A teacher’s job, and we do so imperfectly, is to help students learn how to become productive and engaged members of society. To help them navigate through noise and opinion to truth, to help them learn to care for others.
America is hurting after this 2016 election and there is plenty of blame and bad feelings to go around. What concerns me most is that some 49% of the adults who could have voted didn’t. They choose not to. They Bartleby’d their way through the election, exercising their freedom to let others speak for them.
What can teachers do in this post-election environment filled with hate and hyperbole? I have 3 things to get you started. As for the rest of it, I think we are all going to have to work together.
Even if you are watching from outside the US, I think we all have to work together to help our students build a better future.
The First: Provide Safety
This is bigger than an ally sign or a safety pin, this is about setting norms for discourse in your class that protect students from abuse or attack.
All classrooms should strive to be safe and productive environments, it is one of the basic conditions needed to actually learn. Safety might have previously been a silent part of the fabric of your class. It is time to talk about safety and what you will do as the teacher to protect the students.
Set up norms that value every student and don’t compromise on them. Hear everything and engage in the hard conversations that come up.
Teach kids to value and take control of their own safety. Make sure they know what respect they all are due. Teach them how to stand up for the rights of others.
The Second: Get excited about Character Education
Does your school have a character education program? This isn’t about religion or politics or morality This is about teaching our kids to respect each other and engage in respectful discourse. This is about standing against hate, this is about building a more peaceful and empathic world.
In my early years of teaching I scoffed at the character education programs my school asked me to support. I saw them as just another external obligation handed to English and advisory teachers.
Now I see that years ago I declined an invitation to engage my high school students in a meaningful way about character. We did some good work, but I feel I really have left money on the table for years. We could have changed their world together. We didn’t.
Now as a Makerspace teacher I see character education, at my school we have our points of pride, as one of the few legitimate excuses I can use to talk to my kids about what kind of people they choose to be.
The Third: Get Hopeful and Get Working
Despair has no place in the classroom. While all the other adults in the world watch the news and see the hate, the protests, the violence and throw their hands in the air, we are writing lesson plans.
We are writing plans about critical reading, writing plans about evaluating sources. We are writing plans that lay bare the relationship between propaganda and social media. We are making plans to teach the world to care. We are learning about design thinking so we can empower our kids to fix that mess.
You may be disillusioned, that is okay. Eat a quart of ice-cream and then make a plan. Your action is the only thing that keeps disillusion from turning to despair.
At the end of a recent piece he wrote for the Washington post, Garrison Keller was speaking of 2 former teachers “They have seen it all and are still optimistic. The past year of politics has taught us nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada. The future is scary. Let the uneducated have their day, I am going to pay more attention to teachers.”
Find something you can do and do it. Make a puppet, record some llamas eating grass and produce your own propaganda for peace, tell a joke, hold a door. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
Leave a comment about what you will do and how you will help your students through this time.