Every morning, I open my classroom door with the hope that my students are ready to learn ― and navigate this big bold world with me.
I scurry to turn on the lights, chug my coffee, and mentally prepare for a space full of raging adolescent hormones and unpredictable commentary for the next six hours and 25 minutes straight.
Florescent Post-it notes line the corners of my computer station, reminding me to check in with certain students throughout the day. Did they eat breakfast? Did he sleep on the floor, a couch, or a bed? Did she get her homework done while watching her siblings all night?
And I’ll be honest, some days are incredibly daunting; I may hit the snooze button four times instead of three, waking up with my insides still knotted together after reading a round of heavyhearted journal entries the night before.
My classroom demographics aren’t exactly what you would see on the average. I am an English teacher at an international public school, therefore I have the honor and privilege to learn about other cultures, ultimately fostering a deeper level of understanding ― while teaching me that there’s more than one way of doing something.
Some of my students are a part of the LGBTQ community, some of my students are homeless, some are immigrants from war torn countries, and some have witnessed a parent forcibly ripped from their home and deported.
Their stories are real — and their stories are fundamentally valuable. And as I attempt to analyze our purpose each day, I can only hope that the human beings in my classroom absorb my sincere efforts as an educator — and fellow human being.
This year has been different. The classroom discourse has been difficult to navigate due to the startlingly divisive rhetoric that continues to explode inside of living rooms and into the minds of our future generations during this election cycle.
I’ve tried my best to maintain a composed and unbiased environment while discussing both presidential campaigns, specifically Donald Trump’s campaign … and its weight on the world.
But my students have opinions. And while they’re not of legal age to vote, they’re angry and confused — and scared.
They’re asking questions from a place of fear and shock, pushing me to address whatever had been carelessly spewed the evening before. You’re not “nasty,” you’re brave and powerful. You’re not unwelcome, you’re a part of our society and I see you. You’re not a “thug,” you’re really smart and hard working and your life matters. You’re not a threat, you’re funny and caring and I love the way you dedicate yourself to what you believe in. You’re not wrong for feeling the way you feel. Speak your truth. I hear you.
The day after our last presidential debate was a struggle. One of my hilariously animated students came in visibly troubled.
“What’s happening?” he asked in a flat, concerned manner, his eyes wide and his posture stiff. “You can’t possibly be voting for him, right?”
The class fell silent and every eye was on me. My heart pumped a thousand beats as I looked around the room and then down at my Post-its, knowing they were waiting for me to respond.
All of their lingering fears and private uncertainties moved to the forefront of my brain as I quickly thought about their place in the world — and those who have the audacity to try and cast a shadow over their humanity.
The understanding of my position couldn’t have been clearer: I am not to impose my political beliefs, or attempt to sway one’s opinion. But as I looked around the room, slowly making eye contact with each and every student, I thought about who I am as a woman in today’s society and what I choose to put out into the world. How I carry myself and respond to students’ questions — and personal needs, is extremely important to me.
Their trust and respect matter greatly, therefore I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them think that I would ever support such despicable, dangerously ignorant rhetoric and think that it’s OK.
So I moved to the front of my classroom, struck by the seriousness of my students’ dispositions, and spoke my own truth: “I will not be known as an individual who supports this behavior, therefore my answer is no, I will not be voting for Donald Trump for president of the United States.”
Within seconds — and to my surprise — my heart pumped a thousand more beats as a loud, enduring round of applause filled our classroom. Some students stood to their feet while others whistled in unison, rendering me speechless.
It was a moment I’ll never forget, showing me yet again, what matters most. Future generations are listening — and they have every right to be concerned. I know I am.