After a contentious campaign season ending with an unexpected win by Donald Trump, many teachers are faced with a difficult task: how to talk about the results of this election. HPR’s Molly Solomon reports that while the vote may be over, conversations in the classroom are just beginning.
Ninth grade teacher Christina Torres scrapped her lesson plan for the day. Torres, who teaches English at University Laboratory School, replaced it with something she knew was on everyone’s mind: the results of the election.
“I do want to give us a chance to talk about the election, what happened,” Torres announced to the class of a couple dozen students.
She started by asking the room to break out their laptops and begin to journal some of their thoughts.
“What do you feel about the election, what are you hopeful about, what makes you worried,” Torres asked, as students began typing into a shared Google Docs form. “And then I’ll share everyone’s answer so you can all read each other’s thoughts, anonymously if you would like to stay anonymous.”
Most of her students were shocked with the election’s results. Many, like 14-year-old Ellie, were still coming to terms with Trump as the next president.
“I feel dead inside. It’s like I’m going through the five stages of grief all at once,” said Ellie, who also expressed concerns about Trump’s views on women and the LGBT community. “I want to deny this is happening, but then I remember this is not a dream, we have Trump as the President.”
“I don’t think anybody really expected him to win. I mean, we all were ready for Hillary,” said Melia, another student in Torres’ 9th grade English class. She watched the election results come in on TV Tuesday night with her parents.
“I think the first thing I asked my Dad was how did we go from Obama to Trump,” said Melia. “I mean that’s a big difference, they’re opposites.”
Melia hopes that the divisive retoric Trump used in his campaign will prove to be a teachable moment for America. "The way that Trump belittles everybody, I’d say don’t sink down to that level," Melia said. "Try to teach them, help them learn why what they’re saying is wrong, why what they’re saying is inappropriate and how they could do it better.”
Torres says the day has been really hard and emotional, especially dealing with a lot of her students’ frustrations with the election’s outcome — including some of her own.
“Normally when you talk with kids about difficult stuff, you hold their fears and then you start thinking, what do we do next,” Torres said to me with a group of teachers after class. “Today it was harder to tell them it’s going to get better. And that was really hard.”
Trump’s win also caught Tracy Monroe by surprise, who teaches history and civics at Dole Middle School. She had assumed Hillary Clinton would be elected.
“I thought we were going to have a historic first female president so I had planned to do an explanation of the women’s suffrage movement and the voting in America for women,” Monroe said. “Obviously that changed.”
Instead, Monroe and her class of seventh and eighth-graders watched the acceptance speech of Donald Trump.
“I asked them to look for certain things that we expect a leader to do, like congratulate his opponent and to tell the country that we’re going to come together as one. He certainly did that in his speech and the kids saw that,” Monroe explained. “Overall it was a lesson that the great thing about our country, as disappointing as the loss was for a lot of us, is that we can’t change everything quickly, but we can change.”
Back at University Laboratory School, 14-year-old Hayden shares some of his thoughts on the election and what’s to come.
“I’m excited to see where American politics go from here. This entire election cycle has set new benchmarks and new precedence for what can happen in a presidential race,” he said. “It makes me want to participate, just to have some kind of sway on whatever happens next.”
And by the next election cycle, ninth graders like Hayden will be able to vote.