How do teachers talk about politics in the classroom? | opinion

It’s back to school time. Students and teachers are already in Utah classrooms and excitement is in the air.

However, anxiety is also in the air. Some call it a crisis in the classroom. COVID-19 exacerbated the perennial problems of long hours, low pay and increased teacher workload. Together, these have taken their toll on educators, causing a serious shortage of teachers at the national levelincluded Utah, where administrators are scrambling to fill classrooms as the first day approaches. There is also a shortage of full-time and part-time support staff, including bus drivers, food service workers and substitute teachers.

As if that weren’t enough, our teachers experience additional anxiety caused by the rampant partisan polarization seeping into the classroom. Learning about politics, and therefore civics, is so politically charged that some teachers feel unable to engage in a meaningful way. They worry about the repercussions if they teach the content, skills, and dispositions they see as essential to civic education.

Across the country, concerned citizens lament the shortage constitutional knowledge and understanding of responsible citizenship. However, if teachers cannot teach the basic concepts of civility, this situation will not improve with the rising generation. What can be done?

We can start by trusting the teachers.

They work hard to strengthen our democratic republic as they prioritize our nation’s Foundation, the Constitution, and the 21st century skills citizens need today. Earlier this year, Utah Valley University Center for Constitutional Studies surveyed more than 500 middle school social studies teachers and fourth- and fifth-grade teachers (the grades that cover Utah studies and U.S. history, respectively), asking questions about what, when, and how they teach civics and what motivates and demotivates them for this part of their work. .

More than any other incentive to teach civics, teachers said, “I have a responsibility to prepare future voters.” A high school teacher wrote, “(My incentive is) mostly the responsibility I feel as a teacher; that’s why I teach.”

Teachers expressed a commitment to teaching knowledge, skills and civic dispositions. Both elementary and middle school teachers most frequently identify “facts of the US Constitution,” “the Bill of Rights and Other Amendments,” “early constitutional ideas,” and “modern constitutional ideas” as the civics topics they teach . Utah teachers also reported a commitment to the skills and dispositions necessary for reflective citizenship. They design lesson plans and activities that require students to civilly engage with others, distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources, and think critically as they engage with American history and deliberate on difficult issues.

The teachers emphasized that they seek out nonpartisan sources and aim to teach in an unbiased manner. They match a teacher who said“We’re helping kids learn and grow and work to relate to each other at a time when those skills have never been more essential.”

Teachers are also committed to following the guidelines established by the State Board of Education. Approximately 75% stated that state standards or mandates influence how civics is taught. One wrote: “If I want to teach something, I check to see if it’s in harmony with state, district, and school standards. If not, I’m not going.”

Trusting teachers does not mean we ignore what is being taught. Our interest will help our children engage when they are in the classroom. We can ask teachers and ask our children about their civics lessons. Let’s look for opportunities to talk about the news of the day and the big issues of our time. Ask your children if they talked about the upcoming election in class. Talk around the dinner table, in the car, and wherever you happen to have moments to talk. If commitment to civic life has no place at the family table, we are in serious trouble.

The solution lies not only with K-12 teachers, but with the commitment each of us has to civic education and civics. We support as Utah teachers promote civic education. They need our help and deserve our trust.

And, if you are a praying family, please include the teachers in your prayers.

Glori H. Smith, Civic Education Fellow at Utah Valley University’s Center for Constitutional Studies, has 30 years of experience in the K-12 classroom.

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