They are the individuals that shape students into the people they will be for the rest of their lives. They foster passions for literature, scientific discovery and the great unknowns of the past.
Teachers are undoubtedly some of the most important figures in an adolescent’s life. Since high schoolers spend numerous hours each day learning from teachers, their words tend to carry significant weight. But as students gain awareness of and exposure to the world they live in, they begin to form their own opinions about the complexities it contains – religion, politics and war, to name a few. With the impact that teachers have on their students, it becomes a sore subject as to whether teachers should share their opinions with their classes.
Though there is no harm in a teacher expressing their dislike for a certain food or their support for a sports team, opinions become a trickier subject once expressing them compromises an educator’s teaching ability. If a biology teacher tells their students that they believe in creationism, the teacher’s beliefs then contradict the required material of the course and lead to confusion for the student. Once an educator contradicts the curriculum they teach, a student’s education is put on the line.
When teachers share their personal beliefs, they can also risk the autonomy of students.
“I think there becomes a danger when teachers overshare their personal opinions to students because students are still creating their personal opinions about their beliefs and their political stances,” English teacher Wendy Schauben said. “You have to walk a very fine line… [when] sharing your personal beliefs because you don’t want to become the reason that a student makes a decision about their identification, whether that be a political party or religious beliefs. I think it’s our job to keep an open mind and to let [students] come to their own conclusions.”
This is especially important when students are in or entering their teenage years. During this time in life, students are extremely impressionable. In a study by North Carolina State University, researchers discovered that having a middle school science teacher that believed in global warming was a “strong, positive predictor” that the students would believe it as well. Even when teachers may try to keep their personal opinions out of the classroom, students’ views can reflect on the bias that educators may unknowingly teach with.
But bias is nearly inescapable. Rather than focus on the nuances and slight connotation that hint at their personal beliefs, teachers should be more concerned with showing students all sides of an issue. By giving students all of the resources that they need, teachers allow students to form their own opinions and prepare them for making informed decisions in the future.
“I believe teachers should be able to express their opinions when it comes to certain topics,” sophomore Carla Luna said. “If a teacher feels strongly about [a topic]… they should be allowed to put their two cents in just like everyone else because their perspective is valid, as long as they do so respectfully and give credibility to other sides [and] perspectives. However, when it comes to religion and politics, a teacher should not be implementing their opinions into their lectures. There is a time and place for things and as a teacher it is not appropriate to impose such views when it is not called for.”
There is a fine line between teachers making themselves more relatable by sharing with students, and damaging the opportunity for students to form their own opinions. The closer that teachers approach this line, the more subjective it becomes. To avoid issues regarding voicing personal beliefs, teachers should tread carefully while discussing controversial topics with students. But finding an appropriate balance between work life and personal life is very much an individual journey, and should remain so for teachers as well.
Photo by Casey Chapter