High School Teachers Can Stay Neutral on Current Events News2america

As high school teachers prepare for the first day of class, they should be ready to address current events with students – but are generally advised to hold back their opinions, educators say.

“This is a place where students are finding and refining their voice and you are in an authority position,” says Chris Bunin, a social studies teacher at Albemarle High School in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Students need help finding their own voice so they are prepared to defend it, but also need to know how to understand opposing viewpoints.

“So many times, people just don’t even want to consider the other side,” Bunin says. But understanding other points of view and learning how to compromise are how communities and individuals can break the gridlock, he adds.

In today’s polarized political climate, it may be tough for some teachers to remain neutral when discussing hot topics with their students. The following three tips may help.

1. Find out what questions students have: Questions asked by teachers could have some inherent bias, Bunin says. Instead, he suggests teachers ask students if they have any questions to kick off discussions.

“Often those questions will lead to a very authentic conversation where you are not providing an opinion – you’re just providing answers to their questions,” he says. Students also feel like their voice is being heard, he says.

Bunin used this technique earlier this year when President Donald Trump’s administration issued an executive order limiting immigration and the flow of refugees. His students were talking about it, and he knew he had to address the topic in class.

Some students had simple questions, but if Bunin didn’t have answers, he researched the topics with his students.

One Twitter user offered advice on how teachers can facilitate discussions.

2. Let students lead discussions: Teachers should try not to get too involved in discussions and ensure all opinions are heard, says Sean Jacobsen, a political science teacher at The Michael J. Petrides School in New York.

“It’s one thing to correct factual things, but to put your own opinion in – it can be dangerous,” he says. Additionally, teachers shouldn’t get emotional – and must keep their students’ emotions in check too, he says.

Bunin, the teacher in Virginia, tries to set expectations for discussions.

His techniques include asking students to summarize the previous speaker’s opinion before they offer their own thoughts, to show they are listening. He also discourages students from using the conjunction “but” – since that word immediately negates what someone said. He asks them to use “and.”

One Twitter user described a strategy teachers could use in class to ensure all opinions are represented.

3. Share opinions responsibly: Bunin says it’s tough for teachers to be 100 percent unbiased in the classroom and that there can be discussions where it’s OK for teachers to share their thoughts with students.

“It’s a flexible thing. It’s always situational,” Bunin says. “Some of the most pressing current events, it’s really important for us to not put our opinions out there.”

Twitter users offered their opinions below.

When sharing his thoughts with students, Bunin begins by saying he is not trying to impress his opinion on his students. He also offers some background or history on the topic.

But Bunin always holds back sharing personal beliefs with students at the beginning of the year. He waits until the middle of the year, when expectations and respect have developed, before he considers sharing.

Generally, however, he thinks it’s a good idea for high schoolers to learn how to discuss opposing viewpoints.

Many of his senior students will be in the real world soon, he says, so he sees no harm in modeling the right way to have discussions before graduation.

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