Turn on the television, talk to your family, or read through an article. Dissenting opinions are a natural part of life. Some arguments will be well articulated, some not so much.
Teaching about tough topics is never simple, but is incredibly necessary. An extra level of difficulty is added when you need to prepare your students on how to have difficult conversations. Teaching engagement in civic discourse can be achieved through activities, exercises, or moderated debate.
The goal is not to teach debate skills or how to argue what you personally believe, but to prepare students to be democratic citizens. Students need to learn to demonstrate empathetic listening, respect for facts, and to articulate a response. As a teacher, you have the opportunity for students to view problems through many lenses within the controlled environment of your classroom. Having them learn in your class prepares them before meeting the harsh realities of discussing with someone who may be a little less forgiving than a fellow student.
Before you even start teaching them about the difficult conversations to have, it’s crucial to have a positive environment in your classroom. Your focus from the first time your students enter the class should be to create a safe space where honest and open communication is the norm. Teachers and students alike should demonstrate respect, and curiosity should be cultivated and encouraged.
The next step involves preparedness. Make sure you keep the parents and guardians aware of the conversation. Not only will this respect boundaries, but it provides an opportunity to encourage these conversations to happen at home. Being prepared also includes knowing your students, their sensitivities, and their triggers. You may not want to start your first class with a debate or hard topic, get to know them first. Don’t be afraid to consult with colleagues on your plans. The knowledge and experience of other teachers can only help you as you move forward.
As a teacher, you have the incredible honor of preparing the way for the leaders of the future. Using your platform to help the students not only helps them but the society you all live in.