Many of today’s teachers are afraid.
We are afraid of saying what we really think. We are afraid of being opinionated. We are afraid of controversial issues, especially if we hold the less favorable position. We are afraid of debate in the classroom. We are afraid of complaining parents, of offended pupils, of unsupportive management.
In an age when political correctness has run amok and social mores we lived by for centuries are being ploughed up and revised at whirlwind speed, the teachers are becoming shorn. We are fearful beings. We teach with a superficial cheerfulness, and deliver lessons that steer clear of any serious thought or deep discussion. Deep polarization in Irish society has silenced us.
Last week in German class, the issue of heritage, origins and migration cropped up. The lesson became quite intense and some careful navigation was necessary due to the presence of immigrants in the class. But we had the debate, and we needed to have it. When the bell rang, some of the children took no heed, so engrossed were they in a break-out discussion of terrorism in the name of religion, ISIS and the IRA. Many of the opinions expressed were not the ones heard in mainstream media, but they were perfectly valid viewpoints in a nation built upon the principle of democratic freedom. My pupils will take something valuable from that class that they would not have gotten if I had refused to facilitate and guide a controversial discussion.
I do these ‘risky things’ because I know that the subjects we teach are most often just a means to an end – and that end is the development of our children’s minds and characters.
I am a qualified teacher, with over six years of university and many years of experience behind me.
I have beliefs which I know to be valuable because they have been tested in the furnace of my life experiences and have held strong.
I have the benefit of hindsight and know which actions were successful and which were foolhardy.
I have values which have enabled me to make responsible and successful choices and decisions.
So let me teach by the light which I have been given. Let me help my pupils detect the difference between depth and superficiality. Let me encourage them to identify courage from bravado. Let me enable them to differentiate between liberty and license. Do not muzzle me with sanitized, one-sided lesson plans. Do not force me to teach that which I do not believe to be true or right.
The glory of our schools has been its inspiring, dedicated, selfless teachers. We remember the art teacher who taught us to see beauty in everything, the English teacher who taught us the feeling of self-worth that comes from facing up to and working through our challenges, the science teacher who taught us about the joy of discovery and the importance of a plan. Today’s children are going to miss out on this if we succumb to current pressures to leave our identities and our personal beliefs outside the classroom door and stick rigidly to the prescribed text.
They will get their beliefs and values somewhere – maybe from the media, from YouTube or from Facebook. Without good values, our children will lack the light by which they can successfully navigate their lives.
We must give them this light – light to know the difference between fake and real, love and sensuality, faith and superstition, false and true, right and wrong.
We owe it to the next generation.
(Image credits: Google Images)