November 9th, 2016. As is so common at this time of year, weather changes and busy schedules create teacher fatigue and weakened immune systems. As such, I stayed home today in my pajamas in order to get some much-needed rest.
Instead, I found myself glued to the CNN election coverage from the moment I woke up (at 5:00 a.m., like always–go figure). I was hanging on to the incoming results of each congressional district the same way I hung on to every pitch of World Series game seven last week. Unfortunately, today’s results didn’t provide me the feelings of relief and jubilation that I experienced for the Cubs. Rather, I sit here dismayed, sad, and wondering what I will say to my students tomorrow.
Regardless of one’s political affiliation, most Americans will agree that something needs to change in the way politics works in the USA. That sentiment is precisely what led to today’s outcome. People are angry, frustrated, and feel that their voices aren’t being heard.
But what do I say to those fifth graders I greet tomorrow morning? When we have our morning meeting where we share and laugh with each other, what will they want to talk about? I have a pretty good idea…but how do I respond?
During the results coverage, political commentator Van Jones asked, “How do I explain this to my children?” He is certainly not alone in seeking the answer. Like most teachers, I work to teach my students compassion and integrity. I guide them to respect and celebrate their differences, rather than frown upon them. I teach them to accept others, embrace mistakes and failures, and live by The Golden Rule. Their emotional growth and well-being, as well as their place in society, are just as important to me as their ability to multiply fractions…if not more so. But it’s not just me that feels this way; this is why so many of us became teachers. We don’t do it just to increase students’ knowledge–we do it to impact their lives and enhance their character.
And yet, here we are. The United States has just elected into power someone who has shown a pattern of bullying behaviors that we would never accept from even our youngest students. We have elected a person who has spoken unkindly of others based on physical appearances, gender, race and religion. A person who, time and time again, has demonstrated the opposite of the leadership qualities we hope to instill in our students.
So what do we do? Well, I am going to start by doing what I do every day: model the same values I aim to teach my students. I am going to treat all of my friends and colleagues with kindness and respect, even if they have different views than me. I am going to remain positive and believe that the world will keep moving forward, even when it might feel as though we’ve taken a giant step back. I am going to refrain from arguments with friends on social media. I will show my students how to demonstrate compassion, use kind words, and be empathetic. I will continue to teach them to question, argue, and defend their positions. Perhaps most importantly, I will teach them to listen to each other. It’s time we adults learn to do that as well.