Politics

Here's What Happened When Teachers Went Back to School After the Election

November 12th 2016

By:
Danielle DeCourcey

The political rhetoric on both sides of this hard fought presidential election led to passionate arguments and division among Americans. The national discourse affected children, along with adults, and some of those kids brought their fears and uncertainties to school. 

Teachers across the country played a special role for kids after the election of President-elect Donald Trump.

ATTN: talked to four teachers in different states about their experiences with students the day after Election Day. 

California 

School sign.

Melinda Mackenzie teaches kindergarten students in Southern California. Her students, who are roughly 91 percent low income and 99 percent Latino, were worried about future deportations and racism after Tuesday's election. 

"They were extremely cognizant of what was being said about Trump: the wall, deportations, and choosing white people over brown," the 26-year-old said. "They were confused and deeply [concerned] about their relatives."

During his presidential campaign, Trump called for a giant wall between the U.S.-Mexico border, which he wants Mexico to pay for, and he intends to have more deportations of undocumented immigrants. 

Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Trump had a "long record of engaging in racist behavior" in the first televised presidential debate in September. 

The day after the election, Mackenzie said she explained to students that the election won't change anything at school. 

"They wanted to know what would be different starting today, and if they would still be safe," she said. "I reassured them that our school will always be a safe and welcome place no matter who our leaders are."

Louisiana

Nancy Wohl is a high school teacher at a private all-girls school in the New Orleans area. The 56-year-old said that most of the students in her school are Trump supporters. 

"I work in Trump-land," she said. "There's very small diversity and a lot of wealthy parents."

Wohl's school had a mock election Tuesday where Trump won.

"The Trump kids, they acted like it was a football game," she said. "It was their team that won." 

After the presidential election results came in, some of the girls, including some students of color, were upset that a candidate who made misogynistic comments about women won. A controversial 2005 recording released in October featured Trump talking about grabbing women "by the p*ssy."

"When I got to work today, one of them was crying in the car," she said. "We met again at lunch and they were telling me what it was like to watch it on TV, and they hoped they could go to sleep and wake up and it would be a dream."

Massachusetts

School door that reads "Enter here to grow in wisdom."

Michelle Burgos is a Boston teacher and the majority of her fourth grade students are Latinos. 

When the 48-year-old came to work on Wednesday she said she talked to her students about their feelings in regards to the election results. She added that each child voiced a wide-range of fears based on things they overheard from their parents or the television.

"One little girl said, 'I'm struggling with the fact that people would vote for him knowing that he doesn't like people who look like me, and even worse I'm a girl'," said Burgos. "This is a dark-skinned Dominican girl." 

Other students were afraid that people in their family could be deported because they don't have "papers." She added that some of her students were afraid that the country would go to war and terrorists would bomb their homes. 

Burgos said there were only two instances in her career as a school teacher where she recalled teachers stopping the school day so that they could help the students emotionally. 

"The only times that we recall having to almost shut it down at school was 9/11 and the year that our principal and vice principal died within three days of each other," she said Tuesday. "Today was one of the only days where we felt like the kids were in triage."

Additionally, Boston Public Schools offered counseling to help students work through their feelings about the election. 

New York

New York school bus.

New York City drama teacher Najah Imani Muhammad instructs predominantly students of color, ages 5 to 9. The 24-year-old said that many of her students were emotional and confused after the election. 

"Some, most, students were visibly upset," she said. "A few were even confused at the outcome of the election." On election day, the teachers held a mock election for the students. 

"During our election assembly, it was announced that based off of the votes of everyone in our school, Hillary Clinton had won," said Muhammad. "All of our kids cheered and cheered, and some didn't realize that there would actually be a different outcome that evening."

School chairs.

Although students were upset after the election, it led to important conversations about respect and civics. 

"One student said, 'I think even though many people are mad, Donald Trump was voted our next president, so we should show him respect,'" she said. "This led to a conversation about how it's difficult to respect someone who you feel doesn't respect you."

Muhammad added that she was proud of the way her students handled their disappointment. 

"My students cried, and then they smiled and remembered that one person was not going to steal their light," she said. "My students vocalized their fear, and then went on to show their courage."

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