Josh Leasure remembers when the Ohio neighborhood where he grew up was booming. It was a populous, middle-class area with plenty of jobs to go around. Someone like Leasure ― who now teaches at a nearby public high school ― wouldn’t have necessarily been one of the more affluent community members, like he is now.
The area’s fortune changed over the last two decades. The coal jobs that bolstered the community’s economy disappeared. Steel workers from local mills transferred to other locations, leaving their homes behind. The neighborhood where Leasure spent his teenage years is now filled with dilapidated homes sitting on lawns of overgrown grass.
But in President-elect Donald Trump, the social studies and special education teacher has seen a glimmer of hope that things could turn around. Even though Trump’s campaign meant that Leasure had to give his students an unfortunate lecture about using the word “pussy” and speak with them about how to treat people with disabilities, he staunchly supported the Republican nominee.
“I don’t know how he plans on doing it, but the idea that he thought he could make it happen sold me,” said Leasure, who is also involved in local politics. “I’m just hoping the economy comes around, at least in my area. It doesn’t help me if factories go somewhere else.”
Leasure stands out from the groups of teachers who have spoken out against Trump after seeing an uptick in racially charged school bullying during his campaign. He also stands apart from the nation’s two largest teachers unions, which endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and have called on the president-elect to denounce hate crimes carried out since the election.
“I don’t know how he plans on doing it, but the idea that he thought he could make it happen sold me.”
Leasure doesn’t endorse all of Trump’s plans when it comes to education. He appreciates that Trump has spoken about dismantling the Common Core State Standards ― a set of education benchmarks that have been adopted by states and promoted by the Obama administration ― but doesn’t think charter schools and school choice, which Trump has supported, will necessarily help the education system.
In general, economic issues were what drove Leasure’s vote, and he could easily flip to the other side if Trump doesn’t deliver on his promises to bring back industry.
“In eight years, I might vote Democrat,” he said. “If it’s the same, then I’m going the other way.”
Mark Fratella, a middle school teacher in Illinois, has been with Trump since the beginning of the business mogul’s campaign. He also served as an elected delegate during the Republican National Convention.
Fratella is attracted to many of Trump’s policy proposals, and looks forward to seeing how the president-elect addresses education ― which was not a focal point of his campaign.
The suburban public school teacher hopes Trump will work on “getting rid of Common Core and returning the curriculum development back to the states.” He also hopes Trump will pick an education secretary who favors school choice, as “there’s no sense for a child to be essentially trapped at a failing school in the inner city.”
Fratella is a science teacher who believes that human activity has contributed to climate change, but says he will “leave [it] to the experts” to determine how much. Trump has waffled on his opinions in this area, but Fratella is confident that he will make good decisions.
“He’s not ideological. I think he’s more pragmatic, and he’s going to look at both sides of a situation and decide what’s best for America,” said Fratella, who worked with the Trump campaign to organize educators in the state. “That’s one thing I do like about him. He does put America first, and he is looking to see what’s best as far as climate change goes ― what’s best for American interests.”
Fratella hasn’t see any evidence that Trump’s campaign has caused an increase in school bullying, and thinks that maybe “the media has played a lot of it up.” In fact, he thinks students who support Trump have been demonized.
“That sort of undertone of racism or labeling people has always been there. At the high school and middle school, it’s there.”
Rebekah McClung, an eighth-grade civics and economics teacher in Virginia, has been a fan of Trump for years, although she supported Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the Republican primary. She likes Trump’s “candor” and emphasis on school choice, and appreciates his promises to “drain the swamp” in Washington.
Like Fratella, she said she hasn’t seen any racially charged bullying since the election. She lives in a rural area where “there’s always been racial undercurrents.”
“In rural America, I don’t think there’s a rise, I think it’s just the same cliques that have always existed,” McClung said. “That sort of undertone of racism or labeling people has always been there, it’s always been there. At the high school and middle school, it’s there ― they’re kids and they’re trying to figure out who they are and who they fit in with.”
McClung used to teach world history, which meant to spoke with students about major religions. “I just remember some of them still having a hard time learning about Islam” about a decade ago, she said. She doesn’t think Trump winning the election has exacerbated these tensions.
Instead, McClung said, she has heard instances of pro-Trump students getting bullied.
“I have seen and heard more of the opposite ― like people didn’t support Trump so they’re now just aggressive and mean to the other people,” McClung said.
Rebecca Klein covers the challenges faced in school discipline, school segregation and the achievement gap in K-12 education. In particular, she is drilling down into the programs and innovations that are trying to solve these problems. Tips? Email: Rebecca.Klein@huffingtonpost.com.