the day after

How educators are handling this complicated, emotional day in America, in their own words

PHOTO: Christina Veiga

It’s a complicated, emotional day in America, and educators are on the front lines.

So many woke up to the news that Donald Trump is the president-elect only to rush off to school — leaving teachers and students to work through what the news means together. In many schools, that means attending to the worries of immigrant students, or young women, alarmed by Trump’s rhetoric. In others, it means guiding students to express their excitement gracefully.

Here’s a glimpse of what the day has looked like so far, from teachers and education leaders who’ve begun to share their thoughts publicly.

Readers, if you see a perspective worth sharing, or have one of your own (tweet-length or otherwise), please share with us here.

Already, the morning proved challenging for many.

What do I say as you wait for me greet you at the classroom door that can ease your mind, to make it right? Will it help if I tell you I spent last night preparing for a special social studies lesson on the election- letters to the next president of the United States- Hillary Clinton. Should I mention, yet again, that I was adamantly “with her” in this election because I was decidedly “not with him.” I had planned for you to write to Madame President, congratulating her but also urging her to change the racist and exclusionary policies that disenfranchise, disempower, and lock up communities of color across the country. Now, I don’t know where to start.

— Emmy Bouvier of Teachers Unite

Today my class of primarily black, Hispanic and female students entered school wondering “How could anyone vote for him?” So, we decided to try to understand the reasons why voters chose Donald Trump as our next president. Amongst questions of if their families would be deported, we looked up why people said they voted for Trump. My students came to the conclusion that many Trump voters are “scared of their futures just like we are.” It was a tough day to lead with a smile, but I also got to witness my students face their fears with grace, compassion and open-minds. The election has made it clear that there is much to teach this next generation, but there is much to learn from them as well.

— Kellyn Platek, fifth-grade teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada

Others are consumed by bigger-picture worries about what Trump’s win will mean, or how to talk about it.

And a few offered words of hope or explained their next steps.

I will give my English students literature – poetry and novels and plays and essays – because the way we learn about the world is by listening to other people and watching and thinking about how they act and think in situations far different from our own. When we read, we see how different we are from others, and of course, how much we are all exactly the same. We all want to be safe, to be loved, to do good in the world, to be respected, and realizing our sameness helps us to love and care for each other better. I will offer the words of the greatest writers in human history and help my students to understand them. Because I’m a teacher.

— Evva Starr, teacher at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Maryland

Sending love and strength to all of you at this incredibly trying time. Honestly not sure where things go from here, but, as a start, let’s tell our children we love them and that we’ll show them what it looks like to live by a code of values when our “leaders” do not.

— Jonas Chartock, CEO of Leading Educators, charter school policy-maker

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Eagle Academy For Young Men in Queens. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below.