When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, teachers in Washington and across the country were first responders to students' concerns and fears, as well as their elation — moderating real-time political debates.
(TNS) — When a teacher asks
On Wednesday, the
Why? It's hard to focus on tests in AP Spanish and AP
Kirkpatrick barreled into Wednesday with as much energy as she could muster after staying up until
Four years ago, when
Educators who teach in schools where there is a large concentration of immigrant students said it was an emotional time, with students seeking a sense of safety.
"I've never seen anything like that in my life. Students were completely traumatized," said
Now, the job is even harder: Educators must teach the complicated facts of a nail-biter election, where realities are constantly changing. At the same time, due to the COVID-19 closures, they have to engage their students from a distance — often without even seeing their faces. Many teachers have fewer minutes of live instruction with students than they would in a classroom setting, giving them less time for open-ended discussions.
Students are left to make sense of the world's vicissitudes from their own homes, separated from their classmates.
"One of the biggest things for us, juniors and seniors, this could determine whether we ever get back to school before we graduate high school because of how the pandemic's going to be handled," said
Before this election, Gamboa said she tried to "prepare our students mentally and emotionally for not having a result" immediately. She also worked with them on self-care: On Monday, she gave students tips to avoid election night whiplash. Maybe turn the TV off, she suggested. Do a workout, find people you trust to text. Shut off your laptop, eat and "get enough water in your body."
This year, Gamboa said, her preparation paid off. While the distance was challenging, students were engaged, asking questions about
Helping students — without seeing their faces
It's a bummer, he said, because he focuses his first few weeks on building community so that students are comfortable talking openly and vulnerably about sensitive topics later on. That was much harder online. To get them engaged, he organizes them into smaller groups in the afternoons.
Leading up to the election, Zeichner, who is in his 17th year teaching in
His students predicted the outcome, and their projections were pretty close. "My goal was for my students to understand all the possibilities," he said, "so that there would be not too much confusion and shock." Distance learning, he said, has made him a few weeks behind where he usually is: Typically, there'd be 235 minutes of live instruction a week; now, there are just 100.
There was no live class Wednesday, but Zeichner invited history students to an optional video conference call at
Learning from afar
Luckily for teachers, the election has absorbed the attention of high school students, many of whom are just at the cusp of voting age.
Khanal, a student journalist, processed the election by following the data. Her family is from
Her history classes focused on the structure of government, "allowing us to formulate our own opinions," she said. The sophomore class ran a mock election. Social studies teachers took questions. It's hard to break through the structure of online school, she said, when classes are only 25 minutes long.
"As a Black person in America, my rights are at stake," Kirkpatrick said, reflecting on President
For Kirkpatrick, there were ups and downs of being remote. She experienced the 2020 election without the built-in support network of her classmates. "Now I have to text them, which is kind of weird," she said.
The distance also made it hard to know what people are thinking: "Usually, you can read a room and see if students are engaged," she said.
On the bright side, being at home sometimes feels safer. She said there have been some racist incidents at her school. "This way, I don't have to walk in and feel like I have a target on my back," she said. "I give speeches, I'm an equity rep, I'm very vocal. I'm glad I don't have to walk in and face it."
Teachers as first responders and fact-checkers
Classroom conversations about politics can get messy, but Zeichner views them as his responsibility. "If we avoid the topic, we're doing a disservice to democracy," he said. "We're helping students understand the events unfolding around them, and can't stop teaching because a topic is too difficult to talk about."
Of course, context matters — and sometimes, the technology amplifies it.
Her school is high-poverty, with 82% of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, a higher rate than the overall
On Tuesday, as she mentioned communism in
Another time, during a discussion about the electoral college, a student left an offensive comment about Biden in the chat box. McGibbon took a screenshot and sent it to him and his mom, saying it was inappropriate. "I didn't hear anything back," she said.
No matter the setup, teachers can encourage future voters. McGibbon recalled a set of Latina twins who were inspired by a class speaker to register to vote. They graduated, and were old enough to vote in 2020.
But before they could cast a ballot, their father was deported. McGibbon wanted to make sure they followed through, so she reached out to their caretaker.
"I said, 'Did they vote?'" McGibbon asked.
The answer: Yes, and for one of them, "all she does is talk about the issues."
(c)2020 The Seattle Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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