The Responsibility of Teachers in Trump’s America
After two months of reading about the election, writing about the election and discussing the election in my middle school classroom, when November 8th finally arrived it felt like crossing a finish line. But on November 9th, that sense of relief was replaced with dread and despair as reality set in: Trump had been elected. The moral arc of the universe had not bent towards justice this time.
Teachers at my school walked around in a daze all day, adults too depressed or shocked to even begin to discuss the implications of a Trump presidency. I changed my lesson from a discussion of point of view in the book “Holes” to a discussion of my students’ feelings and thoughts about their current reality. They were equal parts scared, sad, and confused. Many wondered aloud how it was that Trump could say such terrible things and still be elected president of a country they had been raised to believe was great and magnanimous. I had no explanation for them, but could only assure them that they were loved by me and the rest of their teachers, by their parents, by their community.
As the days have continued to pass since Election Day, hundreds of hate crimes have been reported throughout every corner of our country, many of them occurring in schools. Swastikas have been spray painted on dorm room doors. ‘White Power’ has been chanted in school cafeterias. If there is any place that a young person should feel safe, it is in their school, and we, as teachers must make that our obligation and our top priority.
As teachers, our students depend on us daily not only to educate them in academics, but also in character. Supporting the idea that all people are equal — no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability — is the only acceptable viewpoint to exist in the mind of an American educator. This is no longer a matter of politics, it is a matter of justice, of decency, of what it truly means to be American.
And that means, no matter which side of the aisle you sit on, you have a moral responsibility as an educator to denounce the hateful, biased speech that is — every day — directed at your students. You have a responsibility to let them know that it is un-American for a president to create divides between citizens. You have a responsibility to let them know that the current state of America is not normal. You have a responsibility to tell them, unequivocally, that candidates whose platforms are based on the denigration of others should not be elected president. You have a responsibility to remember that this is not politics as usual, and that the things that have been said by Trump and his supporters throughout his campaign have created deep wells of doubt and fear in your students, that will never be forgotten, even after the moral arc does bend more closely towards justice. Most of all, you have a responsibility to keep being a light for your students in these dark times, by reminding them that they are strong, smart, and beautiful individuals.
Even in the face of potential job insecurity under the next administration, possible curriculum changes on the horizon, and your own unique struggles as an individual living in Trump’s America, you must stay brave and willing.
You are a teacher and you have never been more important.