A teacher explains the Trump effect and how to defeat it after Election Day

This is a guest post by a Michigan teacher with ties to Chicago schools.

I need help. I’ve needed it for a year now. I am just now asking. I have committed the cardinal rule I drill into my students’ minds at the beginning of the school year: “If you need help, ask someone! They can probably help you!”

I needed help.  I never asked. I am asking now.

I am an educator. I’m not just a teacher, I’m an educator.  I educate. I educate students (145 9th grade students, to be exact) on a daily basis and while that education might deal with grammar and spelling, editing essays and analyzing works for motif, more often than not, educating means looking at the whole child in front of me and determining what he/she needs that day.  

Education, really, is not about teaching the skills of reading and writing, it’s about the skills of being human, being kind, being thoughtful, being willing to trust, being altruistic and, perhaps most importantly, being able to admit when one needs help.

I need help. I’ve needed it for so long that I feel embarrassed to ask now. Because truthfully, it’s way too late. I’ve stayed silent way too long.

See, I needed help in December when a student was asked to pick some trash up off the floor with me after a game in the classroom, and he muttered, “As soon as Donald Trump gets elected, all those dirty Mexicans can do this.”  I stayed silent.

I needed help in January when a girl came to me in tears, telling me how her tablemates had told her she needed to go back to Mexico, “where she came from” and “shouldn’t have come here in the first place” (For the record, she is a documented citizen who was born in the United States to parents who are also citizens and believe so strongly in her right to get an education that there are times I have to remind them that an A- is acceptable). I stayed silent.

I needed help in February when a student told me she supported Donald Trump because he, “would build a wall and send all these brown kids back” while her tablemates, both documented immigrants, sat with wide eyes, looking on.  I stayed silent.

I needed help in June after the Pulse Nightclub shooting occurred and 49 lives were struck from the earth by a man wielding an automatic weapon, a heart of hatred, and a fear of the unknown, but the NRA continued to pump dollar after dollar into the GOP nominating race. I stayed silent.

I needed help in July when we learned that a man with 3 currently pending rape charges against him was nominated to be the Republican candidate for President in 2016. I stayed silent.

I needed help in September when I returned to a classroom divided 50/50 into little Trump-ites and little Clinton-ites who were waiting to discuss the election and use their voices. I stayed silent.

I needed help when my principal sent an email 2 weeks into the school year reminding us to “remain neutral” in the election, but giving us, as educators, no instructions on how to handle it when a student turned hate language into campaign language, justifying every bullying remark with, “But Donald Trump said it!” I stayed silent.

I needed help when a student told me that, “Not everyone should have access to college, and Hillary wants to give it to people who don’t deserve it.” When I asked what that meant by “don’t deserve it”, she said, “Trump will make sure only people like me can attend college.” She didn’t need to say it, but what she meant was, “white people like me.” I stayed silent.

I needed help when allegations of sexual assault came out in October and my female students sat in my classroom and begged me to tell them if I thought that was or was not appropriate for a potential President to say, and all I could say was, “I can’t be political.” I stayed silent.

I needed help yesterday morning when I pulled into the school at 5:45am, one of the first cars in the lot, to see a giant Trump for President sign draped over the roof of the school, clearly a prank, but also sending a message loud and clear: “This is Trump territory and you better be afraid.” I stayed silent.

I need help. I am begging for it.

“The Trump Effect” has been coined by the media as a trackable psychological effect and increase in bullying by school age children across the country since Donald Trump began his campaign.

I am here to tell you, the Trump Effect is not a myth; it is a stark and terrifying reality. It happens on a second by second basis in my classroom with Honors level students from supportive, thoughtful, “good families.”

These are students who show up early, hold doors for teachers in the hallways, and never complain about school. These are students who ask about my weekend and bring me chocolate on Halloween.  These are kids who laugh when I dress as President Garfield for a Book Talk, or put their names on long waiting lists for the newest YA fiction. These kids who work hard. They never ask, “Do we HAVE to do this?” but instead say things like, “That was a great class today, Ms. A. Thanks!” They do all their homework. They stay after school for fun.  

They are bullies.  

They bully immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, women, the disabled. They bully each other. They do not even realize they are doing it.  I swear to you. They do not even realize it.  They use hate language and they qualify every nasty word, hurtful look, inappropriate comment with, “But Donald Trump said it.” They use him as their reasoning.  It is real. I see it happen every day. I stay silent.

I have been teaching for 13 years. I hold my classroom culture to be one of the most important aspects of my teaching and what makes me a great educator. I talk to students about the value of a safe classroom.  I kick kids out who mutter “fag” by accident simply because their dad has said it for years. I have students who text me when they have no place to go because their mom got drunk and accidently locked them out of the house when she passed out.  I mail books and journals to students who move overseas with their families.

I create space for students to discuss and dialogue about real issues. I value their voices.

I trust their voices.

After this election cycle, I no longer trust their voices.  I no longer trust my voice. I have stayed silent too long.

I needed help. I needed help in December, January, February, June, September, October. I need help today, the day our country goes to the polls and decides if we honor disrespect and hate and bullying and vitriol more than we value diversity and love and kindness and hope.  

I need help. I need to be provided with the tools that show my students in the end, love always will win. Hope always will triumph. Hate is the weak man’s sword. Fear is the weapon of the oppressor.

I can’t be told to remain neutral. I needed help.  I should not have stayed silent.  I am just as bad as the bullies. Yet, here I am. Asking now for help. Reaching out to those who see this divide and this fear in our classrooms and who are as defeated as I, as heartbroken as I, and as scared as I; I have to believe that there is hope, there is a reason for all of this.

There must be something that we can learn from these stories and these moments and this struggles of the past 12 months.  Perhaps it’s that we as teachers are here to educate, to remind our kids that life is so much more than the four walls of a classroom, or a broken middle school friendship or an abusive home.  

Life is more than the father who tells you you aren’t good enough, or the kid who whispers taunts as you pass his locker each day.

Life is about learning and reaching and asking and trying and failing, and then picking yourself up and doing it again.  

How can we turn this election cycle of insanity into a cycle of empowerment? Perhaps it’s by simply starting the conversation on Wednesday, regardless of the election outcome, and starting with the question, “Have you ever needed help? Did you ask for it? Did you get it?”

I bet a lot of our kids have needed help and a lot of them no longer wish to remain silent.

Thank you to the Michigan teacher with Chicago ties who reached out to me with this guest blog post.

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