In this day and age, people are sharing their viewpoints more loudly than ever, particularly with the rise of social media. You may find yourself more likely to hear different opinions in your classroom that may not even necessarily be related to class material. No matter your position on whatever the topic is, however, it is not your job to change that opinion.
It can be difficult to keep your own opinions to yourself, but as an educator it is not your job to get involved in what students think about politics, the environment, or anything like that. Certainly you can have class discussions, and if there is hate speech that must be addressed, but sharing your own opinion is not necessary or appropriate.
School is a place where students learn, but more importantly, it is a place where they learn to learn. It is in school that they develop the abilities to read and write, study, think critically, and defend their arguments. In that way, different student opinions can be a great teaching tool if you use them correctly.
The first step to this is to foster a healthy debate in your classroom. This means teaching your students the proper way to communicate their thoughts and opinions. This is something that would benefit many adults as well, and as children learn much of their behavior at home, they may not know how to debate respectfully. There are a few things students should know before getting into a debate. First off, they must always have a respectful tone. Teach them that yelling and hurling insults will never change anyone’s minds. Arguments should be made rationally. Emotion can be infused, of course, but anger and whiney tones are not likely to garner respect. Teach students not just how to speak up about their views, but to listen. Listening is how we learn, and a challenge to something we believe can make us think and grow, whether our opinion changes or not.
It is also important to indirectly address biases that students may have. Teach students to recognize a bias they may hold or stereotypes they may believe. There are tons of biases revolving around gender, race, mental health, sexual orientation, religion, and political parties. Everyone is going to have their opinion, but it is important that students do not discount an opinion just because they are biased against a group. Somewhere many adults struggle with this is in politics. By breaking students from their biases, they will be more open to hearing other arguments, and therefore are more likely to grow from classroom debates.
An important aspect of critiques is to acknowledge not only the bad, but the good. This applies in debate as well. Teach students to acknowledge when someone makes a good point, even if they do not agree. This will help students begin to understand other viewpoints better as well. Of course a student may then explain why they disagree (hopefully with facts to back up their points) but the important part is that the student comes to understand where the other person is coming from.
There is nothing wrong with your students having different opinions from their own, or from their classmates. What is important is how they address these differences in opinion. You can help them learn to debate, to be more open-minded, and most importantly to learn. As an educator it is your responsibility to teach them how to form their own opinions, not decide those opinions for them.