I have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks unpacking this election—with myself, my husband, and my friends, but also as a classroom teacher. I teach ninth grade English in a district that I would say is fairly reflective of our country’s voting breakdown. I’ve got about 50 percent Trump-ites and 50 percent Clinton-ites in my classroom, and it has been tense.
You’ve probably heard about this idea, The Trump Effect, the term coined by various members of the social work field to describe the phenomenon of having a bully run as the presidential candidate. Through the divisive rhetoric, it seeps into the classrooms of students, and soon there are more and more bullying and intimidation incidents popping up throughout the nation with our children on playgrounds and in lunchrooms. Sadly, it’s a completely real thing. It happens in my classroom on a daily basis among kids who have been friends for their entire lives, but now find themselves (or their families) on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
The day after the election, I arrived to school with numbness; I didn’t know what to do. I had received no guidance from my administration and it was shocking to walk into a building and see, already, by 6 a.m., a handwritten note taped to a student’s locker that read, “If you’re Muslim, LGBTQ, Black, Brown, or a Woman, you better watch OUT.” I tore it down. I gave it to my Principal. He looked ashamed. I felt ill.
Now that the election dust is settling, I have students who, just like me, are struggling. Recently during a session I organized after school, I listened as a Hispanic student shared that she found out her mother, who is white, had voted for Trump. She said to her mom on Tuesday morning, “But how? You know he wants to get rid of me.” She cried as she told a room full of strangers this information, and she cried harder when she said it was the first time all week she had told the story to anyone.
Another girl shared how the day the day after the election, she had come to school to find it felt “different.” When she went to her math class, a young man, wearing a Trump hat, just leered at her for several minutes, until she finally asked him why he was doing so. His response was to tip his hat to her and say, “You know exactly why.”
As an educator, we are looked to as bringers of knowledge and light. That Wednesday, I needed to get up and teach these kids; I was on the verge of tears the entire time, but I had to be strong and I couldn’t show this. We listened to “Shine the Light” by Sugarland. I honestly told my students that some days there is no light to bring and that we must rely on others to bring that light. I had them write about light and how they shine theirs. I told them that there are times in our world where letting your light shine is the most important way you can help.
They wrote about their light—where they shine it, how they shine it. We made it a live document that they could share and add to throughout the week. I visited the document this morning and it really does shine with light. There are paragraphs after paragraphs written by my students stating to one another that they are there for each other, no matter what. They are disavowing hate language and divisiveness, they are rising above the past nine months of this election, they are healing, they are looking for hope, they are giving strength, they are holding each other gently. They are strong.
I have to hope this is an indication of what we, as adults, can do.
I will look to my students for that light, because it seems their light is far stronger than mine is today. And that’s just fine.