Politics & the Classroom

One lesson I remember distinctly from my last teacher education course before graduation was the discussion on our role as a teacher, and the legal and ethical boundaries that are necessary to maintain as a professional.

In light of the SCOTUS decisions today and the media frenzy that naturally surrounds controversial events, I am reminded of the day I was told that when I am teaching, I am an agent of the state. This means I have a professional obligation to keep my own biases off the table while teaching. If I am doing my job well, I ought to be able to discuss events (such as elections, news, religion, politics) without endorsing one side or the other. This can be difficult, but also rewarding.

From an English teacher’s perspective, it’s an excellent opportunity to teach students how to see both sides of an argument, understand the reasoning from both sides, and then make an informed decision that can be supported by facts, rather than unfounded gut instinct (which can often be intelligently defended if considered before expressing). In any setting, I think this is an invaluable skill. My bottom line for teaching is passing on critical thinking skills. I want a generation of well-grounded young adults who can both express and support their opinions clearly, as well as be comfortable enough with their opinion to listen to others who may violently disagree.

Do I, as an individual, have opinions about current events? Certainly. Do I have convictions about life, truth, and what I believe? Absolutely. However, being in a position of authority, I feel as though it is my ethical obligation not to abuse my power by pressing my opinions on young minds. What I can do is encourage students to think. I can tell them what I believe through my actions, and I can be very assertive in drawing boundaries for what are appropriate actions and attitudes towards others. Respect, and not necessarily approval, is key. You can respect someone while disagreeing, and that is what we need more of in this world.

If students are adamant about knowing my personal views, I usually just tell them it’s not appropriate to discuss in class, but if we were ever not at school or they were graduated, I would be happy to discuss my opinions. One of the easiest ways to slip in maintaining a professional image is to become relaxed and too open with students in the name of friendliness. Being BFF’s with your students is a mistake (even if it’s really fun to have the approval and popularity among teenagers).

I could go on and on about situations in which I’ve experienced teachers alienating me or my classmates by being careless with their speech or forgetting that they are the adult held responsible for the events of class, but I don’t think I have to. If you are a teacher or other authority figure, consider the boundaries you have set for yourself, and the consequences of speaking too freely.

This weighs heavily on my heart as someone who occasionally ad libs to keep classes going. If any of you have good tips or advice from personal experience, I’d really love to listen! Please comment or message me.

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