Why The Most Important Form of Compassion is Just Listening

When you teach middle school your door is always open. You always have to have snacks, gum, tissues and a moment, or more, to listen. One might assume that teachers mostly teach; that they dispel information to an audience of hungry absorbers. My most powerful teaching moments are actually when I am listening. Students, mostly girls, seek me out to share their anxiety, their sadness, their fear or frustration. I don’t have to have an answer or a solution. I offer many wonderings. Like: I wonder how that felt for you. It’s a more active form of listening.

This act is continued at home in the evenings with my three children. It’s so much more difficult to JUST listen when it is your own child. You want to offer your wisdom and your advice. Time is a commodity in a busy nest and the most important job of a parent, like a teacher, is to be present and listen. The heaviest information is shared while snuggling in bed just after a story and just before a kiss goodnight. A parent must have all of the tools readily available to solve a range of problems among, in my case, three children ranging in age from 7–14. The toolbox is a warm hug and a compassionate “I hear you. I am here for you and I understand you.”

During these long dark months filled with short cold days, I am reminding myself of the importance of pure compassion. The tearful adolescent in my classroom often needs a simple break, a tissue and piece of chewing gum- offered up by an adult who says clearly “I hear you and your story is important.”

Mallory Chinn is an 8th grade social studies teacher and mommy to Ella (14), Harper (11) and Miles (7) pictured above.