Why did she say that? Why did he react that way? What did you feel when someone made that comment to you? How did you react? Why? Do you see any patterns? How do those patterns evolve? How do they affect the current interaction and future interactions between these people? By gathering this information and using it, you can then determine what kind of interactions you want to have with other people whether they are students or adults and deliberately modify your own words and actions to bring that about. Without asking these kinds of questions and without being a student of human nature, your interactions will continue to be instinctive rather than deliberate.

Help your interactions be positive ones by gaining understanding of how people "work." The more you observe and reflect and look for understanding, the more it will come to you. The better you understand how people "work," the better you will be able to interact with your students, with parents, and with colleagues. Just remember, a student of human nature seeks first to understand and then to react.


Desiree said...

Emma I really appreciate your comments. Understanding the nature of the human behaviour is vital to our interactions. Further to that I am mindful that our interactions are underpinned largely by who we are being at the time. So many teachers find themselves playing the win lose game - determined not to be undermined - not to be challenged - and ego gets in the way. This is where they caught up in the 'personal' and tend to become reactive and defensive. So much human interaction comes from ego...and it is a platform for diminishing and dis-empowering relationships.

Anonymous said...

How do you feel about Abed, a character from the TV show Community? He at one point states he is a student of human character, and spends most of his time trying to understand and convey understanding to others.

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