It’s a good day to buy your teacher a coffee

(Reflections from Nov. 9th, 2016)

My twelve year old son wanted to stay up late on election day this year in order to see the results. After convincing him that it is a school night and I didn’t want him up until 3am, he reluctantly went to bed with the promise that I would wake him to let him know who won. I did not keep that promise, but instead stayed awake for another hour anxious about Wednesday, the morning I would have to tell my boys over breakfast that Trump took a surprising win before heading off to teach my class of anxious students at Florida International University.

That next morning, our talk was not just about the election results and what that means, but also about how to conduct themselves in school and have resilience should there be any copycat talk of “building walls” or people “going back home to their country” (or god help me “grabbing some girl’s pussy”). We also spoke about the importance of sticking up for each other and having the courage to speak up when others or they are being hurt and respecting others opinions, even if they are different. This was all over a quick breakfast before dropping them off at school, and praying that their teacher would make the class, not just a safe space, but also an impactful, teachable moment.

Shortly after drop off, I read my friend’s post on Facebook about her experience with her adopted daughter who is Chinese. Her daughter was upset after being told over breakfast that Trump was our new President. She writes, “Then she looked at me and she said ‘but mommy, I’m Asian, what if Donald Trump tries to take me and send me back to China?’ My heart skipped a beat — I never let my daughter see it — but to think that a child at 11 years old could think in those terms, a child as innocent as my daughter is, is the most heart-wrenching difficult and unimaginable things to process.” It wasn’t even 9am yet. I buckled up for the day.

At the university, I hijacked my usual Sex Trafficking & Modern Day Slavery class to process through the election results. For many of my students, it was the first class of the day. My students, nearly all women of color and many immigrants, were feeling the blow. Some reported that they already had strangers looking at them with distrust and had friends who had racial slurs yelled at them. It was only hours after the results, and the hate and distrust had started to become emboldened by the validation of our new leader.

Making the room a safe space was fairly easy because my social justice-minded students were not divided in the election (I took an anonymous headcount on their satisfaction with election results). Even then, class erupted in heated discussion which had to be moderated. The air was heavy with exhaustion and despondence, fear and anger, but we turned it into a space to support each other and strategize about what comes next and taking action. We connected it to class, also, and analyzed how a Trump presidency and Republican-controlled congress might affect anti-trafficking efforts across the country. My students left class, still heavy in their hearts, but knowing they are not alone.

To say Wednesday was a tough day for an educator is an understatement. Social media posts were filled with my colleagues’ accounts of managing hot emotions in their classes and teaching students how to respect each other’s opinions, take turns speaking and have empathy by actively listen to others, all the while maintaining objectivity. This challenge would be easier, of course, if one side’s opinion didn’t have a vitriolic sting to it. We are tasked with teaching our children and young people that values such as compassion, maturity, inclusivity and character are important; and yet one of the most influential people in our nation today shows us by example that winning is the utmost priority and that bullying and insulting others is an acceptable means to get what you want. It’s easy to teach something that’s logical, but this is not.

My sons came home with stories about the day. My youngest told me that his whole class was sad. His American classmates represent an unusual melting pot of races, nationalities and cultures and are just now, in fifth grade, beginning to understand that other people superimpose values and stereotypes upon them because of their skin tone or country of origin. The anxiety they feel is not irrational; it’s real. Half of our voters chose a misogynistic and bigoted President to lead us and present himself as a role model to our youth. How do you teach that racism and sexism are not okay, when we are condoning it by electing Trump? Good teachers everywhere had to fearlessly walk into school on Wednesday to explain what happened and keep the peace while making sure our children were properly educated and given a space to work through the confusion and emotions stirred up by the election results.

Thank god for teachers. That’s all I have to say. Buy yours a coffee or something.

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