When there was no more room for error Tuesday night, I cried. I cried for myself and my guilt and my future but mostly for my children. The results of the election we held at our school were overwhelmingly in favor of Hillary Clinton, and my classes had been no exception, so I knew that I would be faced with dozens of scared, sad faces in a few short hours. So I called some veteran educators and trolled Facebook posts of trusted teacher friends seeking any guidance or advice I could find.
Aided in great part by those phone conversations and this article, I came up with the following plan. I determined that I would introduce the topic of election results at the beginning of class and then let the discussion take as much or as little time as the students needed it to.
First, I asked my students to write their reflections to the following questions at the beginning of class:
- Think of a time when you really wanted something but didn’t get it. This could be a grade, a spot on a team, or even a present. How much time and effort had you put into it? How did you feel when you found out you hadn’t gotten it?
- Donald Trump won our country’s presidential election yesterday. Our class and our school voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. How does that make you feel?
After giving them a few silent minutes to work, I captured some of the emotions I’d read (angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed) in a list on the board and then asked if they wanted to add any based on either of the responses. I then explained that Clinton, everyone who voted for her, and people who had worked on her campaign were likely feeling the ways they had listed feeling for question 1.
I added another question to their prompt: do you think Clinton/her campaign is a failure? and was encouraged by the overwhelming “no” response, which is much in line with HRC’s response in her concession speech this morning. This let me know that my students are truly adopting a growth mindset and seeing miscues not as final but as learning opportunities. I reminded them that up to half of the population tends to have similar feelings after every election, too.
I then asked if they wanted to add any emotions to our list to answer question 2. Things like terrified, nervous, worried, heartbroken, and nonplussed came up. Then, because I don’t want my children to live in fear for the next 4+ years, I made 3 points to them and answered questions throughout:
- The president cannot pass laws. I explained, briefly, the three branches of government and their functions along with the checks and balances system, as outlined in the Constitution.
- Candidates, regardless of party or desired office, say things to get votes. Not all of these things can or will happen, whether it be due to point #1, a lack of public support, a lack of funding, a lack of time, prioritization, or myriad other reasons. I also reminded them that, as we had learned in our lesson about political parties on Monday, people vote for candidates based on a few key issues in their platform and don’t always agree with everything proposed.
- What are you scared of? What has changed? I reminded them that their daily routines had not changed that week, as evidenced by the fact that they were sitting in my class in their uniforms. I reiterated the limits placed on our country’s government officials and said that, though President-elect Trump will assuredly run things differently and enact different policies than President Obama, nothing will change too fast or too soon. I emphasized the difference between unfounded worry and legitimate fear and reminded them of the power they hold, even as youth, thanks to the Bill of Rights: petition, assembly, free speech, etc. We closed by discussing ways to get in touch with their representatives, who want to and should hear from them.
My goal in interrupting previously scheduled programming was to make my students feel safe and cared for, which I felt would ultimately allow for better instruction in the long-term. I pressed pause for a day to ensure fewer future outbursts and more focus. By combining factual knowledge with the feelings bit, I feel that I accomplished what I needed to.
What else has worked for other teachers – content or strategy – processing this election or any other tough event? What conversations are happening (or not happening) at other workplaces around the country?
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