our students can teach adults how to treat one another

I love teaching. I’ve been doing it for 19 years.

But really, I would call it learning. Every day, my students and I learn alongside one another, growing and discovering stuff together. I use my experience and knowledge to help them hang out with words and language and global events, trying to scrape the “learning” from all of it using critical thinking skills.  It. is. my. passion.

One of the courses I teach is AP Language, a study of nonfiction texts, analyzing language and learning about the world and how it “persuades” us. A key component of that course is current events. We talk about what’s going on in the world and we do our best to use even and balanced perspective to talk about it.

We have countless opinions and perspectives in my classroom. We come from a variety of backgrounds. We have been raised differently, separately, and with lots of different experiences.

We disagree. About a lot of things.

And yet, my students continue to gather in a circle every week to discuss hard things. Politics. Opioids. Immigration. The Supreme Court.

But there are hard and fast rules in our discussions.

  1. We listen to each other.  We’ve learned that listening does not mean we agree, it just means we treat the other person like a human being. And we might learn something in the process.
  2. We lean in and ask questions. Often, in discussions of current issues, we are desperate to give our own opinions. We are concentrating on trying to learn from one another by going deeper, asking questions, caring.
  3. We focus on perspective. What’s it like to be in that person’s shoes? How might I feel if I were in those shoes? It is a joy when I watch two students disagree and then one of them adds, “I see where you’re coming from.”
  4. We choose our words carefully. Often you’ll hear one of my students say, “So, what I hear you saying is…” We work on how our words sound and what message they might send. We choose to talk about the issues and not attack the other person in the conversation.
  5. We apologize when mistakes are made. It is always a blessing to watch hugs happen at the end of a tense conversation. It’s so important to see people and not just see problems. And sometimes that means we say sorry.

Come hang out with us for awhile and you’ll see hope for the future. You’ll see students who want to come to the table and listen to one another. You’ll see kids who can’t understand why adults are always so offended. You’ll watch them laugh ten seconds after vehemently disagreeing with one another. You’ll see us make mistakes and stop, reframing our words with compassion and understanding rather than contempt.

Teachers are just some of the gatekeepers for a new generation of critical thinkers. Parents, teachers, youth group leaders, pastors, coaches, friends, if we can direct them to gather together rather than splinter into a thousand offenses, we can help them develop empathy. If we can point them to perspective, then we can help them see that these issues have human faces.

It is okay to be passionate. To be heartfelt. To believe deeply about the things that hurt our hearts. It is okay to be strong in our ideas about issues. But these kids are trying to do it with arms linked instead of divided. By sharing the load instead of dumping it. But we need to use our influence and experience as adults and come to the table, too. To model it for the ones coming behind us.

We may not be able to choose the circumstances of our world, but we have complete control over our response to it. And I choose to do my very best to ignite the next generation with love, empathy and attitudes that consider the hearts and lives of others.

And I get to thank my students for that opportunity every, single, day.

 


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Want to know more about the author? Carrie Wisehart is a high school English teacher, blogger, author, and speaker who is CRAZY about life. Check out her YouTube channel, Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram!

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