Empathy is an Action: A Note from the PCTELA President

As I get ready to start this new year, I find myself in need of reflection of practice, community, and most of all empathy. Throughout 2016, I heard the word empathy whispered in collegial conversations about our kids and our districts, roared from podiums with great passion, and tearfully spoken from student voices.

So what do I gather from that? We care. And we care in diverse ways. When our world, our country, and our individual communities are in such extreme disarray, how can empathy not be our mantra and our major takeaway from this year and our focus for the year to come?

Having spent the last few years with middle schoolers, I think this is especially true for the students in transition, students who are forming their central identities. Maybe us middle school teachers are emotional like our kids. ☺ At NCTE this year, I had the opportunity to meet with and hear from many peers who work with middle schoolers. They spoke from the voices of their students. They spoke from the voices we hear every single day. You can hear the word empathy over and over and over again – but when you hear it from a student’s perspective, you feel it. I heard my student’s voices and realized all over again that we aren’t alone in our desires to move forward.

And so my overall thoughts as I prepare to start 2017 are that YES, we can talk and chat about empathy…but it’s only through listening to our students voices that we feel and therefore act. To empathize is an action. It’s something we do. The stories I heard this year from my friends and peers created action in my heart and mind. As teachers, we hear these stories all the time. Some serious, some not. But they are important, because they are a catalyst for our empathy as teachers. Without it, what are we? Content masters? Paper graders? Lunch monitors?screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-1-55-37-pm

This year instilled in me the belief that it’s not as much about what we know, but more about who we are and what our actions reveal about us. We can be the most knowledgeable source on Steinbeck or Shakespeare or Hughes – but it’s not until we collide that knowledge with belief, beauty, emotion, and care for our students that we become great teachers.

What stories drive you towards action? How can this year be different in how and more importantly who we teach? It’s not a new idea, but an important one for us to remember this year. To empathy!


Amy Nyeholt is the President of PCTELA and loves teaching her 8th graders!

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Empathy is an Action: A Note from the PCTELA President

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