It’s About Our Students

Today is my last day of class, and I feel a little antsy, even a little edgy.  I already have a stack of materials to grade, and I’ll be getting another stack today, and then another during our final exam period.  I have deadlines related to other work activities.  And my spring-exploded yard is calling to me.  Thankfully, my mindfulness teacher training class is tonight, guaranteed to bring me back to here and now and aaaaaahhhhhh.  But enough, it’s not about me.  Really, enough about me.

I’ve written before about how mindful practice can increase our sense of compassion. In “Playing with Others,” I cited the 2013 study by Condon, Desbordes, Miller, and DeSteno in which participants in an 8-week mindfulness course and those on its waiting list were individually observed in a waiting room.  Two actors sat in the room with them, and a third arrived on crutches and clearly in pain.  The study participant, however, had just taken the last available seat. Those in the mindfulness course surrendered their seat to the person in pain 35% more frequently than those still on the waiting list. Condon and colleagues conclude that mindfulness resulted in more compassionate behavior.

Photo by Colleen Finlayson

Yesterday, my friend K (at another institution*) shared her sense of humility in thinking about her students:

I’ve never had to do homework out of my car because my parents kicked me out of my house and disowned me because the person I love happened to be of the same sex. I’ve never had to go home to three children and another part time job after school and stay up until 2am to get an assignment in on time. I’ve never been abused by my partner–physically or emotionally. I have never had been involved in an assault case, answering calls from police officers in between classes. I have never had any learning disorder. I’ve never had to sit in the same classroom with the man who raped me. I’ve never had to bring my children to class because I didn’t have parents to watch them and couldn’t afford childcare. And yet I see them thrive–able to conquer these obstacles–able to put all of it aside because they believe in education and take nothing for granted. So here is a shout out to all of those students who never had the privileges I had. To those who inspire me everyday with their strength, determination, and grace in the face of profound obstacles–living day to day just to get by. You make me better. You remind me of how truly blessed I am, and for that, I am forever grateful. Peace and love to you all.

K and I share some invisible, chronic health problems, which has led to conversations about mindfulness. (She’s also just a caring person.) I don’t know if she practices regularly, but I had to share her comment because it inspires the kind of compassion that’s most needed at this moment in the semester. I think about the situations of some of my current students, and I feel K’s humility and generosity for their strength and determination.

Yes, we‘re busy.  Yes, we do have a lot piling up on our desks and desktops. But the stakes are higher for the students, who are juggling major assignments multiple courses (five at a time at Vanderbilt) while trying to keep at bay the nagging worries about the future–while also experiencing sadness and depression and anxiety and trauma and and and….


Let’s go back to this simple practice that’s probably in great need at this time of the semester. For the next week, every time you interact with a student, immediately think the following:

“I wish this person happiness.”

That’s it.  Do it for a week.

* With her permission, I’ve eliminated her name and institution and modified comments slightly to ensure anonymity of all involved.

Condon, Paul, Gaëlle Desbordes, Willa B. Miller and David DeSteno. (Aug 2013). Meditation increases compassionate responses to sufferingPsychological Science. 1-3.
Photo Credit: Colleen Finlayson Compfight cc
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