According to the Teaching Tolerance report The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools, nearly 40 percent of the 2,000 teachers who responded to TT’s election survey are hesitant to teach about the election. Some educators cite concerns about the students who fear being ostracized or even deported if certain candidates win. Other teachers don’t know how to handle the fact that students are repeating the hate-filled language they hear from candidates’ speeches and social media posts. Still other teachers, like me, feel they must discuss this election with students.
Here are a two of the strategies I have used to teach students the skills to decode what is being said. Focusing on these skills has helped my students come to realizations all their own. Kids who were enjoying the excitement that comes with blaming and bullying have pumped the brakes and thought a little more carefully.
Talk with students about “they” and “them.”
The use of “they” is a favorite campaign tactic. Candidates are making statements about what “they” do, how “they” are hurting our country. Sometimes “they” are Muslims. Sometimes “they” are women. Sometimes “they” are a particular minority or ethnicity. Sometimes “they” are the poor; sometimes “they” are the rich.
One quick exercise is to have students scan through the Twitter feeds of various candidates and count the number of times third-person pronouns are used. Have them search for those words in speeches and debates as well. Which groups are being replaced and generalized most frequently in their statements?
Talk about the use of stereotypes and what happens when you categorize an entire group of people with such a broad brush. Ask students to do a little research and find examples of individuals who are from that larger group but do not embody the characteristic being attributed to all of “them.”
You need not do a lot of editorializing, as these patterns begin to speak for themselves.
Conduct formal debates in class.
Assign teams of two or more to opposing sides of the topics most frequently discussed in the campaign. Using a formal debate structure with constructive speeches, cross-examination and rebuttals makes students go through the process of researching the topic, formulating opinions and engaging in civil discourse.
My seniors just finished doing this, and the results were outstanding. Students claiming immigrants were bad for our economy had to provide statistics to support that claim, which they found tricky. The opposition arguing for the economic benefit these workers bring to our country also needed support. They found a great deal.
One of the greatest benefits came from the direct nature of cross-examination. Showing students a couple of clips from presidential debates—clips of candidates rolling their eyes as an opponent spoke or displaying body language that was aggressive or disrespectful—can provide a master class in how not to behave when the goal is an exchange of ideas.
We often stopped the questioning to discuss how to better phrase a question or response. We talked about the need to root responses in fact rather than opinion. We talked about the need to call out the opposition on empty and inflammatory rhetoric rather than simply throwing back your own.
Students may be susceptible to some of the biased language they're hearing from presidential candidates, but teachers are in a position to show them a better path.
Knoll is a writer and English teacher at public school in New Jersey.
We’ve talked a lot about how easy it is to use Perspectives for a Diverse America, our K–12 anti-bias curriculum, to meet the diverse learning needs of your classroom. But we can show you better than we can tell you: Watch our new explainer video for a breakdown of why Perspectives should be part of your summer planning.
In just seven minutes, you can learn how to get the most out of our curriculum. Want more? Take a look at this page that is chock-full of other tips and tricks on how to customize Perspectives to your—and your students’—advantage.
Editor’s note: This blog is the final installment in a three-part series that looks at how mentoring can support beginning teachers in cultivating excellence with equity. Find the first part here and second part here.
My previous blog in this “Excellence With Equity” series addresses how new-educator mentors can help beginning teachers develop their strengths in culturally and linguistically responsive practices. This blog focuses on expanding early-career teachers’ critical lens toward advocacy for students and their professional agency in rerouting the school-to-prison pipeline.
Student engagement and student behavior are major topics of conversation with beginning teachers. Our discussions build on the work we have already done:
- identifying strengths and assets;
- understanding how our lived experiences shape our expectations and biases;
- and developing a culturally and linguistically responsive practice.
Once we establish this foundation, we can talk about adopting a social justice lens when issues of disengagement and behavior arise.
As part of our local university’s common reading program, people from all over the area—students, faculty, staff, community members and even members of our local police departments—are reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. We’re also discussing how our community can come together and work toward resolving social justice issues. Of particular concern are the disproportionate rates of arrest and incarceration for African-American males (adults and youth) and what we can do to address this phenomenon in a systemic way.
To bring this conversation into our school district, staff in our central office are also reading Just Mercy and engaging in professional learning to take action around implications for our work with staff and students. Mentors, specifically, are working to support beginning teachers in understanding and interacting with students according to the expectations outlined in our district’s new Behavior Education Plan. We are also actively working with early-career educators to develop their restorative approaches to behavior issues.
I have worked with beginning teachers to help them understand students on a more personal—and holistic—level, helping them interpret certain behaviors as means by which students communicate their unmet needs. Together, each mentee and I plan conversations with the student in question or family members, other school support staff or community liaisons. These conversations help paint a bigger picture of the student and aid with designing a plan that works.
Through this process of positive behavior support, I have watched beginning teachers build amazing relationships with students and reengage them in their learning. The important step was for the new educator to have a private conversation with the student, conveying a non-judgmental observation of the behavior in question, asking the student to explain her perspective and then collaborating with the student to make a plan for how to best support her.
In other cases, I have worked with beginning teachers to incorporate restorative justice circles in their classrooms to address students’ needs to express themselves and solve their own problems in collaborative, non-judgmental ways. Other new educators have sought out extra resources and are practicing mindfulness strategies in the classroom with students.
