Values in the Classroom


January 23, 2014 by k. liz

I wrote a post last week asking you what you thought about values in the classroom. I’m donning my disappointed teacher eyes right now, because only 2 of you responded. Now, I’m extremely grateful to Anna and Rose, but the rest of you . . . tsk, tsk. 

Anyways, onto content. Here is the question I posed last week: 

What is our role, as educators, in teaching/encouraging/fostering values and/or morals in our students?

This is in one sense, a very small question – because it is not really overseen by authorities or curriculum, it isn’t evaluated in teacher observations, it isn’t on our checklist of standards to be met or benchmarks for success. Morals can often be overlooked as inconsequential or unnecessary when it comes to terms of academic achievement. 

photoAt the same time, this is a huge question – because our role as teachers, as I’ve come to define it for myself personally, is that we are preparing students to succeed as citizens of the world, we are coaching them in ‘discourse’ {how they should both speak, listen, write, and read in the world and situation they find themselves in}, not simply in verb conjugations and grammar structures. We are teaching humans to be humans, not robots to be simple English-speakers. 

Vivian Cook’s (2001) ideas of multi-competency remind us of this, as we can see that competency involves much more than linguistic accuracy. Language, especially, is inherently linked to values and cultural beliefs. We cannot explain ourselves and what we believe without language, and so language, more than subjects like math and science (though those are also rife with values and morals!) is connected to beliefs, values, and morals. Anna agreed with this when she said,

I’ve recently been trying to make language aspects seamlessly weave into WHAT we’re discussing, rather than guiding it. Some values seem to be crosscultural and obviously necessary (like respect).

IMG_4821This is so true, and obviously (well, at least in contemporary language teaching) culture and language are inextricably linked and therefore, topics like this are going to arise in the classroom. Discussions and examinations of cultural nuances and situations are a great place for values and morals to come up in the classroom. But, this does lead to the question, what about cultures that differ in value/moral belief? Are mine right? Do I have a duty/opportunity to teach my own values, even if they are in opposition of my students cultural values? 

Rose took a slightly different stance on the topic, when she said that mostly, we are teaching by example, and students will develop similar values based on watching and imitating what we do: 

Personally I would say that as long we keep the sense of community naturally we are going to find the values we need where we find ourselves standing as equal. I do believe is the teacher role to foster community and encourage them to treat one another based on values, but the teacher will teach also by example. 

I think that this is really important as well. We are a model for our students. When students spend somewhere between 5 and 40 hours with us a week, there is the very real matter that they are watching us and they are going to pick up on things we do. 

One method is teaching values inductively, and the other deductively. One, the students hear about the morals and make conclusions, the other they see morals and imitate – or don’t imitate. 

What do I think? I think they are both hugely important. First of all, what I believe, how I speak about my values had better line up with how I live. Otherwise, we have other major issues!! So, obviously, I do think that there is a place for values in the classroom, and I’m thankful to both Anna and Rose for pointing out the ways this can happen. 

I mentioned that I would be turning back to Freire in my thoughts about this. I can’t get out of my head the concepts I learned while reading Pedagogy of Freedom two {three?} years ago. The neutral teacher does nothing for his/her students. By being neutral, which for some time {and probably still is in many spheres} has been valued, we are not showing our students how to actually think critically and come to conclusions on there own. We are not showing them, because in essence, a neutral teacher does not have a stance, so it appears to students that they have not thought critically through these issues and come to a conclusion {thus, we lack the example aspect of teaching morals.}

According to Freire, we need to be ethically grounded as teachers: 

The climate of respect that is born of just, serious, humble, and generous relationships, in which both the authority of the teacher and the freedom of the students are ethically grounded, is what converts pedagogical space into authentic educational experience.

classSo, if neutrality hurts our students, do we swing to teaching and trying to reproduce our morality in our students? No. That is not the correct approach either. Students who have had morality transferred or stamped into their lives, really have no morality, they have trained or conditioned habits.

My take on the issue:

My students should be able to look at my life, see a measure of objectivity, but also a measure of critical thinking and know where I stand on issues of morality and value. I don’t want my students questioning what I believe about an issue. BUT, I don’t want my students to think that I will look down on them or think less of them if they adopt a stance different than my own. My students should know that I have strong views, and that I want them to have equally strong views. I want to present them with all sides of an issue or discussion and allow them to reach their own conclusions. 

By example, I need to be consistent in what I say and what I do. In discussion, I need to provide multiple viewpoints, not just one side. 

Remember, this is key, we are training humans


5 thoughts on “Values in the Classroom

  1. Kathy says:

    Hi k.liz! I agree with both Rose and Anna’s points. I don’t feel qualified to “teach” ethical values to my adult learners, but I do think that ethical questions should be examined when they naturally arise in our lessons. And, since I teach a civics class, they arise a lot! I also think it’s important to model my own ethical beliefs in class and out. (Being no paragon, I’m not always on track there, but I can get back on track by being honest about mistakes.)

