Of all the articles assigned for this week, I was immediately drawn to Catherine Denial’s “Pedagogy of Kindness,” and it certainly did not disappoint. Denial discussed the development of her strategy of leading with kindness as an educator as well as some of the major issues that occur when educators do not utilize such a strategy. She pointed out an important and all too familiar problem: student-teacher relationships are often characterized by distrust. This is an issue that I am sure feels close to home for most students.
I have been at Wake Forest long enough to know generally which professors to take (and to continue taking) and which ones not to take. The professors that I have loved the most have been ones who have consistently displayed understanding, flexibility, and respect. Having such professors has proven valuable to both my mental health and to what I actually get out of the class, especially during the pandemic. I am in my 5th class with my favorite professor, and on top of being an exceptional academic and educator, he is the most understanding professor I have ever had. Every time I have gotten sick or overwhelmed, he has been quick to ease the burden of the class, offering excused absences and extensions without question.
What stuck out to me the most in the reading was when Denial wrote that “kindness as pedagogical practice distills down to two simple things: believing people, and believing in people.” It is so refreshing when educators have this attitude, and I have been lucky enough to experience many professors like this at Wake Forest. However, this should not be refreshing; it should be the norm. Especially at this level of education – but arguably at lower levels of education, too – it is important to believe students and believe in them. The reason why we are here is to get an education; if we do not do the work and do it honestly, we are doing ourselves a disservice.
Yet, as Denial points out, much of our education is treated as a transaction. We as students are consumers, entering a contract with educators who have a product that we want: the grade. The fact that we are so grade-focused has completely distorted students’ outlook on education. Many look at it (as I often do myself) as if we are working for the grade rather than the knowledge and experience.
I am really glad that I read this article because this is a really important issue that needs to be addressed, and Denial presents a viable way to deal with it. If educators approach teaching with kindness – believing students and believing in them – then this could help positively reframe the way students view education and the way educators view students.