'What Do I Say?': Stories From the Classroom After Election DayLatest
Teachers have been dealing with the specter of Donald Trump long before he was actually elected President of the United States. They’ve apologized for assigning the presidential debates as homework, faced frighteningly emboldened bullies, and comforted the terrified children of immigrants. This was imagined, by many, to be a temporary problem.
The educators of this country are now dealing with a dizzying range of acute threats that this country’s president-elect poses—for their students, for themselves, for the public education system, for the entire world. In a disaster that’s shocked us down into childlike feelings of rage and fear and impotence, authority is difficult to perform.
“These kids hear things like ‘they’re gonna build a wall’ and ‘they’re gonna kick out all the immigrants’ and ‘Muslims are gonna be banned,’” one teacher told Jezebel. “How do I tell a 7-year-old that’s not true when I don’t know that? I don’t know how to have that conversation.”
If there’s the tiniest sliver of good news here, it’s that American teachers and their students are managing to absorb this with grace, love, and some fairly rude letters to Donald Trump. We solicited stories from teachers and professors across the country. Here’s how they handled Wednesday, November 9, 2016.
(These dispatches have been lightly edited for length, and teachers requested varying degrees of anonymity. Stories were communicated via email and phone.)
Lydia, high school teacher, Pennsylvania:
My struggle is this: I have been taught and fully embrace that my job is to make a safe space for kids to share their viewpoints. Whether or not I agree is so unimportant that I don’t even take it into consideration. However, a long time ago, this election became no longer a political choice but a moral one. Everyone who voted for Trump is not racist, but everyone who voted for Trump had to decide that racism was not a dealbreaker. So how do I allow kids to stand up and tell their peers that misogyny, racism, and xenophobia are ok? They are not; our school diversity statement, (which I wrote!), says it’s not, and yet in order to honor my students’ viewpoint, do I have to bite my tongue? Everything about my teaching career tells me to listen, accept, and invite other students to engage with those ideas. Everything about my own moral compass tells me to stand up against hatred and say it’s unacceptable. I genuinely don’t know where my responsibility lies. What do I say? When, if ever, do I say it?
When this shifts to misogyny, it becomes even more personal to me. I don’t feel safe in this country right now, as I now understand that vast swathes of it have no interest in protecting my body or my dignity. A kid looks me in the eye and tells me he’s thrilled Trump won; I know that means that my existence matters less to him than whatever it is he thinks Trump represents. I can love him just as I love all my students, and I know he doesn’t wish me personal harm, but my heart is broken knowing my life doesn’t matter to him.
This was sent me by a fellow teacher:“One of my black former students almost broke me anyway with this post: He got the most votes. He won fair and square. I still remain the minority. I’m on the outside.”
Maggie R., high school teacher, New Jersey:
I woke up crying this morning but made it to our 8am normal, weekly faculty meeting, where our headmaster said “well, we live in interesting times” and then got on with the agenda and I felt dirty and sad and like something had died but we couldn’t hold a funeral or mourn.
Then, in my first period class, a senior literature elective, over half of my students came in already teary-eyed and hugged each other as they sat down – several of the girls had gotten back at 2am the night before from the trip they’d been so excited about: the Javits Center. I’d already been thinking about how I’d have to scrap the lesson I’d had on the syllabus. It felt morally wrong to pretend this was in any way like Bush v Gore; the idea of trying to pretend like it was a normal day felt complicit. So we listened to Solange and watched “Formation” and “Revolution” and “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads and they wrote everything that was on their minds into their notebooks where no one would ever have to see it. I told them they could rip it up, if they wanted to, for catharsis. Then, for the next half hour of class, we read the last two stanzas of Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939” (which I let them read silently, so I wouldn’t start crying again), and I changed the music to Aretha Franklin (“Natural Woman”) and Otis Redding (“Try a Little Tenderness”), and told them to write a love letter to someone, anyone, and they didn’t have to actually deliver the letter but they could if they wanted to.
I didn’t know what else to do.
The students at my school (which is only 50% white and full of openly out students and intelligent, not-yet cynical young women and men) feel like the adults in the country have let them down. It’s our responsibility as teachers to show them what it looks like to keep fighting. To “show an affirming flame.”
5th grade teacher at a Title One charter school, Denver, Colorado:
I spent my morning convincing terrified 10 year olds that they wouldn’t be taken away from their families. The majority of students I work with are students of color, some whose parents were not born in this country and some who were not born here themselves. To look them in the eye and tell them that they will be safe was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do because, in reality, I don’t know that. As a teacher, to hear a child say, “I really like it here, I don’t want to leave,” hits you in a way that you can’t easily shake. As the adult in the room it’s my job to not only ensure their safety, but to teach them about the world they live in. A world that should be full of hope and opportunity. Today I was struck with a feeling of complete helplessness. Every day, through teaching and modeling, I try to instill morals in these children, but how can I convince them that they are so important when their new leader has vocally stated that they do not matter. They are expendable. They are temporary here.
Today I had students write letters to Donald Trump expressing their feelings about him becoming our next president. They are scared and confused as to why a “bully who hates minorities and women” would be the leader of our country. We do our best to make them feel important and that kindness will change the world. I am devastated that today I had to tell them that someone with so much hate and so little experience was to be the leader of the free world. We had to address the confusion around the electoral college vs. popular vote, why the most popular candidate didn’t win, and why someone without experience in politics gets to hold the highest office. We talked and cried about the “bad words” he gets to use without consequence and why that’s not fair. We had to ask our 10-year-old students to “be bigger, better people” and to not meet hate with hate. Why do we have to ask a 10-year-old to be bigger and better behaved than the president of the United States of America? Something is truly wrong with that. Tonight when our kids go home they will fear their new national leader as they fear the boogie man or the monster under their bed. But, for them, this monster is real.
And if only addressing the monstrosity of this event with 5th graders was enough, I had to walk into work today with fellow coworkers, who share my views and dismay at what occurred last night. We stood together and cried, we said how today reminded us the day 9/11 happened. We didn’t know how we could actually face our students with tears streaming down our eyes, but we had no choice but to stifle our fear.
Today I promised them that I would get their voices heard. As they left me to go home today I whispered to each one of them that I’m proud of them and they are important.
High school teacher, San Jose, California:
It was a difficult and inspiring day. Difficult because I felt like I had to answer for the country while I stood up to face my students (90% Latinos). But it was inspiring because I witnessed the resilience of kids who spoke of hope and love and equality. The best part of the day is when I told my freshman that in the next election, they could vote. Their faces lit up.
