Sometimes, students ask questions about sensitive subjects and being a teacher sometimes means being asked to give your opinion or answer a tough question.
The topics may vary from Korea-Japanese relations, riots in Hong Kong, black rights in the United States and so many other subjects.
I remember once, living in the US and studying English, I asked my teacher whether he was a Republican or a Democrat. I received a very rude “It is none of your business” answer and understood later that this is a very private question to ask an American.
But no matter the topics asked, while sensitive or private, it is a great way for students to actively participate and engage in a conversation and developing critical thinking skills. As a means to avoiding giving your students answers like my teacher gave me or simply do not know what to say, here are some suggestions to bridge these conversations:
As a teacher, you should take the side of not taking a side. The goal for you is to encourage your students to express their thoughts and ideas in a cohesive manner. If asked “what do you think” ask them their position and why they think that. If they can’t answer why, a useful guiding question is “why should I think what you think?”.
Have students take the side they oppose. If they are for LGBT rights have them take the opposing side. Not only does it help solidify their arguments by seeing the opposing side they are also developing the necessary skills to articulate their thoughts and ideas and to “walk in another’s shoes”.
Avoid using “I think, I believe statements”
If you use “I think or I believe statements” it means you are making it personal. Instead of saying “I think that conservation efforts are the only way to reduce global warming”, ask “if we don’t practice conservation efforts, what are other methods of battling global warming?” Students are then able to take a second and utilize the knowledge they have gained in your classes to come up with their own ideas.
Put biases aside
If you ask a student a question and they give you an answer you don’t personally agree with, then you may be losing that student’s trust in approaching you. If a student says the earth is flat, then ask them to show you why it is flat. Many times, they will see through their own erroneous belief.
Summarize everything that was discussed and read the statements out loud. Ask your students to raise their hands if the opposing views made them upset. Ask them to explain why and if the topic should not be discussed.
What about you? Have you ever experienced tough, sensitive or personal questions you don’t want to answer? What did you do? How did you approach your students in these cases?