The Third Side: What Do Teachers Do?

What Do Teachers Do?

As already noted, teachers come in a variety of shapes and sizes and play many different roles:

  • Classroom teachers at the pre-school through university level can help to prevent violent conflict by teaching tolerance and critical thinking and helping to reveal the multiple perspectives at play in conflict situations. Educators may also play a key role in de-escalating already existing conflicts, breaking down stereotypes, and increasing mutual understanding among students.
  • In thousands of elementary and high schools all across the United States, programs have been established to teach children the vital skills of problem-solving, communication, empathy, anger management and conflict resolution. These efforts play a crucial role in teaching children how to navigate the psychological dynamics of conflict.
  • The textbooks used in the classroom are also important. Teachers should make sure to assign texts used that present information about history and politics in such a way as to promote peace, tolerance, mutual recognition and respect.
  • At the university level, peace studies programs educate students about conflict resolution methods and techniques, preventive diplomacy and international violence prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding, and the importance of civil society and civil responsibility. Professors also help to raise students' awareness of human rights issues, the problems associated with uneven economic development, and the need for social structural change.
  • Children often teach their peers. Four hundred youths from Detroit, including gang members and affluent teenagers, went through intensive training in conflict resolution at the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, then returned to their schools and proceeded to teach twenty-eight thousand high-school students.
  • Teaching problem-solving skills also happens in the workplace in response to conflicts among co-workers. Employees, labor leaders, and managers sometimes participate in conflict resolution skills programs (often taught by fellow employees) to teach people how to handle conflict, stress, and interpersonal relationships with co-workers. Courses such as this on collaborative negotiation skills are multiplying in universities, in the workplace, and in community centers.
  • Education also occurs outside the classroom. All of us learn from our parents, peers, and political, and religious leaders. The mass media and entertainment industries, including television and radio, have enormous potential as tools for teaching tolerance and respect. All of these people and institutions shape our images of ourselves, of others, and the world around us, which has a profound impact on the way we approach conflict. There are also various grassroots initiatives and programs sponsored by non-government organizations (NGOs) that aim to teach average citizens basic conflict resolution skills.
  • One crucial role of teachers is to develop programs to integrate the more than 300,000 child soldiers who have been combatants in many of the world's intractable conflicts. Successful reintegration projects will have to help these (mostly) young men learn the skills and knowledge they need to find meaningful lives and careers.
  • Elicitive training programs are emerging in the international sphere to help parties implement conflict resolution and management techniques that draw from already-existing local knowledge about managing conflict. This approach regards the resources and understandings found within particular cultures as the seedbed for the development of a training model that can respond to local needs.
  • Much of the value of education lies in its potential for empowerment. Widespread education enhances the general public's knowledge about policy issues and leads to increased public participation.

What Should be Taught?

As parties encounter conflict, some of the most important things that that they need to learn about include tolerance, nonviolence, productive communication skills, and an ability to work toward solutions. The following essays explore various concepts and techniques that teachers are likely to find useful as they help parties learn a more constructive approach to conflict:

For More Information

Much of the material on this user guide is drawn from Thanks to William Ury and Joshua Weiss for giving us permission to republish their material here.