    A prerequisite to modeling my own values is to be clear in my own mind about what they actually are and how I *actually do* model them (or not!). It’s the “or not” that makes me feel unqualified to teach, but it’s the willingness to self-examine honestly and keep trying that makes me OK with discussing and modeling. (I found a good list of ethical values to self-examine at the Josephson Institute’s website – trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, caring, fairness and good citizenship – I also learned about right vs. right dilemmas when reading RM Kidder and that has been a handy tool for discussions in class.)

    Continuing self-examination also took me through the neutrality question. At first, I felt it was important to be neutral because the natural weight of a teacher’s authority might cause some learners to hold back on sharing differing views. But now I feel that if I foster an atmosphere of mutual respect (as opposed to respect for authority), it’s okay to share my own views. I still prefer to keep it in the background (no speeches, be even-handed in guiding discussions, but answer honestly when asked).

    Great topic, thanks for posting about it!

    • k. liz says:


      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I agree with a lot of your points, and I like your conclusion of fostering mutual respect and not necessarily putting your ethics or values up front, but in answering honestly when asked. I think that is a huge key here. True, we need to examine our lives and make sure that we are lining up with what we say we believe, but at the same time, I don’t think that we should manipulate our responses to honest questions because of what we think the students will think about us, or even harsher, what the administration might think of us. Compromising our character is never going to benefit either students or schools.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!!


  2. debbiemac5 says:

    I have not stopped thinking about this post since I read it last night. When I reflect on the reasons behind why I became a teacher it was definitely not to teach language simply for the sake of language. One of the main reasons was because I wanted the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of my students. If my students come away from my class believing that I am there only for the purpose of furthering the English language I would have felt I had failed them as a teacher.

    I think it’s impossible to separate one’s values and morals from who you are as a teacher because everything you think and do both inside and outside the classroom flows from those beliefs. I liked how you defined your role as a teacher as one who teaches students to succeed as citizens of the world and also teaching them in discourse. However even the definition of success is wrapped in values because to many people success would go against many of the values that I hold to be true. I do think my definition of the role of a teacher would be similar to yours though.

    I think there is a real danger in teaching students that neutrality is the best way of approaching differences because it teaches them that strong values and opinions are intolerant. I went to a Christian school from K-12 and had teachers who were so afraid of anything not “Christian” that they had no tolerance for discussion of the beliefs of others. This is teaching students that it is not okay to think through truth and decide for oneself what you believe. I had friends who graduated feeling really bitter towards Christianity because of this but who had never learned how to think critically about what they believe or even how to voice their questions or doubts. I completely agree with the end of your post that modeling strong beliefs, values and morals is crucial for students to begin working through their own views. I want my classroom to be a place of authentic discussion, debate and growth both linguistically and ethically/morally. I think a holistic approach to teaching/learning needs to challenge all parts of the brain, not just the language aspect.

    I did have a more difficult time with this when teaching in certain places in Asia but not because I was afraid of sharing my values but because I felt like students could get into trouble for thinking critically and beginning to challenge some long-held cultural values/beliefs so I was always hesitant to encourage it. This was something I constantly struggled with and I’m still not sure where I stand on the topic.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking post and sorry my response became obnoxiously long!

    • k. liz says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughts, Debbie!!

      I too went to a Christian school, not only K-12, but also for University. Then, I got to my Master’s Degree from UMass, and I was completely blown away to discuss issues and hear from other people’s point of view that was different than mine. It was a hugely stretching time for me, in a good way. Thankfully, I had actually been taught to think through what I believe by my parents, so I was able to maintain a positive outlook, but I wish that I would have known where others were coming from so that I could be more effective in the classroom and in life in general. Not very much of life takes place in a Christian bubble for me anymore, and I have to be able to talk on topics that are difficult and that my Christian teachers always shied away from.

      I should have defined a little bit of what I meant by success, although you are more than welcome to still disagree with that term! By success, I don’t mean general success by the world’s standards. I want my students to feel like they can set any goal for themselves and I will help them on the road to achieving that. I don’t want them to feel hemmed in by their language (or lack thereof). I don’t want them to think that their ethnicity means that they have to fit into a particular hole in society. I want them to see a world that is open to them if they will just take the steps to achieve their dreams.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!! I’m glad you did!! And, no worries about the long response . . . it’s a better discussion that way. 🙂


  3. Kathy says:

    “My students should be able to look at my life, see a measure of objectivity, but also a measure of critical thinking …”

    I hand’t really connected critical thinking to the modeling of values, but of course it does. Another point for me to ponder, thanks!

    PS: your post stimulated a post of my own (just elaborating on my comment above). I appreciate the motivation!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 846 other followers

My other blog

%d bloggers like this: