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How To Prepare When Teaching A Tough Topic With Your Students

How to Prepare When Teaching a Tough Topic With Your Students

If you are getting ready to teach a sensitive or tough topic with your students, it can be especially helpful to do some prep work. No one wants emails from upset parents. Many times when this happens, it's a simple misunderstanding that can be prevented in the future with a little bit of prep work.

Here are some helpful suggestions.

Anticipate potential questions or concerns

Let's say you are teaching a tough topic, like the Holocaust for the first time. First of all, give yourself lots of grace. Most teachers are generalists and learning on the job is part of the job. As you prepare, take the time to thoroughly understand the topic you'll be teaching. You don't want to jump into a heavy topic without reviewing best practices. One helpful suggestion is to anticipate questions you might receive from parents or concerns from students.

Have a discussion with your principal before you begin

One of the most important things you can do is discuss with your principal that you are getting ready to teach a tough or challenging topic. Your principal is your advocate. It can make a big difference if your principal is aware that you're getting ready to teach about, for example, the Holocaust, or maybe about a current event. By giving your principal a heads-up, they are better equipped to advocate for you if they receive a phone call from a concerned parent.

Show your principal your sources

One suggestion I have that often gets overlooked is to share your sources with your principal. Grab the links to the reputable sources and sites you are using. Show your principal the books and materials you will be using. Show your principal how your prep work and lessons align with best practices. This will provide helpful background and context and give your principal another talking point if parents are concerned.

A blog about how to prepare when teaching a tough or challenging topic

Send a letter home to families

I have found that it helps to give parents a heads-up that you will be discussing a sensitive or challenging topic in class. Sending a letter home to families can save you a lot of stress. I suggest reiterating that you believe it is essential that students engage with this subject matter, but you recognize the importance of approaching it with sensitivity and care. Your goal is to provide a supportive learning environment where students feel comfortable asking questions, sharing their thoughts, and processing their emotions. Let parents know that you are thankful for their partnership in their child's education. As well, encourage parents to have open conversations with their child about what they are learning in class and to address any concerns their child may have.

Know your student population

You know your classroom best, and it is important when discussing tough topics to take into consideration your student population (religious background, conservative/liberal, rural/city, ethnic backgrounds, etc.). Be frank with your students. The reality is history can be uncomfortable. But that doesn't mean they need to feel personally responsible. Just because they share an identity with something doesn't mean they need to feel a personal responsibility--that particular group at that time is responsible; not everyone for the rest of history.

Align your lessons with the school mission statement

Even if you have done all of these things, you may face pushback. My suggestion (which I gained from a great principal) is to show parents how teaching this tough topic aligns with your school or district's mission statement. Demonstrate how your lessons provide students with a comprehensive education that equips them with academic knowledge and valuable life skills. Focus on working collaboratively with parents because then you are able to create a learning experience that is educational and emotionally enriching.

Have other suggestions or ideas for teachers? Comment below!

Looking to learn more best practices for social studies? Check out this Best Practices Category of blog posts.


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