A teacher who prefers to remain anonymous:
Teachers and students are generally devastated. It seems to be the worst in the high school because they understand the full stakes of the election. My 7th and 8th graders don’t fully know how to react. They talked about the election all day, but they had trouble understanding and defining their views. I felt awful for everybody, especially members of all of the groups that Trump disparaged (in particular my Muslim students). I saw many of the high school students and faculty crying openly today. The most powerful move I saw at school was several senior girls wearing large posters that displayed some of Trump’s most offensive statements. It was a brave statement of protest. I’m hoping that this generation never forgets their feelings on this day.
Katie, kindergarten teacher, Memphis, Tennessee:
I deal with hard to answer questions from my students everyday. “Do cows burp?” “What would we look like with teeth on our feet?” “Why don’t bees have thumbs?” Yesterday I got one of the hardest I probably will ever get.
“If Trump is elected, will I be a slave?”
I didn’t know how to answer. I still don’t. Because the honest truth is, I really have no idea what a Trump America will be like. And the fact that in the year 2016 I don’t have a definite answer to a question like this, from one of my 5 YEAR OLD students, is exactly how I can’t understand that we let someone like Trump get elected.
Lela, elementary school teacher, New York City:
Today was hard. Really, really hard. Not only did I get about 4 hours of sleep (teachers gotta sleep!) but I woke up this morning with the horrible, nightmarish, gut wrenching realization that I would need to discuss with my class—a class of all girls, girls of color, girls of immigrant parents, English Language Learners—that Trump is now our president-elect.
When I picked my class up from breakfast in the cafeteria, the first thing several of them said was, “Did you hear that Donald Trump won? I really didn’t want him to win. He’s a bad person.” They knew. They felt it. I started my morning meeting with a mood meter activity to gage the feelings in the room. “On a scale of 1-5, how are you feeling this morning?” Mostly 1s around the room. I admitted that I, too, was feeling at a level 1- disappointed and upset. I asked for them to then use the sentence starter, “I feel _________ but today I will _____” Every student who shared spoke of a feeling of upset, sadness, and disappointment.
“Donald Trump is mean and hates Mexicans,” they said. “Hillary Clinton was going to be the first women president,” they said. However, they ALL spoke about how they are going to work hard, be nice, show respect, and learn. I thanked them for their optimism and then continue on with our morning meeting. I read a book called The Juice Box Bully and we discussed the importance of being an “upstander” not a “bystander” when bullying takes place. Our school uses several social-emotional programs (Responsive Classroom / Second Step) so this was not the first time we had this conversation about bullying, but it felt different today, since Donald Trump ran a campaign that goes against everything I teach my students about decency and respect.
Then, after a 20 minute morning meeting, we moved on with our day. My girls are eight and nine. They needed structure and routine. They needed to be kids, to be learning in school. We moved onto guided reading, problem solving, identifying non-fiction text features, and uncovering the main idea of a text about Iroquois Longhouses. Throughout the day, I continued to use the words “respect” and “community,” especially when students were not showing eye contact or speaking over one another. The girls were tired and little cranky (same) and emotional (me too). I think they felt the anxiety. I had them take deep yogi breaths and continued to make a push for listening.
This website was sent out by my principal and shared by several of my colleagues. It’s a helpful resource for educators, parents, and anyone who works with children and young adults.
Noah, 7th grade English teacher, Harlem, New York:
My students voted overwhelmingly for Clinton in our mock election. Yesterday morning, I brought donuts for comfort and kept my voice low. How do you feel, everyone? Betrayed. Indifferent. Anxious. Nostalgic. (They have a test on emotion words today). All I said was “you matter and you are safe here.”
At lunch, I made individual check-ins. Jay said, “One side of me feels like it’s no big deal. But another side feels like I should be uncomfortable and full of fear.” Maria didn’t want to stay in the room with Hector because she’d heard his dad voted for Trump. Ben said he was fine with the outcome as long as he makes America better. Jaden said, “Regardless of, like, their policies, she was my choice because of the things he said about Mexicans. It seems like if the president says those things, other people will think they can say them, too.” Their questions revolved around the actual powers of the president. Many asked about war. How is it declared? They have a vague idea of a previous president seeming to make war happen all by himself.
So we will talk today about the powers of the president, focusing on Executive Orders and how they work. But first, we have a vocabulary test.
Ryan, elementary school teacher, Seattle, Washington:
[My students are] 7 or 8 years old, so they don’t totally understand the electoral process, but a big percentage of my students are either Muslim or Latino and there’s a clear fear today. I had one little boy who was clearly affected, I just talked to him and said, I can tell you’re upset, and he looked at me and said, ‘Well, my mom lives in Mexico’—I think he means she’s from Mexico, she lives here—‘and she says if Donald Trump wins she’s going back to Mexico.’ Which was heartbreaking, because the way he was saying it, it was clear that he was afraid she was going to leave him, which I don’t believe is true, but it’s clearly what’s going on in his head; I had to find a way to talk to him and try and make him feel like it’s going to be okay, whereas in my own mind, I don’t feel like it’s going to be okay, like, I can’t actually make that promise.
We’re public employees, so there’s only so much we can say, but we’re trying to teach kids about checks and balances, and how the president isn’t all-powerful. But it’s hard to believe that, given the current state of the federal government. These kids hear things like “they’re gonna build a wall” and “they’re gonna kick out all the immigrants” and “Muslims are gonna be banned,” how do I tell a 7-year-old that’s not true when I don’t know that? I don’t know how to have that conversation.
The biggest thing we’re doing is just reminding them that our community, our school, the adults that are here love them, and care for them, and are going to do everything we can to protect them. I’m a white male, and I’m very aware of the fact that although I’m not happy about this, I’m probably not the one who has to be the most scared. It’s extremely difficult to sit in front of a room of children who are overwhelmingly people of color, who come from immigrant backgrounds and refugee families, and try and tell them that it’s going to be okay.
Tamika, high school teacher, Chester County, PA:
I let my students vent. I let them see my emotions (within reason) and allowed those that needed to to express theirs.
My students just kept asking How? and Why? They wanted to know why people thought it was okay to vote him in office. I had many who said they were scared. A few were sad. They discussed Trump’s statements, especially the “wall.” A few spoke about how they felt unsure of what the future held as a members of a racial minority or identifying as a member of a LGBTQ+ group]. A few were discussing how they were more fearful of those who support Trump.
It was a rough day, but we have an awesome school community and we made it through.
7th-9th grade teacher, Denver, Colorado:
I teach 7th, 8th, and 9th graders and start the day with my homeroom students (heavily Latinx, with several white and two Asian, one Native American). We opened with a check-in circle; some students were already crying, and several more started to cry while talking about how they were feeling. Several spoke of fear around deportation for friends and family. Two normally verbose kids didn’t want to speak at all. One broke down detailing how she worried that her young brother with leukemia would lose access to healthcare. One just shook his head and said “He’s just…such an asshole. Sorry.”
A few said they didn’t care either way, but one of those got out the tissues for the others. Through my own tears I said something probably hamfisted about how much I cared about them and would fight to protect them no matter the situation, but then we decided to go outside for a walk together. Before we left, one of my Latino students, Carlos, was almost incapacitated with sobbing in the bathroom talking about how “…it could all be taken away for no reason.” A quiet older white boy named Luke was there consoling him, giving him a hug. As we all walked out into a beautiful day, many of them had their arms around each other. I looked behind me and saw Luke with his arm around another crying Latino boy, Jacob, who hated the idea of what his young cousins would hear from Trump in the way he talks about women.
Ahead of me, several students found a patch of perfectly ripe raspberries (a small miracle in November in Colorado). On our way back, I told Luke I was proud of him for taking care of the younger boys and he absolutely collapsed in sobs. Carlos came up and put his arm around Luke. My own doubt and fear evaporated as I realized that what I was seeing was all we can ever hope for as people—to hold each other up when times get hard. I suppose the big takeaways from my morning are that 1) my students ended up supporting and inspiring me a lot more than I did them, and 2) no matter the president, fresh raspberries will always be delicious.
Dr. Sandra Chapman, Director of Equity & Community at Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School, New York, New York:
High school students started their day in an all school assembly. They were dismissed for class but many of them needed and wanted to continue processing. We listened to their needs and extended the conversations into smaller groupings.
Our LREI middle school Students of Color this morning began with a simple activity of drawing 3 silhouettes and naming above each—I AM, I FEEL, and I HOPE. They had a lively discussion that affirmed who they are, gave voice to their mixed feelings, and focused on hopes for their future. They said…
I AM…resilient, invincible, Latina, a girl, nice, Black, powerful, strong, African American, privileged, independent
I FEEL…confused, hopeful, confident, tired, angry, disappointed, dead inside, useful
I HOPE…, I can make a difference, revolution, positivity, convincing, I can change the world
One 6th grade class focused on the things they believe in as a community. Their list included:
Everyone should have equal rights, guns should be difficult to get, the LGBT community deserves equal rights, everyone should have access to a good education, immigrants should be welcomed, everyone should have health care, all people should have opportunities to better their lives, women have the right to choose, we need to raise the minimum wage, climate change is caused by humans and we need to fix it, we should appreciate differences.
Jack, community college professor, Northern California:
Today, by the grace of the great (soon to be defunded) teaching god in the sky the pre-planned topic was Expressionist Theater. We did a freewrite that had to start “I feel…” We exchanged them anonymously and each person got to read the inner thoughts of a classmate. Everyone was tired, overwhelmed emotionally, stressed out. Lots of writing about job stress, families in turmoil, physical pain, depression. Maybe only half the letters referenced the presidential race.
Some choice quotes:
“I woke up this morning to discover that Donald Trump is the fucking President and also that my roommates have been using my Lush shampoo without telling me. That shit is fucking expensive!”
“I had a feeling Trump was going to win, and I don’t know if that’s just because i wanted it to happen? I’m still a bit weirded out because i had a dream that everyone in class was going to be grumpy about the election, and then someone came to attack people. I got shot but I stopped the gunman.”
“I love going against the social norm. My social media feed is filling my empty stomach, but I need more than the tears of libs. Maybe a grilled cheese sandwich?”
“I feel like stepping back from the entire timeline of humanity, like a painter stands back from the work. Just so i can see how far we are. Like pressing pause on Netflix just to see if you passed the halfway point….I feel like a different person after voting for the first time. I feel like I can’t write anything. My hand hurts. I don’t write much anymore. I used to want to be a journalist. Most of things that interest me are based on fringe theories and conspiracies. Some of them have been proven true.”
We did some free association exercises from themes in the freewrite, and by the end of class we created abstracted movement pieces based on the prompt “I am overwhelmed, I am betrayed, I am rebellious.” In writing it, it sounds serious and heavy, and we were certainly fucking around in some Sophie Treadwell Machinal territory, but in truth these pieces were hilarious. We got to grunt like pigs and pretend to be the coal burning in a furnace and laugh about making our darkness visible.
Elementary school teacher, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:
All I wanted to do this morning was crawl back into bed and be in denial of the election results, but I knew that my students would need the reassurance of having their teacher today. I was an emotional wreck on my way to work but I knew that my first priority was to make my students feel safe. Being a teacher forces me to try to present my best self, the children are always watching and I want to lead by example. As one of my colleagues said, “Even if students are too young to developmentally understand what is happening, they are processing everything and coding what is right and what is wrong.”
High school teacher, Virginia:
I have quite a few young men in my classes who are ardent Trump supporters, and that’s been difficult throughout the campaign. This morning when my emotions were particularly raw after a sleepless night and an anxious commute, a group of about five teenage boys galloped into my room whooping and shouting about how excited they were. It’s a really difficult position to be in, because I genuinely don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm for democracy, and I want to set an example about graciousness in defeat, but as a result I’ve spent all day suppressing a personal upwelling of moral, intellectual, and emotional outrage at what has happened, and it’s giving me a headache. I cried in the car on the way here, and I’m just waiting until the final bell so I can do the same on the way home.
Eric, sculpture/drawing instructor at a community college in New Jersey:
When I woke into this nightmare I wondered how I’d navigate through the day. When I arrived to class a group of students were huddled together at one table all discussing the situation and their feelings. Their eyes were red, they looked exhausted.
I said good morning and quickly made them aware that I recognize the mood but to please keep comments to a minimum knowing there are opposing views in my class.
Overwhelmed and crippled by his emotions Geremy looked up at me and asked with a trembling tone and wide desperate eyes, “How am I supposed to make art now,” how am I supposed to be in this world? With my own trembling voice, nearly at tears, I urged them to funnel their feelings into their practice. I asked them to use the vehicle of art to speak out but consciously and without harm. I encouraged them to tap into the meditative space of making art to cultivate peace from within, even if its fleeting.
The general mood is as if someone has died. People are devastated and confused. The word doomsday was heard in the halls. But similar to the days following 9/11, the trauma brought a lightness. People would pause to say hello and offer a smile to appreciate each other because we’ve been at war with ourselves and for some, each other.
A., high school teacher, New York City:
I wanted to cry walking into my building this morning because of the types of students I serve. Many were very upset, but some were also Trump supporters. Part of being a teacher is being able to master the balance, even when you don’t agree with certain positions. Some of my students were horrified because they identify as LGBTQ. Some were horrified because they or their parents are undocumented, and, if their parent was forced to leave…they would have to leave with them. I tried to maintain a sense of calm in my classroom.
When asked by my students how I felt about Donald Trump being president, I made sure to keep a very straightforward and general answer because I want all of my kids to feel like my class is a safe space for them to express their beliefs. I replied that what gave me hope was the fact that they would be voting 4 years from now. For some of them, it led to them feeling empowered and feeling as though they could actually change things. I think that’s what is most important: to not foster and encourage apathy. I told them to remember how they felt today and use that feeling to guide them to vote.
Liz Kleinrock, 4th grade teacher at Citizens of the World Charter School, Los Angeles, California:
My school has wide racial and socio-economic diversity, and the student and family population is very liberal. As soon as my classroom doors opened this morning, one of my Mexican students approached me and said, “Donald Trump won. Does this mean I have to leave?”
This morning, we participated in a restorative justice circle, where all students were given the opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and ask questions. All of my students were dumbfounded because we live in a liberal community, and none of their families support Trump. The young girls in my class kept asking, “How could anyone, especially other women, vote for Trump after everything he’s said about women? Does that means people hate us? How do people think this is okay?” I had no answer for them, and I hated that. As we watched Hillary’s concession speech, I could see tears streaming down many of their faces.
Determined to end our day better than how we began, we read a quote by Desmond Tutu: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” I asked my students to do a silent free-write, and reflect on what they love about their country, and what gives them hope. They were invited to share their writing with the class, and listening to their words made me feel like a weight was beginning to lift off my shoulders.
I am confident that my students are what will make America great again.
Louie, middle school teacher, Brooklyn, New York:
My students are overwhelmingly Black and Latino, but I have a few Muslim students whose parents are mostly from Bangladesh or Trinidad.
The first thing I saw when I walked into my school was two Muslim girls (I taught them last year) crying in the lunch room. Feelings from the population overall ranged from anger to disgust, but obviously nobody was happy. I cancelled all of my regular lesson plans and instead devoted each period to allowing students to voice their opinions and concerns about the election. The most common questions were along the lines of “why do these people hate us so much?”
I told my students that it mostly had to do with fear, but that truthfully I did not know and that I was just as disgusted as they were. One student asked me if I would be trying to leave the country and I simply told her that if I did that, I’d be abandoning the people that I want to help most. I told her that a figure like Donald Trump just makes our struggle for equality (this is a theme in all of the books we read and in basically all of the social studies classes in the school) more meaningful.
Taylor Reinhart, college programs coordinator, Brooklyn, New York:
I teach in a charter high school in Crown Heights, a school populated 100% by students of color, many of them first and second-generation from Caribbean islands. Today’s energy was palpable, and emotional reaction varied widely depending on the student and the grade-level. I heard jokes today. I saw memes. I saw tears. I heard that they were going to bring back slavery. Students were pulled from class. Students even walked out of class, which is mostly unheard-of here. “This class doesn’t matter,” one of those students said, which has always been code for a deeper frustration about our school and state’s ability to connect content to lived experience. Math doesn’t matter to the student who feels they don’t matter. Many of them felt that today. They did not all articulate it to us overtly, but it exploded across their Facebooks and Snap Stories. A few students close to me showed me their posts, asking me more or less if they were right, and I could see them struggling to apply what they have learned about history to something unprecedentedly horrific.
It was weird as a white teacher from Ohio, a swing state that betrayed traditionally-marginalized groups yet again, to call my 10th graders to attention after the bell rang. We began with pleasantries and launched into the topic of the hour. I told them that I had some thoughts for them, and trod over the same ground that we’ve been over through events that threaten them, from the Marathon Bombings to in-school crises. I started, this time, by telling them that I was sorry for what my family and friends had done back home. I was sorry that these people close to me did not care. I was angry at them, and ashamed of them, and one of them. I told them our school would protect them in any way we could, that they were safe when they entered my room and our school so long as we were breathing. Then I told them, and I do believe this, that our room was the future of America. Our room, and not my old classrooms in 2008 in Worthington, Ohio. Their education was a weapon, their ability to critically analyze and organize a weapon that would emerge when they could vote in 2020 and in their lives. A student respectfully called me a liar.
By day 2, students have accepted Trump as a reality. There are no jokes, and the building is teeming with positive energy. They spoke in an assembly about the power of their education. Students and teachers alike have come to grips with how much our struggle matters, stayed resolute in how much our population matters, and pledged to stay safe together through whatever comes next.
Georgia, high school teacher, Baltimore, MD:
I wrote this letter to my students yesterday morning:
November 9, 2016
—while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails. –Walt Whitman
It is so hard to know, as an adult, what to say in this moment where our country is so divided. But the truth is, our democracy is strong. It has been since, as Lin-Manuel reminds us inHamilton, George Washington abdicated from the presidency and introduced a peaceful transfer of power. George Washington knew it, Martin Luther King knew it, James Baldwin knew it, and Barack Obama knows it. It may not feel like it, but our democracy operated as it should last night. We each enjoy the privilege of that sacred political system. Safeguard that privilege. Despair will only undermine it.
Do not let your fear control your anger. Let your intelligence direct your anger, guard it, sharpen it. Direct it towards learning everything you can and using that knowledge in the most powerful way you can imagine. Read. Read everything, opinions you agree with and, even more importantly, opinions you don’t agree with. As Whitman reminds us, the precious ships of our democracy have been through stormy gusts before.
You are in an impossible moment. You are in a moment where we, the adults in your life, are asking you to be better than we have been ourselves. Luckily, I know you, and I know that you are strong enough to do what we ask and more.
Audre Lorde famously wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Care for yourselves today, but also care for one another; care for those who voted differently than you did. They are your fellow travelers in this American project. The fabric of our country is strong and broad enough for all of us. Commit the radical act of caring for and protecting those with whom you disagree. Your care will not let bigoted views triumph. It will do the opposite. Wage political warfare with compassion as your weapon.
We often quote James Baldwin, who famously said, “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” But we remember less often what he said after that, that “that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even by pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright.” Trust that center. As Emerson admonished us, “Trust thyself!”
Lin-Manuel Miranda imagined Hamilton’s incredulity when George Washington said he would not seek re-election. Washington met him with this verse:
Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid.
Do not fear one another. You are the ones we put our hope in.
Amy Werman, lecturer, Columbia University School of Social Work:
Yesterday was a solemn day at Columbia University School of Social Work – a day of grieving and mourning. Students, faculty, and administration spent a good deal of time processing their emotions and the implications of a Trump victory. Students in the school represent various intersectionalities of gender, race, class, etc., so that the policies that Trump is promising to overturn and/or implement are upsetting on multiple levels. We are feeling disempowered. We are feeling a sense of hopelessness. We are fearful. We are wondering how effective we can be as change agents in a predominantly Republican government. But we have not been, nor will we be, silenced. We will find ways to continue to speak against oppression, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. Yes, we are numb now, but it won’t be long before numbness gives way to a renewed collective strength that will energize our ongoing fight for social justice.
Ezra Miller, high school teacher, Prince George’s County, Maryland:
I’m a white teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland, a predominantly Black school district just outside of Washington, DC. I teach 11th and 12th grade English. All of my students are Black, Latinx or Asian. Some of them are immigrants. All of them were terrified this morning. We were supposed to spend today discussing their upcoming service learning projects, but instead, we spent 70 minutes in tears, with my students raising their hands and taking turns to express their pain, their anger and their overwhelming feeling of dread about what Trump’s election means for them as young people of color.
They’re terrified that Trump is going to deport them. They’re terrified that the public resurgence of the KKK will inevitably lead to the reinstatement of slavery. They’re terrified that their political leaders have abandoned them, and that they’ll never be able to accomplish their dreams of going to college and becoming doctors or lawyers. They’re terrified that Trump will repeal Obamacare, which they’re certain many of their loved ones will die without. They’re terrified that their brothers and sisters in the military will be sent to their deaths in unnecessary wars.
After 45 minutes of crying, they even admitted that before school started today, they were terrified to tell me all of these fears, because they assumed that I, as a white man, would automatically support Trump. That I, as a white man, would necessarily view them as less than human now in the aftermath of his election. I spent all morning trying to reassure them that although America proved itself to be a racist nation last night, there are still many white people, and people of all different backgrounds, who love and support them, and who will stand with them in solidarity during the inevitable struggles that arise in the coming years. That my colleagues and I will continue to teach them as best we can so that all their hard work isn’t for naught. That in spite of America’s decision, we have to keep fighting for what we know is right.
“I’m just so tired of fighting,” a 16-year-old girl told me through broken sobs.
High school teacher, Bay Area, California:
Our school prides itself on progressive educational values, and our students and families skew very liberal. The mood yesterday morning was despondent. We met in the morning as a whole school and our head of school spoke about our need to keep doing what we do—thinking critically, analyzing deeply, caring for and embracing each other regardless of sexual orientation, religion, skin color, gender, etc.
In the afternoon, I taught my creative writing course, comprised of a group of twelve passionate, assertive, talented young women, ages fourteen to eighteen. While I was not thrilled this fall to discover that I had students from all four grades in this class, I’ve been touched and gratified by watching these young women come together and care for and support each other throughout the semester. They are in different places developmentally, but they are a team. Yesterday was no different. When my students came into the classroom, some said they didn’t want to talk about the election; some said they just wanted to hang out and talk; some asked if the class could play exquisite corpse, a surrealist writing game (which felt somehow appropriate at such a surreal moment in time); others looked like they wanted to crawl under the table. I suggested that we tell stories about fierce women in our lives as a way of honoring the historic nature of the campaign and Hillary Clinton’s place in it.
My students started referring to our stories as being about “badass women.” They told stories about their grandmothers, their great grandmothers, their mothers. One girl told a story about her mom and dad dressing as a “nasty woman” and a “bad hombre” for Halloween. More than half of the faces in this room are not white—some are mixed race, some are Indian, some are Jewish, some are caucasian. We heard a story about a great grandmother who traveled two days by train from her family’s village in India to get work so that she could later help her sons find an opportunity to move to London for a better life. We heard about a great aunt in Serbia who helped Serbian women gain access to healthcare.
After we told stories, we wrote group poems, made a group drawing, and the girls put on music loud (starting with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”). They started playing pop songs and six girls got up in front of the class and did a synchronized dance routine together, laughing and screaming. Some girls drew with colored pencils, others talked quietly together, others wrote.
At the end of our 80 min period, I felt a little better, but more importantly, I felt like our girls are strong.
Anna, middle school teacher at a Title 1 charter school, Washington, D.C:
The students at my campus almost entirely identify as African American—I teach a small handful of few multi-racial, Latino and Asian students. For me, this campaign was deeply personal—I canvassed a number of times, raised money, participated in phone banks, talked to friends and neighbors. Because this is my second year teaching this group of 8th graders, my students and I have been talking about this election for a very long time. I clearly remember the first time a student brought it up with me, on a field trip last January near the White House. President Obama’s helicopter came in to land on the roof. As we watched it come down, a student turned to me and said, “What are we going to DO if Donald Trump becomes president?” Another student replied, “I’m moving to Dubai.”
This horrifying election has come up countless times, in ways just like this. I’ve spoken with my students many times, both individually and as a class, about Hillary’s emails, about her platforms, about Trump’s rhetoric, about the anger, confusion and fear they felt when they heard Trump say bigoted and despicable things about Latinos, women, blacks and people with disabilities. Most of the time, I tried my best to just listen, to talk them through it, to assure them that they have many allies and advocates, but also tried to make sure I left room for differing opinions–I tried to find a balance between asserting my perspective and standing back, since for 12, 13 and 14 year olds, it is so important that they process and figure out what they believe about the world.
It was really hard to get myself out of bed on Wednesday morning, both because I couldn’t stop hysterically crying at random intervals, and because I felt that the students needed both real answers and to feel safe. Middle schoolers, after all, can smell insincerity. I also knew that students held a variety of beliefs, and know that it is my job as an educator to teach my kids to truly listen to each other, to consider a variety of arguments and perspectives, and to learn how to both manage their emotions and decide what is worth fighting for. But how could I possibly explain to kids that the very things that I would never, ever, ever accept them saying in a classroom was in fact acceptable for our President? How could make them see that this election wasn’t the country saying that their existence here is unwelcome? I wasn’t sure that I could give them any honest answers that would make them feel safe. I felt so much sadness and fear.
Fortunately, we have been talking a lot about social justice, love and advocacy through the texts we are reading—“Ain’t I a Woman?” by Soujorner Truth and “An Experiment in Love” by Dr. Martin Luther King in 8th grade, and “The Circuit” by Francisco Jiménez, a short story about a Mexican migrant boy, in 7th grade, which allowed for purposeful framing throughout our conversations. Mostly, kids had a lot of questions and some misconceptions: “Is he really going to deport all of the immigrants?” “Does he hate black people?” “Is it true that he raped a 13 year old?” “He said so many mean and disrespectful things about women, Latinos and people with disabilities- how could he win?” “He used all of his own money to rig the election,” “What is the electoral college? Why does it work that way?” They didn’t share the grief I did, but they certainly expressed uncertainty and fear. Some said that their parents voted for Trump, because they worked hard and their taxes were too high and they had to pay too much for health care. We looked at the electoral map, and talked about the rise and fall of the factory industries in our country. We talked about the difference between living in a rural and urban place. And, we talked about what they could do if they saw injustice—protesting, writing letters, volunteering. With our 8th graders, we talked about how most of them would be able to vote in the next election. Then, we built a wall of love: each kid took a sheet of paper and folded into into fourths. Each represented a brick—their unique qualities on one, their family history on another, their hopes and fears for the future, and how they will make the world a better place as they grow older.
I just hope that what I told them is true after all; that the world isn’t any more dangerous for them today than it was on Monday, and that there are people all around the country who will stand up for and with them.
Elementary school teacher, Silver Springs, Maryland:
I teach third grade at a Title One elementary school where all of my students receive free and reduced meals. We are the most impacted school in the county, and we receive a significant amount of support provided through tax money (meals, snacks, resources.). Terrified of the election, my students mentioned Donald Trump like a slur, throwing it at one another when they were mad. “You’re a Donald Trump!” was an insult that I repeatedly heard throughout the election period. As we approached our opinion unit, my students continuously repeated the highlights from the campaign trail: building walls, name calling, and immigration struggles. So, I created an election unit using a variety of sources that are kid appropriate so they could support their opinion. We researched, took notes, and wrote a paragraph on the best candidate out of the four candidates (Trump, Stein, Clinton, and Johnson.). My students voted 13 for Hillary, 6 for Jill Stein. The fear they had became confidence in America electing someone that supported them.
Gearing up for the election, I ended the day before the election by telling them that we’d have a new President when I saw them next. They were so excited. This morning, they were absolutely devastated as they walked into my room. One student kept repeatedly asking me, “How could this happen?” I showed them the map and explained exactly how it did happen. “We just needed a few more votes in Florida or Ohio.” Tears were shed. Fear was real, again. Parents sent me messages, and they’re also terrified. I knew I needed to be strong for all of them, while maintaining neutrality. That was the hardest part. At times, I wanted to curl up next to them and cry. One of my parents sent me a message asking for resources on handling deportation, just in case.
I allowed my students to share their feelings out loud and then I told them that sometimes it makes me feel better if I draw my feelings. If they didn’t want to do that, they could draw how they envisioned the future to be. A lot of students drew angry or crying emojis (those are totally in right now) while one drew himself with his hands over his ears. The caption read, “I will NEVER listen to Trump.” They told me it really helped them to draw.
Jordi, composition instructor at the University of Missouri:
We’re beginning our final unit of the semester and it deals with rhetoric in advertisements (print and other media). I had planned to show a bunch of ads either for or against female suffrage to celebrate Clinton’s win. I want my students to talk about the biases inherent in both pro- and anti-suffrage ads. Notwithstanding the fact that the Clinton campaign conceded, I still think it’s an important conversation to have.
Every day we have class, I come in with a snippet of a creative work, a line or two that the students do a free-write on for ten minutes to get their minds engaged. This time, I’m giving them the entirety of Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Colossus” which most people know as the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. I’m going to have them contrast that poem’s aura of acceptance with some of the negative propaganda against universal suffrage and lead them through any discussion that may come from that.
G., high school teacher, northern Texas:
I teach in an urban school that is 99% minority. The entire school year (last and this one), the anxiety has been palpable. Last week one of the elementary teachers brought a little kid having an anxiety attack to talk to me about the election. I showed the kid the numbers and she felt better. She isn’t at school today.
My juniors and seniors are concerned, my first period two of them were crying. In my 4th period one of my seniors came up to me (who I’ve written a letter for her application of immigration protection), holding back tears she asked me if this means that she will get deported.
My last period, two of my students said that they hoped that I would have something good to say; all I could say is I don’t know. In the end I asked them to have faith in the goodness of our fellow citizens and that our constitutional rights will be protected.
A teacher who prefers to remain anonymous::
I’d been canvassing for Hillary Clinton for a couple of weeks and I was openly talking about my political leanings with my students. Some teachers present an objectivity for obvious reasons, but I decided a few years ago that I wasn’t fooling any of them about my liberalism. When I was a reporter it was somehow easier to project an aloof inscrutability; my sources asked me point blank on a number of occasions if I was a Democrat or a Republican. Reporting is about listening; it’s easy to listen in a non-partisan way. But teaching English is about modeling how to have an opinion. If I was asking them in the course of their English classes to examine evidence, write a thesis statement they believed in, and defend it, how could I stand by and pretend I hadn’t?
Yesterday my school announced that we were canceling our years-long tradition of staging a mock presidential debate because no students were willing to stand on the stage and advocate for Trump. One student said that she couldn’t do it after the Billy Bush tape. Another student said he didn’t want to alienate his African American friends. Yesterday my students told me they were afraid that there would be riots if Hillary won, that angry hordes of Trump supporters would contest the results violently.
Today there is a quiet. I know I have students who are Trump supporters; they are mostly white male athletes from the far reaches of upstate New York. Some of their parents are prison guards. They’re not gloating today. There is no triumph at all. My conservative student, the one who wouldn’t stand on stage and argue for Trump, asked me if I was upset. I told her that I’m just scared. I’m scared for my one year old son. I’m scared for the planet. I’m scared for my student who is studying abroad from Ethiopia. I’m scared for my student who is a black teenager from Atlanta. I’m scared for my wife, who told me today that her country hates her because of her body, and that even though I was the best possible white guy she still felt like she couldn’t commiserate with me because I didn’t understand her physical shame. This is a different country than it was last night. We know now that our hatred of women and immigrants is stronger than our faith in our own core beliefs. The war has come home, and I think my students know it. Nothing is ever going to be the same.
Abe, 7th grade teacher, Bronx, New York:
Today was rough. A student came into my class and declared “I’m not talking to white people today.” She’s right to be frustrated.
I spent my time this morning and today writing a letter to my students:
Last night Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States. Many of you have expressed frustration and disappointment with this decision. While I cannot control what happens beyond the doors of this classroom, I can tell you that there will be no change in expectations in this classroom: you should feel respected and heard whenever you are here.
To my students who are Mexican-American: Your family’s history and culture will not be pre-judged, vilified, or rejected in this classroom. Speech that discriminates against you, or anyone else, has not, and will never be, acceptable in this classroom.
To my students who are women: In this classroom, you have the right to be treated as a person, not an object. If someone violates you, you have the right for your voice to be heard and trusted.
To my students with bodies: In this classroom, your bodies are yours – they are unique and personal to you. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
To my students entering the armed service: Your respect and dedication to this country are appreciated in this classroom. The sacrifice you have volunteered to make is unique, courageous, and not for sale.
To my students with disabilities: In this classroom, you will not be mocked or judged for who you are. Your dignity and identity are important and appreciated.
To my students who pay taxes: Your decision to apply your hard work to support America’s military, veterans, and schools is both patriotic and smart. You have a right to know where your money is going; register to vote, get involved in local elections, and elect local officials who have your community’s best interest in their rhetoric.
To my students who are immigrants: This country was built upon a nation of immigrants, and we will continue to appreciate and be proud of the work we put into it together. No one will move to deport you without first dealing with me and officials at this school
.To my students who are Muslim-American: Your religion, families and your personhood are valued in this classroom. In this classroom, you have the right to express your views, identify with, and be proud of your religious experience regardless of where you come from.
To my students who are black: Your lives do matter, you are not living in hell, and you deserve the same constitutional rights that everyone else in this country enjoys. In this classroom, those rights will be recognized and respected.
To my students who identify as lesbian, gay, queer, bi, or trans: No one in this classroom will discriminate against you based upon your gender expression or sexual orientation., You have the right to use the bathrooms that ascribe to your gender identity and love who you want to love.
To all of my students: Your diverse opinions, identities, and backgrounds are the backbone of what makes America a great country. It is through your education that this country will remain that way. When you are within these walls, we will do everything in our power to keep you safe, make sure you are respected, and that your voice is valued. If ever you feel your rights are violated, I urge you to communicate with a staff member for appropriate action. Our job is to keep you safe and informed. We will continue to perform that duty to the best of our abilities so that long after you have left these walls, your knowledge and diversity can continue to shape these United States into an inclusive and great country.
Marisa, 1st grade teacher, Memphis, Tennessee:
We had a class discussion about the election this morning. Our students have so many questions and fears and concerns. Two students cried. I teared up. My co-teacher and I did our best to answer their questions and assure them they are safe and loved, and now we are focusing our efforts on making change in the world where we can (we are gathering canned foods for families in our community and picking some books to donate to another 1st grade class) and continuing the work of raising 24 world-changing, conscious, confident souls. It is the only path I know to move forward.
Elementary school teacher, New York City:
The kids at school were really shaken. Many of them had quick breakfast conversations with their parents. However, many of their parents struggled to know what to say to address the outcome of the election. What I heard most often from my kids (10 and 11 year olds) was the notion that we have until February and then…
They spoke of it as though it was a doomsday situation, a complete breakdown of our government. When asked about where they heard this, they said mostly from the news and their parents.
A college professor who prefers to remain anonymous:
Discussing politics in the classroom is tricky, since it’s illegal for me to advocate for any political position or candidate. The students who showed up to class this morning (about half of the normal attendance) were exhausted and upset, and clearly looking to me for help. Except for one of my students who wore an aggressively anti-Hillary shirt and was bright and cheerful. (I actually really like him, and I can’t help thinking that if the election had turned out the other way, would another student wear an aggressive anti-Trump shirt? Would I have handled things fairly then? I hope so).
I just couldn’t keep all my traumatized students together in this environment and expect them to learn, so I gave them a writing assignment, told them they could do it anywhere on campus, and asked one of my colleagues to bring her dog into the classroom for the students who remained to pet. It was all I could think to do.
I have another lecture to give to a larger class today, and I’m trying to decide how to structure class to give exhausted and upset students a break.
A high school teacher in Texas:
Today was rough, many of my Latino students didn’t show up because they felt unsafe. All day students came into my room crying, fearful their family would be deported, scared they’d be accused of terrorism. In turn, I had students who gloated and claimed that emails were surely worse than sexual assault. The worst was having a Muslim student ask me if she would be forced to wear numbers on her shirt to identify her, as Trump once suggested. She wasn’t even comfortable wearing her hijab.
There were a lot of tears amongst my black and Latino students, but mainly confusion as to how this could happen. The question they kept asking was “why does America hate us so much?” One student said today, “I knew I wasn’t popular with trump supporters, but I had no idea how much my existence disgusted them.”
Julia Blount, middle school teacher, Washington, D.C:
My first thought this morning was, “what will I say to the children?” They will be tired, they will be weepy and scared. Indeed, first thing in the morning one young women marched into my homeroom in pajamas, while another young woman of color expressed that she had certainly, “given up hope for America.”
When my first class walked in, the anxiety was too palpable to ignore. But I still had nothing to say. I was worried I would end up in tears. Instead, I simply asked “raise your hand if you want to talk.” Almost every hand shot up. The ground rules were quickly set: no talking over each other, and only speak from the “I perspective.” They ran with it.
I can tell you with certainty — many of our children are scared, they are hurting, and they feel betrayed by the adults who vote for their future. Children of color, who have been watching the assault on black bodies for a few years now, wonder what protection they will have. Most students are feeling the prejudice and hatred of this world in ways they have never felt it before. Many girls who have grown up truly believing they could be anything now feel like all that they have hoped and dreamed for might be more than a woman can ever achieve in America.
Yet, while I was listening to them I felt my mood start to lighten. While expressing the deepest levels of sadness and fear, they were also truly listening and thinking. They were forward-thinking: “Don’t move out of the US! We have Senate and House races to win in 2 years!”
They saw alternate futures: “Trump has belonged to many different parties before—who knows which promises he will stick to!” and “Our party system and electoral system might finally change!”
And some of them even had a little optimism: “Let’s see what he does before we panic!”
I even began to smile when I realized that I had 16 pre-teens in a room (3 times) and they all legitimately listened to each other. I know they were listening, because minutes later they responded and referred to someone else’s thoughts by name. They were listening, because kids who always call out did not interrupt a single person. They were listening because not one student asked to open their laptops or questioned when we were getting back to work. If our future is people who can listen to each other and empathize with each other, then our future is still bright.
While it is hard for many of us to hold ourselves together today, days like today remind me why I am a teacher. Teachers are able to lift up their students, to help them process and question and wonder in a safe space. Teachers have the privilege and honor of helping to shape the next generation. If you woke up disheartened like I did, find a job that you love and that allows you to make an impact. Teaching can be an exhausting job, but on a day that I came in exhausted, it only gave me energy to move on.
A middle school teacher in the Bronx, New York:
I teach middle school ELA in the North Bronx. Every student there is a minority of some kind, and many of them are immigrants—some from the Caribbean, some from the Middle East, some from Latin countries. The mood today in school can best be described as tense.
First, I and all of the other teachers were walking around as if in a daze. We knew the kids were coming, but we weren’t sure how they would be reacting. I didn’t even quite know how I was supposed to teach. Whenever I had 5 minutes alone during the day (which wasn’t often), I felt my eyes welling up with tears. But then back to it. The kids came in noisy and talkative—they are scared, but there is a feeling at our school that we’re all in this together, even if it’s against much of the rest of the country. This means they were joking at Trump’s expense. There was even a “Fuck Trump” chant in the hallway before first period that was quickly quashed.
In my classroom, and with the OK of my principal, I decided that rather than work on our regular unit, we would try to make a safe space to talk about the results.
I told the students that it was clear that they had gotten the short end of the stick, and that nobody had asked them what they thought. I told them that we would protect them as best we could, and that President Trump was not Dictator Trump. He still had to operate under laws, and everyone would be watching his every move very carefully. He could not take away their right to be heard, and that I was there to listen. Some students took advantage of this and tried to make jokes about Trump, but in a way that showed the kids were testing to make sure they were all on the same page—all of them worried, all of them nervous and scared and confused and sad, but all of them on the same page. The kids who always act up were more animated than usual (making classroom management a struggle), but the majority of kids were the most attentive I’ve ever seen them.
Most of the questions I got, as a white male, were asking me if I voted for Trump. I told them I had certainly not, and didn’t mind telling them, but that not all adults would be so forthcoming. Some asked me why we couldn’t have Obama again. I explained that the same law preventing Obama from receiving three terms also stops someone like Trump from receiving three terms. Some asked me if Trump had bought votes, or if Gary Johnson worked for Trump to steal the election, but I told them no. The vote was the vote, and pretending it was fake was the same thing as pretending that the country does not have a problem. I tried to explain the electoral college, mostly unsuccessfully.
Some of the most powerful moments were the kids sharing their experiences, though. The frustration and fear about being sent back to their countries. Some hadn’t connected the dots that they were the immigrants he was talking about sending back, but other students explained it. It sunk in for them that although they knew they were Americans, not everyone felt that way. It was crushing.
I wish I could say we all hugged and felt better and got on, or that there was a cathartic cry, but there are no tears at my school, or at least no public tears. Nothing was solved today. We didn’t get closure after our discussion. Some left more worried than they had been when they came in, as they understood more. They feel powerless. All I could offer them was a place to have some control over the conversation. And it was just one day, and then it’s back to lessons. My guess, though, is that tomorrow is still going to be difficult, as is next week, and the week after. And so on, for the next four years.
It’s not an easy time to be a teacher, but it’s much harder to be one of the students from our population.
Paul Gagliardi, instructor at Mount Mary University, a women’s university in Milwaukee, Wisconsin:
Many of our students are African American, Latina, or international students or come from rural areas of Wisconsin. As such, students rarely have positive interactions with teachers from high school, so as an instructor, I often find myself encouraging them that they can not only do the work expected of college students, but they can also thrive in this environment.
This morning I had paper conferences scheduled with a number of my composition students – many of who have been very outspoken in their criticism of Trump. As the results rolled in last night, I really struggled with how to talk to these students about the results of the election as I knew many of them would be crushed emotionally.
My approach with these students was to be honest with them. I’ve told them that we are very likely in a new paradigm as a country in a number of ways. For instance, politics is now far more concerned with feelings than facts and as an educator, I’m struggling to process that. But I also told them that the election strongly suggests a big portion of the country is not concerned with issues for women or people of color. What Trump has brought into the mainstream was long-standing fear and paranoia of women and minorities and many voters. These beliefs are ugly and horrible, but we must deal with them. So I found myself encouraging my students to prove these voters wrong by challenging not only their beliefs, but also by working hard as a student and a citizen. Prove them wrong by anyway you can: protest, do good in school, take care of your families, succeed in spite of them. I also told them that there are plenty of people in this country who reject the Trump positions and want you to succeed.
I rarely get political or so pointed with my students, but I think the only reasonable approach I’ve found today is to show them that I believe in them, that we believe in them, and that they need to believe in themselves too.
J., elementary school teacher, Seattle, Washington:
“I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like, going in today, but pretty much right at the start a lot of our kids were visibly upset. We had a lot of students in tears; students told me that they were feeling afraid, some of them were afraid that a relative or a friend was going to be deported, others were afraid that they themselves were going to be deported. The teachers decided that we should have a group discussion with all of the students, and as the discussion was going on it got very emotional, the whole class was in tears, out of fear. It was very touching as well, though, because students who wanted nothing to do with each other a day earlier were holding each other.
Teachers led a conversation and said it’s okay for students to feel whatever they’re feeling, reassuring them that school is a safe place, that our school is safe, that everyone in this community cares really deeply about them. I don’t know, it was a very tough day that left me feeling a little heartbroken.
[After] letting the kids share so much in the morning, by the afternoon they were visibly doing so much better, playing with each other again and laughing. Even though they’re still sad, [we let] them know that it’s okay to be sad and still move on with your day and life.
We have families at this school as well that voted for Donald Trump, and we have to make sure that those families and those kids feel safe at this school, too. It’s hard when you don’t agree, but it’s just as important. As a teacher, it’s your job to make all families feel safe and welcome at your school, even if you disagree with their beliefs. It’s one of the hardest parts.”
A private middle school teacher in New York City:
There was an emergency assembly in the high school during first period. The Head spoke to a slumped, somber audience: “We need to stay positive,” she said. “We need to do all we can to help each other understand.”
I’m so grateful those students were hearing those things from a woman.
Some kids arrived late, and we all stood in the back. We listened together. The Student Body President spoke—a tall, muscular athlete who clutched the podium like a politician. “No matter how you feel, no matter how you felt when you woke up this morning—” he paused, stepped away, put his head in his hands, and cried.
In his English class, a seventh grade teacher took the first ten minutes to talk about the election. He ended up crying twice, and again when he told me the story. “And now they’ll all talk about how I cried,” he said.
They’ll remember this day regardless of whose words they heard, whose tears they saw. “Gauging students’ reactions” is impossible because we’re all choosing what to let in, who to trust, where to find comfort. My students are at lunch now, throwing Cheetos at each other and covering white rice with ketchup. One of them dressed as Trump for Halloween, and wore his “I’m with Her” T-shirt yesterday. One of them asked me if she could read the Times when she finished her activity in class.
I’m having a hard time looking out at classrooms full of children today. When I think about how this is an “important day to be a teacher,” all I know for certain is that I’m scared for my students’ lives. I hide it in my chest, and we discuss the text. I’m trying to let their futures feel positive, and to know that their laughter is real.
Thanks to everyone who wrote in. We look forward to hearing from more teachers in the comments.