The rationale for all these practices is to teach educators behaviors and self-management strategies that replace the types of knee-jerk reactions that push students out of school and into the prison pipeline. To help beginning teachers understand the pipeline and the implications of the shift from punitive to restorative approaches to behavior, I have found Teaching Tolerance’s “A Teacher’s Guide to Rerouting the Pipeline” to be very useful. In mentoring conversations, this guide has helped me focus a beginning teacher’s attention to one shift at a time—there are five shifts—in terms of how she interprets and addresses behavior issues in the classroom.
Guiding beginning teachers to make that shift from punitive to restorative behavior approaches is perhaps the most challenging part, mainly because behavior is such an emotionally charged issue. Mentoring facilitates the early-career educators’ thinking and provides a calm, rational space for them to objectively assess a situation, reframe their thinking and plan new routes for teaching and addressing student behavior.
By making this final key shift and intentionally drawing students into their learning, instead of removing them from class, beginning teachers are able to build critical pathways that reroute students away from cycles of punishment and toward promising, successful futures. By facilitating this shift for beginning teachers across the district, mentors are helping to cultivate excellence with equity that will have a lasting, positive impact for everyone.
Berg is a new-educator mentor in Madison, Wisconsin.
The end of the school year is swiftly approaching! Our webinars for May and June offer tips for summer self care and give you some planning ideas for next school year.
Tuesday, May 17, 4:30 p.m. CDT
Intersectionality has become a buzzword in education, but what does it mean and why is it important in schools? Our students have multiple identities; for many, the converging identities make them more vulnerable to discrimination and oppression. Understanding how identities like race, gender, class, sexual orientation and ability intersect can help educators better educate and support all students.
This webinar will help participants understand intersectionality and offer strategies for putting knowledge into practice. Our special guest will be Jennifer Coco, a senior staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose work centers on educational advocacy, particularly around halting the school-to-prison pipeline.
Tuesday, May 31, 4:30 p.m. CDT
Summer is almost here! It’s a perfect time to relax and recover from the school year—and to enrich your knowledge, pedagogy and practice.
This webinar highlights recovery techniques from two Teaching Tolerance feature stories: “I thought about quitting today …” and “Healing From Moral Injury.” Participants will gain relaxation strategies, planning tips for next year and ways to fill their “compassion tanks” over the break. Join us and give back to yourself! You deserve it.
Tuesday, June 7, 4:30 p.m. CDT
Religious freedom and religious exemptions are hot news topics these days—and they’re deeply tied to U.S. history and landmark Supreme Court cases. These cases and related legislation allow us to study the history of religious freedom from a legal perspective. That’s where this webinar comes in!
We’ll demonstrate classroom activities to engage students in understanding primary sources, recognizing patterns and trends across time, and evaluating how some religious freedom claims contribute to the backlash against the advancement of LGBT rights. Join us and special guest David Dinielli, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s LGBT Rights Project, for this important conversation.
Bluegrass Momma: "[Poor kids] don't learn differently, but they do need different things. They need teachers like me who share our experiences, who speak of our own poverty openly and without shame. They need to see that being poor does not make you inferior or stupid. They need to see how much we love and value our families, value the lessons poverty can teach you, even if we're relieved to no longer have to struggle the same way we once did."
Education Week: "The Stanford Education Data Archive, a massive new database that allows researchers to compare school districts across state lines has led to the unwelcome finding that racial achievement gaps yawn in nearly every district in the country—and the districts with the most resources in place to serve all students frequently have the worst inequities."
The Huffington Post: "As our country grapples with the devastation wrought by the 'three strikes' sentencing legislation, harsh drug sentencing laws and other disastrous 'tough on crime' policies of the past few decades, the effects on the innocent children trampled in the wake are too often ignored."
The Huffington Post: "External beauty now requires more validation than ever, and that is the reason for why skin tone inequality operates so successfully. This devaluation of the deeper business of feeling beautiful and worthy has also come to surface in public dialogue about the new form of racism: colorblindness."
The Jose Vilson: "Terrible, terrible events happened within the walls of boarding schools to rid Indigenous people of their language, ceremonies, traditions and beliefs in hopes that they would become 'civilized,' a.k.a. White."
Los Angeles Times: "What most people don’t understand is that many Spanish speakers in the U.S. are also bilingual. So when you hear someone speaking Spanish that doesn’t mean that they don’t speak English."
MIC: "'If we continue buying and selling products that use Native designs but don't support Native artists, we're perpetuating cultural appropriation.'"
National Public Radio: "'Any time a principal who is entrusted with the public trust to make sure their work is for the benefit of the children is instead diverting money for their own personal profit, it is egregious conduct.'"
The New Yorker: "Things get especially complicated when interrogations take place in school, where students have fewer legal rights than in a police station. School officials do not need a warrant or probable cause to search a student’s locker or backpack, nor are they required to give a Miranda warning prior to an interrogation, no matter how severe the offense."
Think Progress: "Universal College Application announced on Monday that it would change its question about a prospective student’s sex and include a gender identity question — so instead of 'sex,' students will see 'legal sex' and the options 'male' and 'female.' The application also lets students opt to answer a question about gender identity, with the options, 'woman,' 'man,' and 'self-identify.'"
U.S. Department of Education: "'We need to help ensure formerly incarcerated young people and adults can return to their communities successfully. We need a community working together to provide job training, social and emotional support and a concerted effort to ensure success.'"
If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to email@example.com , and put "What We’re Reading This Week" in the subject line.