I have been teaching languages for years and throughout my career as a teacher and teacher trainer I would say that teaching is not just about teaching your subject it is also about teaching values. It especially true when you teach languages, as you need to raise the awareness about cultural differences. However I truly believe it is our roles as teachers to convey values whatever our subjects simply because we are human beings and we work with human beings. Our classroom is a mini community and we teach students from various backgrounds; students with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, students with diverse moral and religious beliefs with different needs and aspirations. This is what makes teaching unique as a profession and we should be in charge of instilling values in this great mosaic of differences.
However that is not as easy as it seems. I used to work in some socially, culturally and economically deprived areas and teaching these values can be an everyday fight. How can you instill these values to teenagers being responsible for their disabled parents, explain to the bully the importance of respect, insist on children’s right when some children are abused? How can we teach them the values of respect, care, honesty etc. if they don’t even receive these in their own home?
How can we teach values on top of teaching our subject? The first question we need to ask ourselves is about the moral and ethical values conveyed in your subject. For example if you teach languages the questions of respect, empathy and tolerance are naturally embedded in the curriculum. Indeed at some point in your curriculum you will teach topics such as religions, multiculturalism or education and through these topics you will necessarily talk about values. But isn’t that the same in any subject? Respect, care, empathy are universal values and they have to be taught inside and outside the classroom. All our teaching should be based on these values whatever our subjects.
As teachers we tend to naturally promote these values when we encourage and promote communication in the classroom. When students are given the opportunity to express themselves and give their opinions on different topics we teach them the values of respect, as they need to listen to eachother. Communicative activities are important to build values of empathy and care. When our students listen to each other and share their feelings they learn from one another and having recurring speaking activities will build a sense of belonging to the community, to the class.
Setting common rules in the classroom is also crucial to develop values. Have you ever seen a society without rules? I doubt so. Otherwise it would be anarchy. Rules have to be accepted by all and followed by every and each one of the members of the group. These rules have to be reinforced and a sense of consistency should apply so that students know where the boundaries are. It goes without saying that the teacher should be the first to model and follow the rules.
We probably won’t change the world and we probably won’t change our students’ world and change the family they live in, or their past experience, or their beliefs, or their social, cultural and economic background but we can try to lead them. It is our duty to help them find ways to unlock their potential. Students can be taught that they are capable of achieving their dreams and they have to be taught that some values are necessary to live with one another.