During the past decade, Jeffrey Berman has published widely on the pedagogy of personal writing. In Diaries to an English Professor (1994), he explored the ways in which undergraduate students can use psychoanalytic diaries to deal with conflicted issues in their lives. Surviving Literary Suicide (1999) investigated how graduate students respond to novels and poems that portray and sometimes glorify self-inflicted death. And in Risky Writing (2002), Berman considered the ways teachers can encourage college students to write safely on a wide range of subjects often deemed too personal or too dangerous for the classroom, from grieving the loss of friend to confronting sexual abuse.
Empathic Teaching builds on that earlier work by showing how a pedagogy based on understanding the other can transform the experience of learning. Berman begins with a discussion of several well-known stories and films featuring literature instructors who exert a formative influence on their students, including Good-bye, Mr. Chips, The Blackboard Jungle, Up the Down Staircase, and Dead Poets Society. He then goes on to examine the pedagogical importance of empathy, trauma, and forgiveness in helping students cope with the ordinary and extraordinary challenges of everyday life. Subsequent chapters are devoted to an analysis of actual student writing—powerful, insightful, authentic essays about lived experience that reveal both intellectual and emotional growth.
In the book's final chapter, Berman considers the risks and benefits of empathic teaching, demonstrating how teachers can play a therapeutic role in the classroom without being therapists. Teachers who are regarded as trusting, supportive, and dependable, he argues, become attachment figures, influencing students to be more sensitive to and connected with their classmates' lives. Or, as Berman succinctly puts it, empathic teaching leads to empathic learning, an education for life.