Things I Know 129 of 365: Sometimes, when we say we’re caring, we’re not

Students in a given high school say that they want their teachers to care for them, but “nobody cares.” Their teachers make a convincing case that they do care (in the virtue sense); they work hard and want their students to succeed. Here we have willing carers and willing cared-fors but no caring relations.
– Nel Noddings

Today’s faculty meeting featured an investigation of the Ethic of Care. A group of SLA teachers self-selected into a study of the EoC at the beginning of the year. Once a month since then, they’ve met to discuss selected readings and their thinking on the subject.

In the second half of the year, each group is presenting on its learning from the first semester. Today we talked about caring.

The EoC has been coming out of my mouth quite a bit lately. SLA visitors, colleagues, student teachers, no one has been immune to my verbal storm.

Such is usually the case when I’m trying to work out an idea. Today, in a small group discussion, I think I figured out what I’ve been talking about.

Much of the time when we claim to be caring, we’re really not – at least not like we think we are.

Teachers assign loads of homework or grade harshly while asserting such actions come from a place for caring for their students’ futures.

Parents punish in anger or limit students’ independence under the guise of caring.

Under the definition of the EoC, though, these don’t qualify.

Nel Noddings explains the existence of a caring relationship depends not only on the one caring, but also on the cared for recognizing the actions of the one caring as being, well, caring.

This is tough.

This is really tough.

In many educational settings, patterns are firmly developed:

  • Teacher assigns difficult homework to help push students to grow and examine complex ideas.
  • Students become frustrated with the work and blame the teacher for not paying attention to what they see as their limitations.
  • The homework goes undone or incorrectly done.
  • The teacher becomes indignant that the students have ignored or negated what he sees as his clear attempts to show his care for the students and their future.
  • The students’ frustrations grow as they continue to receive work they perceive as reinforcing their teacher’s uncaring.
  • Without reciprocation of his intended caring, the teacher’s capacity to care is diminished.
  • The negative feedback loop diminishes everyone’s capacity for caring.

Simply put, if the one caring is the only one who sees what he’s doing as caring, it’s not a caring relationship and the caring will be unsustainable.

Communicating care means taking time to check in with our students to understand how their perceiving our actions and intentions and then working from that understanding to better communicate what we mean.

Saying and believing we are acting from a place of caring means much less if those we are caring for don’t feel the care.

To me, the best piece of this is Noddings’s contention that the reciprocity of a caring relationship isn’t predicated on the cared for becoming the one caring. For a caring relationship to energize the one caring, all he needs is to have his caring acknowledged.

Last week, a few minutes after I’d dismissed class, a student returned to my room. She’s been struggling mightily this semester with some hard core procrastination and disorganization. It’s drawn a fair amount of my attention and encouragement. Things are improving, but ever-so-slowly.

She popped her head into the room.

“I want to thank you for not giving up on me when it would have made a great deal of sense to do so,” she said and walked away.

She knows I care, and that will make it easier for me to continue to do so.


4 thoughts on “Things I Know 129 of 365: Sometimes, when we say we’re caring, we’re not

  1. Thanks for this, Zac. Prompted me to write an email to a student who's been really inconsistent this year, but just posted a fantastic comment for our last assignment. Typically I would have just given her the good grade she deserved and moved on. The post also reminded me of a comment a student wrote on her reflection after teaching class: I learned that teachers actually have a really difficult job that they make look really easy because they do it all the time. I realized that they create lesson plans every night, and then teach class the next day. They always have to grade assignments and evaluate student participation. I think that by being able to teach a class you have to know ridiculous amounts about your area of study, and this is why people go to college to be teachers, so that they are able to teach classes on a certain subject. I've learned why teachers get so stressed about things being late, and it's not just because they're mean, it's because they have so much to do and little time to do it.

    • Meredith,Thank you for this comment. Thank you for the e-mail you wrote to your student.I actually read your post of the student's comment before I read the comment here. Thank you for the work you do to help your students thoughtfully reflect on their process.A colleague recently commented that the world will care about our students' products more than their process. I can see that.I'm fine with that so long as our students continue to care and reflect on their processes. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Things I Know 135 of 365: Processing matters at Autodizactic

  3. Pingback: Things I Know 137 of 365: Conversations are excellent professional development at Autodizactic

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