Thomas Aquinas is credited with saying, "I would rather feel compassion than know the meaning of it." As an English teacher, it is my responsibility to make sure my sophomores know the meaning of the word compassion. As a citizen of an ever-more interdependent global society, I am compelled to make sure they feel compassion.
My students and I begin each school year with a study of short stories. Two themes we address during the first semester are compassion and solitude. The short story study includes such works as Katherine Mansfield's "The Doll's House," Anne Tyler's "With All Flags Flying," Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" and Bernard Malamud's "The First Seven Years."
To better reinforce the ideas of our thematic study, my students and I participate in small acts of compassion that improve the lives of others in our community.
For example, at the beginning of our school year we visit local merchants to request small donations such as free dry cleaning passes, credits for a free movie rental, free breakfast sandwiches and so on. We then write individual notes of appreciation to the custodial staff, decorate paper lunch bags, and fill them with the kind offerings of these merchants.
Students also bring newspapers from home, as well as towels and blankets, to be used by our local humane society.
My community-minded students have even written of their activities for the local newspaper, which serves multiple purposes: The students gain confidence and skills in writing for an audience, the community recognizes the good works of our youth, and the stories encourage others to perform their own small acts of compassion.
My sophomores end their time with me each year with a greater knowledge of SAT vocabulary, improved essay-writing skills and a talent for literary analysis. The English teacher in me prides herself in the academic successes of my students. The citizen of the world in me, however, is so proud that my students have begun to internalize the idea expressed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
Spartanburg High School