How Can Teachers Teach Values?

Intentionally bringing values into the classroom

“TEACHER, TEACHER! I saw you at East Coast Park McDonalds last night! You went rollerblading—was that guy with you your boyfriend?” Suddenly, forty pairs of sparkling eyes are fixed on the teacher in rapt attention. Um. As youth-speak goes, what an “awkward turtle” moment.

Not a teacher myself, I asked a secondary school teacher friend what it was like to live within the neighbourhood of the school she taught at. “I can’t hang out at the places I used to anymore and I can’t wear those shorter shorts anymore in case my students spot me!” she exclaimed. That is the life of many a teacher — scrutinised?

Students somehow have in-built “teacher radars” to spot and observe teachers even out of school. As the second constant adult in many young people’s lives after their own parents, youths tend to look up to teachers as role models and an example of how to navigate life. Knowing the potential there is to influence young people, how can teachers bring values into the classroom? Two teachers share their different approaches.

A female Secondary School teacher who has taught science, biology and computer applications for two years says

How I share my values is through my own life. I share about my experiences growing up and be my students’ window to the world outside.

Recently, I showed them the official music video of “Don’t Let Me Go” by the band The Click Five. In the video, the band and “normal people” are wearing blindfolds to symbolise the things which most people are blind to — human trafficking. Later, people slowly take off their blindfolds and see what is really happening around them. At that point in the song, The Click Five encourages us in their lyrics to not turn away from what we see.

I asked my students: Why were they wearing blindfolds? Are we one of them? Which part of the song lyrics struck you most? Before they were allowed into the classroom, they each had to tell me one good thing they had done for a classmate or family member during the week. When answers like “I don’t know” are given, I ask if that is an excuse to shirk the responsibility of making a decision. It is like how a teacher cannot go into a class and say, “I don’t know what I am going to teach today”, or not answer students’ questions simply because I do not know the answer. Would that be responsible of me?

The exercise widened their horizon, made them reflect about the world around them, think deeply and apply that knowledge to life.

A male teacher who has taught economics at a Junior College for three years says

At the Junior College level, I am less inclined to teach values. Teaching values leads to people following by rote. What I want to do is to teach my kids to discern values. What makes punctuality a right value? How does giving up a seat show that you care? Understanding the why drives the student to follow his values.

“At the Junior College level, I am less inclined to teach values. Teaching values leads to people following by rote. What I want to do is to teach my kids to discern values.” 

I also drive home this idea that morals can be updated with new information. A change in value system is not symptoms of a lousy person but a person who evaluates. Values that our family or our friends, religion or government advocate must be subjected to a rigorous evaluation.

How do I teach that? I debate with my students. I show them the reasons for my values. I help them identify what influences our perspectives of right and wrong. I drive home the ultimate point: values are absolute. Relativism is an oxymoron. When my values clash with what the world promotes, I stress to my kids what my values are and how I derive them. To help them discover their own values, I decode my thinking process for them and force them to decide for themselves what is right.

Each person holds different values. Ethics is debatable because of a lack of knowledge. We don’t know what the whole truth is. As a result, we need to wrestle to find out what is important to us and how we can express that. As teachers, we set an example and can tell our stories to help our students find their values.

Article by Jael Chng and Faith Jinghui Luo

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