What I told my students after the election
There are lots of reasons to remain hopeful
ONE OF THE biggest things that kept me awake on Tuesday night was how I would help my eighth grade civics class process this election, especially since I spent Tuesday’s class reviewing the Electoral College and showing them projections from fivethirtyeight.com. After the results came in on Tuesday, I thought Wednesday was going to be one of my worst days in the classroom. I had no idea what I was going to say to my students. I expected a lot of empty seats and quiet hallways.
Instead, I had one of my best days of teaching. For the first time in my career, I became emotional in front of my students. Not because of my own feelings about the election, but because I was standing in front of one of the most diverse classrooms in America, in front of students who witnessed one of the ugliest elections in history, who have seen their identities as immigrants and women and Muslims and Jews and Christians and LGBTQ and African-Americans and Asians and Latinos and whites cynically pitted against each other by political opportunists, and yet they were ready to listen to me and listen to each other.
We talked about how wrong the polls were, and they did not blame me for sharing some bad predictions. I remarked on the high turnout numbers for the mock presidential election we ran for the eighth grade. I told them how proud I was of them for voting, for being good people who represented hope for this country moving forward, and then I broke down.
With a big grin on my face, I told them they better not let anybody else in the eighth grade know I got teary eyed because all teachers know how fast things travel around the school. Later in the day, I had some former students who heard that “I cried” visit me and ask if I was okay. They reminded me of what I always preach to my class…we have a strong democracy with strong institutions and constitutional checks on power. They picked me up when I doubted those institutions myself.
I think we can all learn from the resilience and the open mindedness my students demonstrated the day after the election. I was completely repulsed by the ugly campaign tactics of this election, but I personally know Trump supporters.
I understand now that Trump represents a message of their clear frustration with the direction of this country, the feeling that no one is really listening to them, and the condescension of the establishment.
If you voted for Trump, I hope the economic issues you feel have been ignored for too long are addressed by our government. But I also hope you remember that getting what you want politically should never be about revenge, lashing out, marginalizing others, or playing identity politics as your candidate has done time and time again. If these tactics continue, every single one of us will lose in this country. We will end up worse than where we started. With great power comes great responsibility.
If you have felt written off by the media and the establishment, think about my students. Many of them are students of color, biracial students, children of immigrants, or immigrants themselves. Think about how written off my students have been by the nasty rhetoric of this campaign. My students represent the very best of what America symbolizes and what it will become. I will always be their biggest fan and fiercest supporter, and so will millions of other people across this country.I’m ready to move forward, my students are ready to move forward, and I hope you are ready to move forward. My hand is extended. I hope yours is as well.
Justin Norton teaches eighth grade humanities at the Boston Latin Academy. He is a Teach Plus teaching policy fellow.