According to the The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (1995), empathy can be describe as:
a. "A cognitive awareness and understanding of the emotions and feelings of another person. In this sense the term's primary connotation is that of an intellectual or conceptual grasping of the affect of another."
b."A vicarious affective response to the emotional experiences of another person that mirrors or mimics that emotion. In this sense there is the clear implication that an empathic experience is a sharing of the emotion with the other person."
c."Assuming, in one's mind, the role of another person. This meaning derives from 1, but differs slightly in that there is added the notion that empathy involves taking on the perspective of the other person. This meaning is common in the literature on moral development where some theorists argue that empathy with another is a prerequisite for the development of a moral code."
d."In H. S. Sullivan's theory of personality, an unverbalized, covert communication process whereby attitudes, feelings and judgements are passed from person to person without ever being publicly articulated. Sullivan's use of the term is quite broad and encompasses the more restricted connotations of the above meanings. See sympathy for more on the terminology of shared affect."
Source: empathy. The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (1995). Retrieved 20 December 2005, from xreferplus. http://www.xreferplus.com/entry/149516
Empathy and understanding are closely related. [U]nderstanding as a method characteristic of the humanities is a form of "empathy" or re-creation in the mind of the scholar of the mental atmosphere, the thoughts and feelings and motivations of the objects of his study...(von Wright, 1971, p.6).
 Application in classrooms and similar settings
“An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teacher, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” – Carl Jung
A bachelor’s degree in education on any level always includes a multitude of psychology classes to help teachers not only understand how children learn, but also how they feel. In the new era of inclusive education, greater emphasis as been placed on being empathetic and identifying the students’ conditions, but empathy has always been part of the foundation of being an effective teacher. In a standard classroom, a teacher works with a group of students on a daily basis and must understand the emotions and feelings of each one of them. Which students become frustrated easily? Which ones fear working in groups or doing oral presentations? How are the relationships between different groups of students? Using empathy to appreciate the answers to these types of questions will allow the teacher to customize the curriculum and teaching style to the persons involved. It will result in an improved learning experience for the students, and stronger student to student and teacher to student relationships.
In my experience, every misbehavior or good deed done by a student can be explained by some emotional factor. Every "A" on an exam and every "F" as well. Empathy has helped me reach the core, the source of many students' problems and accomplishments. Often, just showing the students you are empathetic can go a long way. When I am notified of a divorce or death in the student's life, I immediately will talk to him/her briefly after class to see how things are. The student will then pick up on my sensitivity, and often become more motivated within the classroom. It's having empathy and showing students that was care about them as genuine people, not A's or B's that can make all the difference. -Christopher Liang
I think empathy is a really important quality for teachers to have. It can be difficult, as our students can sometimes anger or frustrate us. But they must know that we care and that we are on their side. Even in the midst of disciplining students, I think empathy must be present. Often students misbehave out of unmet needs, and it is our job as teachers to help students learn better and more productive ways of meeting those needs. The presence of empathy in our interactions with students helps that to occur, and often is the key to gaining students' respect, trust, and love. --Emily Cox
In my experience as a student, empathy has been a very important quality for me to have in a teacher. It's important for a student to feel comfortable and safe enough to go to a teacher if there is a problem...especially when the teacher may be the only responsible person the student can talk to. As a teacher, I strive to be empathic to my students feelings and needs. One of the greatest compliments I have been given as a teacher is when a parent told me her daughter came home and said "Miss Cyrus is great...I can go in and talk to her about anything." It comforted me to know she said this because I want all my students to know I'm there for them if they need me. I think it helps promote a safe environment for them and that in turn, prompts learning. --Christy Cyrus
I think that as a teacher we need to have empathy for all of our students. We must be able to see and understand where our kids are coming from and let them know that we understand where they are coming from so we can get them to trust us. I believe that some of the students we work with have such major issues in their own life that not acknowledging that doesn't give those kids much to go on. If kids think that we are going to try to understand their issues, they will be more likely to work harder for us. Gay Cabutti
Why isn’t this type of issue addressed more in teacher training? We all seem to agree that empathy is an incredibly important in education, but it is so rarely formally addressed. Perhaps that is because the ability to be empathetic is not something that can be taught in the same way that concepts can be. I’m glad that this important issue is addressed in this forum. –J. Blanken-Webb
 References and other links of interest
empathy. The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (1995). Retrieved 20 November 2005, from xreferplus. http://www.xreferplus.com/entry/149516
von Wright, G. (1971). "Explanations and understanding". London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.