I believe with all my heart and soul that caring, not technology or technique or subject mastery, is the most powerful teaching tool at our disposal. If we can put the student at ease, let the student know that we care, we'll have a better relationship. Now, don't confuse sympathy and understanding with slacking off. To the contrary, caring about each individual student makes teaching far less casual and cavalier than lecturing to a class and giving a standardized test that the computer grades. It's a struggle to balance understanding with being reasonably demanding. But if we care, if we stop talking enough to learn how to listen, no matter what we demand, the student is more likely to trust us and do what we're asking. I have seen over and over and over again that to be acutely sensitive to and understanding of students is the hammer and saw of teaching, that caring more about how they feel and think outside the classroom than how they answer a question or what they got on a quiz at times almost has a healing effect.
I think part of the public dismay with education is the almost loss of close human contact. Professors are almost totally concerned with asking of the student "what do you know?" So rarely do they care enough to ask "who are you?" The students are more than what they do. They are more than an I.D. number, a name on a seating chart and in a role book, a tuition payment, or an entry on a grade sheet or transcript. There's heart and soul and personality. They come into class with distracting and debilitating economic, social, psychological and spiritual issues.
They remind me that if we're deaf to what the student's are saying about themselves with word or gesture or even silence, we become blind to why they do what they do. And, when we become blind, we become uninvolved, cold, cynical and callous.
Louis Schmier Dept of History Valdosta St University