When you teach, empathy is ever-present. Sometimes you try to squash your ability to empathize so that you aren't broken by what others endure. Other times, you might find yourself trying to explain empathy to a child for whom such a capacity doesn't come naturally.
As a fifth grade team, Victor and I work to nurture our students' capacity to empathize. Given that we work in a school where our student population is incredibly diverse, empathy is an ever-present factor in our daily interactions. Empathy is not a veiled term to say that some students must pity others or feign understanding; it is a necessary tool for us all to value each other's story, to learn from and with each other, and sometimes, to even forgive ourselves.
On May 5, 2015, I was announced as the 2016 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. The best part of this day was the presentation of my student-created award. Weeks earlier, I'd missed a day of school to participate in a full day of final round events at DESE with the other amazing finalists. When I returned to 5th grade, my students didn't fixate their reactions on the news that I had been selected as the final finalist; instead, they expressed their disbelief that I could have won an award without actually having anything tangible to prove it.
It wasn't that the children questioned my report of what happened; they were confused by the absence of a visual or tangible representation of what I was saying was true. How could a teacher be recognized as exceptional and just return to the classroom to resume like everything was the same?
Although the state did present me with a beautiful award at the State House Ceremony on June 11th, the award my students created and presented to me during the original announcement will always be my favorite. Not only was it symbolic of their empathy skills, but their understanding that despite all of our guests, their voices mattered, especially to me.