I am an English teacher. As such, I do what most would think: teach grammar, writing and essay construction, and foster discussions of the finer points in various novels. In my classes (I would like to think) students learn to become better communicators and problem solvers through immersion into great literary works. However, there is one other skill teachers must bring to the classroom. Teachers, and I mean the really good ones, are Peacemakers. Now, I’m not talking about just breaking up fights or dealing with relationship drama — that certainly happens, too; I’m talking about Peace with a capital “P.”
Teachers are entrusted with some of the most potentially beneficent and lethal tools on Earth: ideas. In public school classrooms in particular, we discuss and write about contemporary ideas in the company of the largest group of involuntarily diverse gathering of people in the world. People of various faiths, interests, abilities and ethnicities who (given the choice) might never otherwise spend any time with one another are forced to openly share ideas. Very few countries on our globe try to educate all their children. We do. As such, teachers are Peacemakers each and every day. Depending on the course taught, we inevitably facilitate discussions on topics such as race, ethnicity, stereotypes, hatred, love, hope, violence or poverty. While some demonstrate on TV or social media, spewing hatred and twisting ideas to the point of absurdity — seeing only one side of an argument and seemingly with the only goal of violently expunging the thoughts of those who disagree — teachers lead thoughtful discussions.
While many view compromise and mutually beneficial solutions as “the third rail” of problem solving, teachers and school personnel utilize communication tools that facilitate building connections rather than creating impasses.
Some of the tools and techniques teachers use as Peacemakers include:
Mindfulness — The qualities of being present or “in the moment” in what one is doing or thinking, along with awareness of one’s actions allows for thoughtful reflection. Mindfulness means not being over-reactive or overwhelmed when faced with stressful situations going on around us. Such practices allow for contemplative thought regarding our reactions and interactions with others. Creating a calm space helps to ameliorate conflicts before they can can boil over and get out of hand.
Multi-culturalism — Addressing the diversity in today’s schools in terms of gaining greater empathy of other cultures, ideas and traditions leads to understanding. Some of the more disturbing images in our media have to do with messages of hate directed at specific groups of people. Developing a school-wide philosophy of appreciating and understanding other people and where they come from, both literally and figuratively, creates a sense of community. An emphasis on multi-culturalism allows for multiple perspectives on ways of thinking, which fights stereotypes and opens up communication among groups.
Restorative Practices — Schools that minimize punitive consequences for negative actions toward others foster better understanding between people in conflict. Restorative practices bring affected people together to gain a better understanding of actions, their repercussions and how negative actions may impact others. Groups and individuals are encouraged to solve their problems together through a facilitated process. Amends are made, and students are reintegrated into the school community.
As teachers, we entrust students with powerful ideas and encourage consideration of foreign viewpoints. We guide our charges to drown out the noise of the wider world and listen to one another, reflect, and revise their views based on experience. This is Peacemaking. This is the power of teaching.
Peter La Count is a Maryland public school teacher; his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.