Op-ed: Building a bridge of empathy between student and teacher


Residing in close proximity with a handful of students rarely makes for a problem-free living environment, but the frustration that builds up in these living situations hinders us from living a healthy life and forming positive relationships. / Illustration by Ally Rzesa

By Xinyan Fu, Columnist

Before the fourth grade, math was my favorite subject. I enjoyed my math classes and always participated actively. However, this all changed when a new teacher arrived. He assigned unbelievable amounts of homework, which was hard for fourth graders to finish in time, and he refused to take any excuses. He pushed students’ heads against the table and pulled their hair when they didn’t hand in their homework on time. Because of this, I conceived all kinds of ideas to avoid his class and, as a result, my math grade dropped.

Although my mom has told me many times it is headstrong and childish to do so, my academic performances always fluctuates with how I like my teacher. I feel learn better with teachers who respect and understand me as a student. I believe students should respect their teachers, but teachers should reciprocate that respect. Dealing with instructors who see me as a child instead of an individual is tiresome, and it is hard for me to improve because of this lack of understanding.

At Emerson, when one of my professors explained essay requirements, everyone in class knew what MLA format was except me. It wasn’t something we used at my high school in China. I spent countless hours researching MLA format, paid a visit to the writing center almost every day, and attempted to get my essay done in correct format. Luckily, my professor understood when we discussed my problem, and they willingly helped me revise the essay. According to my writing class professor, the first draft is supposed to be bad because it provides space for improvement.

Yet, my friends aren’t as lucky as me. According to them, some professors assume their students know certain requirements of their class assignments, so they would just throw the assignments to students without further explanation. When students turn in the assignments, they said they usually get a low grade for failing to meet those “hidden” requirements.

Empathy from professors is significant for students, especially international ones. Personally, I find the educational system in the U.S. entirely different from the one in China. I attended Xiamen Foreign Language School, which is one of Xiamen’s best high schools, where the teachers had authority over students’ academic lives. Here at Emerson, I have more freedom in deciding which classes I want to take and have chances to switch or withdraw classes.

The English language is also a huge barrier for me. Even though I’ve studied English for more than six years, I still find it difficult to understand certain references. When taking my journalism class, I was always confused by the names of the politicians and all the puns at which people laughed. Even though my professor encouraged me to ask questions, I would still hesitate and decide not to ask anything. Empathy and patience from teachers makes me feel more confident and motivated to pursue my courses.

For example, my freshman year writing professor is always very supportive and helpful. In class sometimes, I feel uncertain about whether I should share some of the experiences I had in China because I’m afraid my classmates might find it unrelatable and boring. But my writing professor always listens and gives positive comments. She always tells her students they have “a big beautiful brain,” and all the experiences we share are amazing.

Still, there are other people, including my mother, who holds an opposite opinion by saying students should not let a teacher impact how they like a subject since they study for themselves. However, everyone was once a student, and I believe everyone has their favorite teacher. But, as a teacher, having empathy doesn’t mean merely knowing your students’ feelings, but treating them the way you wished your teachers treated you.