Exploring educators' experiences regarding empathy within inclusive classrooms
In South Africa, educators can be seen as the pillars of the education system. Moreover, educators play a vital role in the inclusive educational system, where their skills, views and character traits influence the classroom atmosphere. Empathy as an educational trait can be seen as a core element in inclusive education, where all learners, with and without disabilities, are provided with an equal opportunity to receive basic education. Although many studies have focused on empathy, there is still a need to explore empathy within an inclusive educational setting, specifically, educators" experiences regarding their own empathy. In the South African context, there is little qualitative research focussing on this topic. Yet it is believed to be important that educators develop empathic skills in order to accommodate all learners, with and without disabilities, in their classrooms. For the purpose of this qualitative study with a phenomenological research design, a purposive sampling method was used to obtain the participants" experience regarding their own empathy. All the participants were female educators in three schools within the Dr Kenneth Kaunda District in the North West Province between the ages of 30 and 59. The final sample for this study consisted of seven participants. Data was obtained through demographic questionnaires and in-depth interviews. Thematic analysis was used to identify themes for this study. Important themes that were identified include: intrapersonal proficiency of educators by having certain character traits and fulfilling a power role, but also feeling a decrease in their self-confidence; interpersonal understanding for learners with disabilities by earning their trust and motivating them; having adaptive teaching skills, including the ability to differentiate between their learners" different needs and having a creative teaching approach; and situational aspects that play a role in the empathic experiences of educators, such as facilities and support, time constraints, lack of learner discipline, parental influence, household issues influencing educators" empathy, empathy being influenced through educational experience, and empathy being influenced after educators have become mothers. This study serves as one of first conducted to explore educators" own empathic experiences within their inclusive classrooms. Thus, this study acts as a basis for future research studies. It identified the importance of empathy within inclusive classrooms, as well as the situations that influence empathy. Additionally, in the development of future programs designed to provide empathic skills training for educators, the findings of this study must be taken into consideration. This study revealed the essential role of empathy in the classroom, which enables the educator to acknowledge each learner and provide appropriate education according to each learner"s need.
- Health Sciences