Tolerance. It’s amazing how five consonants and four vowels can come together to express something extremely powerful yet incredibly difficult to obtain. The classroom is one of the hardest places to find it. For teachers, it can become the most daunting task during the school year. A classroom is a micro sample of the world. It’s the gathering of different cultures, mentalities, religions, and the biases that come with them. With such a heterogeneous mix of individuals, it’s only natural that points of views and beliefs will come into conflict. Teachers must do everything in their power to make sure differences of opinion don’t escalate into something traumatizing like bullying and or something tragic like a hate crime. Educators have perhaps the responsibility of teaching and using the most powerful tool against conflicting differences: Tolerance.
A classroom is, before anything else, a place of learning. It should be a space where children go to gain knowledge and not just academic. Classrooms are where students can best learn the social skills which are necessary to survive in the world. One of the most important things they need to know and understand is the importance of accepting others. This begs the question: How can a teacher transmit the importance of tolerating others’ beliefs, opinions, and way of life and accepting everyone for who they are?
Do some detective work
Children don’t know any better. Adults love saying this and they firmly believe it. When it comes to strong opinions, it just might be true. Children tend to take their cue from their role models. Parents, a celebrity, a cartoon, or friend. There are so many factors that can influence a child’s mind. Teachers need to ask children the logic behind what they say. Equally important is finding out where they got it from. Many times, children have no idea why they are saying things. They say them because someone or something they look up to said it and children always want to emulate their role models.
Once getting some background info, teachers can go to children and explain to them the possible effects of expressing their opinions on others and likewise, the consequences that could result. And finally, ask them how they would feel if someone were to have a strong opinion on the things they hold dear. Which takes us to our next tip.
Have students get in the others’ shoes
One of the most difficult things to do is seeing things from another person’s perspective. Teachers can set up several sessions where students investigate about other cultures and or religions. Students share the things they found interesting about what they investigated as well as the positive aspects. Additionally, have them explain why It’s very important for children to know that while everyone is different, they each have something positive that can help all of us.
Highlight the positives of what makes each person different
We just mentioned that children should make an effort to highlight the positive aspects of other lifestyles. Easier said than done. If children are having difficulties, then it’s time for good ole Mr. Smith to step in and take charge. One of the unbreakable rules of most public schools is that teachers should not express their bias on one side of an issue or the other. Keeping in line with this, educators can be proactive and can teach students about the differences between the cultures in the classroom and how each one can help and complement the others.
Disciplinary actions as a last resort
If positive measures are taken to make the classroom a more accepting space and students understand the importance of respecting what others think then there shouldn’t be any need to take more extreme measures. However, there might be a few who are unwilling to stop expressing strong opinions towards classmates. In this case, it’s time for discipline to be handed down. Detention, parent-teacher conference, after school work. Even suspension should be considered. Schools must be clear that disrespect towards other students will not be tolerated. With a couple of precedents students and parents alike will get the point.
Teaching tolerance within the classroom from an early age will surely result in model citizens in the future. Schools are not just a place where students go to gain academic knowledge. They are the perfect setting for children to learn values that cannot be taught as easily and practically at home. Some will plead the 1st Amendment of the Constitution and say that it is their right to express whatever they feel. There is a difference between speaking your mind to defend what you believe in and making others feel bad for what they believe in. That’s not freedom of speech. Not by a long shot. If we truly expect the world to be a better place, tolerance at school is the best place to start.
The Dwyer Family Foundation is committed to helping children learn the value of being exemplary citizens. Head on over to the foundation’s blog to read more on how teach children to be better academically and personally.