How to deal with disagreements with your teacher

A teacher teaching inside the classroom
Photo: Nayem Shaan

Authority does not necessitate agreement. Although teachers are there to advise and guide you, it is inevitable that you get into disagreements with them. Such is human nature, and it is not something that should be discouraged or shamed. However, in the complex arena that a classroom can often be, it is best to tread wisely when it comes to tackling disagreements with teachers, lest you fall on their bad side and have your assessment compromised.

Firstly, disagreements pop up mostly in subjects that are more related to the arts or social sciences, and less so in STEM fields, although the latter is not impossible either. The subjective nature of the former ones make it so that various opinions and perspectives are brought to the table. Often, there is no clear-cut right answer, and much can be debated over among students and with teachers, which can often be healthy, insightful and productive.

If such situations are allowed, it indicates that the teacher has respect for their students and values their input, despite them being less qualified or potentially less knowledgeable than them on the matter. This can be highly motivating for the students, who will be encouraged to freely discuss their thoughts and views without the fear of punishment or ridicule, leading to effective learning.

However, not all teachers are so open to disagreement. Some do not want to give students the opportunity to express themselves, possibly because they feel it's unnecessary or they don't find students' inputs to be valuable. Others may feel that it is disrespectful when a pupil disagrees with their instructor, and they should instead blindly go along with everything that they teach in the classroom. This can be very demoralising for the students, who may feel suppressed by the authority figure.

In cases like these, it is best to be more strategic when voicing your opinions as a student. Plainly blurting out your views that oppose the instructor's can be a bad idea. Instead, you can try posing your opinion as a question. Maybe even include research, statistics and evidence to back up your claim. For example, instead of saying "XYZ is bad", it would be more tactful to say "What are your thoughts on new evidence being found that XYZ is injurious to our health?" This way, the teacher doesn't feel threatened, and therefore they're more likely to be receptive towards what you have to say.

Furthermore, it's also important to analyse what the reaction from your classmates may be. If you feel that the reaction will be overwhelmingly negative and you won't be able to handle that, you can opt to meet the teacher after class during their office hours, which will relieve much of the pressure coming from being in a classroom.

Despite all this, there are times where it's best to just let it go. Picking your battles wisely is an important lesson to learn, especially when your grades and assessments are at stake. Therefore, first decide whether the risks are manageable enough for you to voice your disagreements safely, and then proceed. If they're not, then prioritising your academic performance might be the right choice. But if the risks are manageable, don't hesitate to stand up for what you believe in, keeping in mind that tact and respectfulness are paramount in making sure you get your point across while neither compromising your grades nor your values.

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