Creating a Safe Space in the Adult Ed Classroom

In the adult education classroom, where people come from a variety of ethnic, economic and social backgrounds, it is important to create an environment where all students have the opportunity to learn. In order to do this, one must create a safe space.

According to advocates for youth, a safe space is “A place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person’s self-respect and dignity and strongly encourage everyone to respect others.” If a student feels as if they cannot be themselves or that they are at risk of being hurt, their learning experience will be hindered since their focus will be elsewhere. It goes back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, if someone feels that they are in danger, their concern isn’t going to be learning math.

Several organizations, such as System for Adult Basic Education Support, have chosen to be a resource when teachers ask questions such as “What do I say when a slur comes up in my class?” or “When and how do I introduce anti-oppression, or “teaching tolerance,” materials into my curriculum?” Teachers feel that they need more dialogue and discussion to better understand and respond to controversial and uncomfortable topics. So why is it that we are focused on silence?

Remaining silent about issues might ease the class by preventing confrontation, but it does not lead to a safe environment for students. As a teacher, you should use inclusive language and challenge any slur you hear in the classroom. Use it as an opportunity for learning. Be open to all sorts of differences amongst your students and make sure everyone has the opportunity to learn. Other things you can do include diversifying your curriculum, provide appropriate health care education that applies to different genders, races and sexual orientation, and be a role model by condemning discrimination.