From Caring Comes Courage

It is almost cliché to say that caring is an integral part of teaching. We wake up in the mornings, head to our classrooms, spend a full day teaching, and then spend our afternoons and evenings planning for the next day. We, unlike most professions, spend our day in the presence of people much younger than us. We find ourselves having to learn about the latest technologies or the latest pop culture fads just to keep up with what is important in the lives of our students. I have found that being a teacher has my mind continuously “turned on” to what I can bring to the classroom or what might benefit my students. But, the caring that Durka (2002) wrote about goes beyond the lesson planning, the waking up early, and the act of teaching itself. According to Durka, caring implies fidelity (p. 49). Fidelity is an observance of a promise or duty, which we frequently define as loyalty. The ethic of caring, however, is not simply a fulfillment of duty; it is also a response. Durka wrote:

The fidelity we exercise in fulfilling our responsibilities is not faithfulness to duties or principles, but it is a direct response to our relationships with our students. When we are guided by an ethic of caring, we do not ask whether it is our duty to be faithful; rather, faithfulness to persons is fidelity. (p. 50)

I would add that the fidelity we exercise is also a direct response to our relationship with God and to our vocation. To say that we care, then, requires from us a willingness to build relationships and to know our students. Only then can we see the person beyond the grades, beyond the behavior, beyond the laughter and occasional tears, beyond the texting, and, beyond all those circumstances that hinder us from seeing our students for who they truly are and helping them grow into the people they are meant to be. This means that our caring must manifest itself in all aspects of our teaching and must focus on more than helping our students excel academically; we must help them become responsible members that grow into an ethic of caring of their own.

As educators, we show that we care through the selves we bring to our students. As Durka wrote, “What we reflect to our students contributes to the enhancement of that ideal if we meet our students as they are and find something admirable in them” (p. 57). She also wrote, “People conform to the image of them that we project” (p.57).

In the spring, I completed the student-teaching portion of my credential program at a large public high school in San Francisco. I took over two English classes—one section of freshmen and one of seniors. My freshman class was unofficially considered a “remedial” class and all but one student, in a class of twenty-two students, had failed the class in the Fall semester. I inherited twenty-two students who had been told that they were slow, whose names were not remembered by the previous teacher, and who were consistently put down no matter what they did. When I took over, the students had given up the hope that they could do any better with me than they had done with their previous teacher. They had conformed to the image that had been projected of them and refused to work together or to do any work with me. There were students with special needs and other students for whom school had always been a disappointment. I had to start from the very beginning and help make the class a community before I could ever get them on board. We did various group activities, I made sure to learn their names quickly, I asked about their extracurricular activities, spoke to their counselors and parents, and did everything I could to know them and to reach them through the unique qualities they brought to the classroom. It was then that I started to see a change in my students—a willingness to learn and work together, a greater respect for each other, respect for me, and a desire to do better. A quote attributed to Lao Tzu reads: From caring comes courage. When I got to know my students, I began to care about them and their well-being far beyond the STAR tests and essay grades. That is what inspired me to take risks with my approach to teaching; that is what gave me courage.

Originally published at on July 12, 2012.

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