Open Classroom, Open Debate: How to Facilitate Welcoming Conversations

Open Classroom, Open Debate: How to Facilitate Welcoming Conversations

by Maya S.

Teachers across the country have had uncomfortable conversations with their students about current events, especially this past year in a difficult hybrid environment. While some teachers may try to avoid this difficult topic, how do teachers with subjects such as AP Government face these challenges head on?

Ms. Levine is a social studies teacher in her third year teaching at Duxbury High School. She teaches World History, AP Government and is the freshman class advisor in the student council. In the span of only two years, she has seen her AP Government class expand from one to three sections growing from 15 to 58 students. With government and current events becoming ever more important in our society, her teaching style has garnered popularity among DHS students.

DHS senior Anna O always looks forward to her AP Government class, “Ms. Levine is such an awesome teacher,” she said. “She’s really enthusiastic about the curriculum and the students and is always finding ways to engage us.”

Ever since childhood, Ms. Levine knew she wanted to be a teacher. She envisioned her “dream classroom” would be a place of open, welcoming discussion. Her favorite teachers in high school and college inspired her classroom and teaching style. 

“For me that was always one of the cores of my philosophy, was that ‘I want a classroom where students do feel welcome’ and we have that community because that was always my favorite thing as a student,” she said.

Ms. Levine promotes this open philosophy during times of difficult discussion with students.

“[We need to understand] that we may have different opinions about things, but it’s important to listen to opinions to realize you might disagree, but you still have to be respectful, you have to listen. I always say have an open mind and an open heart.” 

Ms. Levine looks to offer guidance and understanding so that students have the information they need to form educated ideas and opinions. 

“It’s great to have different opinions, but opinions do need to be founded on some form of truth.”

She recognizes the importance of these conversations and acknowledging that they are hard. 

Saying that she too was shy when she was younger, she understands that some resistance to difficult topics may come from not knowing where to start. 

“I think that’s one of the hardest parts is people being afraid about saying the wrong thing or seeming to offend anybody and oftentimes tip-toeing around things,” she said. “It’s better for us to talk about them then, than being afraid to talk about them.”

In a pre-covid classroom she would assign students to debate specific topics and specific sides to promote open minds in discussions. 

“You should be able to argue for something regardless of your agreement or not. I think it comes back to having an open mind.”

While current events might be uncomfortable, Ms. Levine uses them to her advantage as examples in her World History and Government classes. She said “it would be a disservice to not look at those as examples” when referring to current events such as the confirmation of Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Despite the challenges of hybrid learning, short schedules and difficult topics of conversation, Ms. Levine has handled it all with stride and is looking forward to future safe in-person opportunities with her students and the school. 

She said she’s “more excited about when we can do things outside or with groups and actually have a class dance, because I love the cupid-shuffle.”

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