(NEW YORK) — Millions of Americans woke up Wednesday morning to learn that Donald Trump had won the presidential election as they prepared to send their kids to school.
Many teachers have been tasked with discussing the election and the particularly contentious campaign season with their students, from toddlers to college students.
Trump’s road to the presidency has included sexual assault allegations and his lewd remarks about women, as well as his controversial policies to build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, whom he labeled “rapists” and criminals, and to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the United States.
This rhetoric used by the real estate developer turned reality TV star turned president-elect has left some teachers wondering how, if at all, to address the election in their classrooms.
An online survey of 2,000 K-12 teachers conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center reported increased racial and ethnic tension as well as bullying in our nation’s classrooms and schools as some students “felt emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile rhetoric” in Trump’s campaign.
Josh, a middle school teacher in New York City who declined to give his last name for privacy concerns, said he knew he had to use this election as a “teachable moment.” According to Josh, a majority of his students live below the poverty level and are immigrants or children of immigrants.
“My students have discussed their hatred for Trump publicly in my social studies class, so I knew I had to come in with a non-biased opinion and use this as a teachable moment on how powerful democracy is,” Josh told ABC News Wednesday. “I’ve discussed in all my classes that our government works as a checks and balance system and that they shouldn’t worry about the security of their natural rights. I also discussed the flaws of the Electoral College process and how this election has changed the way politics have and will be practiced.”
Josh said a few black students raised their fists while saying the pledge of allegiance in the morning assembly. Many students also sat down. One teacher kneeled when the school sang the national anthem, he said.
Other teachers expressed their concerns on social media and shared how they planned to address the controversial election.
Dominic Dorsey, the director of accessibility at the Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan, said he is organizing “a safe space to talk and discuss within the office for my students today.”
“I’ve spoken to four students, all inconsolable,” Dorsey wrote on his Facebook page. “Sometimes it’s okay not to have a stiff upper lip. If it quivers, let it. If you want to sob, that’s okay too. Bottling emotions never helped anyone.”
Elizabeth Walker, an English as a second language (ESL) teacher at Cleveland Metropolitan School District in Ohio, also felt students need a safe place to discuss the election, despite her personal disappointment in the outcome.
“I didn’t want to face the reality, but I pulled it together and made it here,” Walker wrote on her Facebook page. “I wanted to be strong for my students who needed a space to discuss what they witnessed last night (this morning). They talked about their fears and the reality that’s facing us. They did so with respect and curiosity. This is why I teach.”
Jason Noble, a wind ensemble conductor at Columbia University in New York City, said he stopped rehearsal to ask his students whether they wanted to discuss the election with two caveats.
“I told the students 1) ‘I love you all no matter what. We’re a band family, and the music we make is bigger and better than any political differences,’ and 2) ‘No, I will not tell you who I voted for – nor will I ever make you feel badly for who you or your parents supported. That’s not how this works. Why would I want to instantly make some of you feel uncomfortable?’” Noble wrote on his Facebook page. “We wound up having a really frank and uplifting discussion. Some students who supported Trump said they can understand the concerns Clinton supporters have with Trump’s plans for America. Some Clinton supporters said they understood the frustration Trump voters have with the status quo and the improving but not robust U.S. economy. It was an entirely civil debate.”
And after the debate, Noble said his students began rehearsing again.
“Not surprisingly, today was the most musical and emotional my students have played this year,” he wrote.
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