I’m going to lay it straight to you that I’m not a fan of Trump. I’m a US citizen who grew up in the Deep South as a marginalized, non-white female (read part of my complex personal story here). There are many things about Trump’s show persona that detest me, but especially his open hate comments meant to hurt and stir up divisiveness. But now he’s been elected, and the time before January 2017 feels to many like a wake for the United States. Others feel as though it’s time to party like it’s 1999.
We can easily see the whole world has been watching the US elections, and many global citizens are in shock. More than likely your students have parents who don’t know how to explain what’s just happened, but you, as a teacher, need to be able to help young minds navigate through this heavy issue.
This is incredibly important for teachers to do since good mental health is key to successful learning. “Anxiety is a blocker to learning,” I recently learned from Barry Champan at Dulwich College Beijing’s recent Additional Educational Needs Conference.
First, get the help of your school counselor. Did you know that humans could grieve over the loss of a job; the loss of friendships; the loss of dreams; the loss of anything? Many are now grieving over this election. Counselors are trained professionals in the area of grief management, and older students might also grieve over what’s happened. Younger children are in view of their parents’ grief and will also need help to understand strong reactions.
If your school doesn’t have a counselor, understand that when people grieve they are angry, sad, shocked, and sometimes depressed. Moods can swing quickly or burn slowly. Here are further resources for this topic:
Second, for now, put away your personal beliefs. There are students and parents who support Trump, and students and parents who absolutely abhor him. I don’t know where you stand, but during a time of confusion and grief, it’s important for authority figures in young lives to put away bias and simply listen to help with processing. The plus, minuses, and drama of a Trump presidency can be saved for a discussion of a later date.
Thirdly, help students use respectful language. If you are brave enough to open up discussion as a class because you believe your students to be mature enough to handle such a difficult topic, give them tools.
Instruct them to start sentences with:
I am angry because _____.
I can respect what _______ has said, but I disagree because _____.
I am afraid because ______.
I wished that ______, but now I’m unsure because _____.
I’m sad because ______.
Instruct them to avoid sentences that being with:
(Other classmate’s name) ______.
People are _______.
I can’t believe _____.
Alternatively, if you feel students are not able to discuss this as a group, call students to your desk one by one. If you feel highly emotional about this, make sure to give yourself time to process and also to instruct students to use respectful language.
Here are further resources for talking with students about difficult topics from which you may be able to glean great ideas for your classroom discussion:
Above all, stay calm. With recent news breaking about the popular vote leaning in Clinton’s favor and the Electoral College leaning in Trump’s favor, the fight for the presidency may not be over.