The act of teaching makes teachers inherently kind, pupils believe.
New research shows that, when asked to draw their teachers doing something which demonstrates kindness, primary-school children tend to depict them standing in front of a class and delivering a lesson.
John Tyler Binfet, of the University of British Columbia, in Canada, asked 652 children between the ages of five and nine to draw two pictures. The first one was a self-portrait, showing themselves performing an act of kindness. The second depicted a teacher being kind.
More than half (54 per cent) of the self-portraits showed pupils involved in an act of friendship. “We are asking another friend to come and play with us,” one pupil said, explaining the drawing. Another said of his picture: “I’m sharing a ball with him, which makes him happy.” Children also illustrated their own efforts to help include classmates who might feel lonely or isolated.
Fourteen per cent, meanwhile, depicted themselves in the process of helping a classmate who is physically injured. “My friend fell and I’m helping him by getting an ice pack,” one said. Another said: “I’m helping a student who is hurt. I am getting a supervisor.”
An additional 12 per cent drew images of respect, whether for other people or for the environment. Some, for example, depicted themselves picking up litter: “Because it’s important to show respect to the school,” one pupil stated. Another picture showed a pupil saying thank you to a friend.
By contrast, there was far less variation in the depictions of teachers being kind. Most of the pictures showed teachers helping pupils academically, albeit in different forms.
Sixteen per cent showed their teachers simply teaching. “She is teaching,” one wrote. “It is kind because she is helping us learn.” Another described the same principle, in slightly different words: “She helps us know stuff.”
A further 27 per cent of the children drew pictures of teachers helping individual pupils to learn. “My teacher helped me with my spelling,” one child said. “I messed up and she corrected me.” Another showed the teacher “giving classmates ideas on what to write, because they need help with their paper”.
And even those children who did not draw their teachers in front of a class nonetheless drew acts of school-based kindness: 21 per cent showed their teachers physically helping pupils. “She is getting me a band-aid when I got hurt,” one wrote. Another drew “the teacher…giving a person an apple who doesn’t have food”.
Pupils’ sex had little bearing on the subjects of their illustrations: boys and girls tended to draw very similar pictures. Equally, both the youngest and the oldest pupils saw teaching as a kindness.
“My teacher teaches us how to learn,” one pupil concluded. “That’s being kind.”