Being a teacher means being a good listener and a strong advocate for students and their progress. Through Socratic discussions, students are able to share their own opinions without the fear of shame or “getting it wrong,” thus developing empathy and compassion for their classmates and others. I encourage my students to use their voice, whether that is in one-on-one sessions or in the classroom. It is my utmost opinion that every single student has their own story to tell and their own lived experience that will guide them to make insightful and necessary change. As their teacher, it is my job to help them find that voice and encourage them to draw on what they already know – through other classes, their home life, and more. – in order to make connections between what we are talking about in class and the “real” world. Every student is important, and sharing their stories is essential to not only their empathetic development but the empathetic development of their classmates.
In my classroom, I position all desks and tables to be in a circle, mirroring the Harkness table which was heavily used in my undergraduate courses. Every single person can make eye contact with anyone else seated in the circle. As I say in my film classes, “the eyes are the windows to the soul”; if a person can see another’s eyes, then they can identify that the person in class with them is another human being, just like them. From there, I ask a question to kick off our Socratic seminar and encourage the students to gather their thoughts before the floor opens up. The students share their thoughts freely. If too many students want to share, then I will step in as a moderator to ensure that every person who wants to say something does. I will also call on students who remain quiet and encourage them to share their thoughts and opinions as well.
The Socratic seminar adds insight from people of various backgrounds and allows students to hear the connections that their classmates have made about the text. When I first started using this method, students were cautious, and I could feel their anxiety about “being wrong.” However, this mentality was easily broken once I peppered easier, more constructive questions before reintroducing the larger question. I also encourage students to disagree with me because my opinion is not and should not be The Opinion. This also opens up discussions, giving the students the freedom to say what they need to without the fear of repercussions.
While some might argue that the role of a teacher is to help students learn basic skills and knowledge in order to function in modern society, I firmly believe that my role as a teacher should encourage students to question everything (their surroundings, governments, religions, written texts, etc.). I never shy away from discussing the truth – no matter how hard to digest. Students know what is going on, and they have no one to help them understand. If I give them the space to discuss those truths, then they will jump at the chance in an effort to process and gain a more empathic understanding for their fellow man.
It is my hope that my class is a safe space and one that pushes boundaries. Allowing students to find and harness their voice, their opinions, their understanding of the world, their understanding of history, and everything in between is why I am a teacher and what drives me to be in the classroom with these powerful, incredible students every day.