Grieving with my students


Last night, my stamina ran out at 1 am, after watching the count in Pennsylvania move from a 3,000 vote margin to a 2,000 vote margin back to a 35,000 margin.  I slept fitfully, and when my husband came to bed without waking me (presumably to share good news), I knew even in my sleep, that Hillary, and the rest of us, lost the election.   I somehow got myself out of the house on time – 6:10 am – but  once on the bus, felt the tears welling up.  When I got to school, I made it to my office and broke down.  How would I get through the day?  I went to twitter for support and help.  screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-10-11-56-am

It helped to hear warm voices, even virtually.

I took my cue from the wonderful Heather Kohn.screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-10-13-23-am

I already had a Desmos activity planned (thank you Mary Bourassa!), so I began each of my classes by telling students that I wanted to open the floor for conversation, but if they didn’t want to talk, they had the option of working through a Quadratic Transformations activity.  Laying out a few ground rules (one mic, safe space), I opened the floor.  And they talked.  Sadly.  Intelligently.  Asked questions of me.  Before I started the discussion, I had to step out into the hallway, because although I wanted my students to understand how deeply upset I was, I felt that crying in front of them at the outset would not set the needed tone.  I want to create a space for them share and ask safely, but ultimately to realize that we are not completely disenfranchised (despite appearances to the contrary) – that we have the power to speak up, to use any privilege we have to fight racism, Islamophobia, and other forms of discrimination, to make sure all voices are heard.

These were some of the fears – heartbreaking – that were surfaced.

  • From a Muslim girl: My mother told my brothers they had to shave.
  • From a Muslim boy: Can he make us wear identity badges?
  • Another male student: I’m Latino, and I can’t understand why 37% of Latinos voted for him. I’m angry at them.
  • A student whose parents were born in Mexico: I’m okay but my parents are undocumented.  I’m worried about them.
  • A boy from Trinidad: I’m going to be deported tomorrow.

I tried to allay fears where I could – I told the boy who feared id badges, that if he had to wear one, then we all could wear them in solidarity.  I wasn’t sure to say to the kids who are afraid of deportation, but I told them I was fairly certain that it wasn’t imminent.  I wanted to answer responsibly, but their pain and sadness was hard to see.

For the most part the conversations were thoughtful, heartfelt, and reasonable.  In one class, Planned Parenthood funding and reproductive rights came up and things quickly in another direction.  I explicitly steered the talk back to the election, not ready (or feeling sufficiently prepared) to engage with that topic.

There were students who were visibly shaken, had clearly been crying, and even when not participating, were taking in every word of what I hope was helpful in some sense.  I tried very hard to keep my own opinions moderately and infrequently voiced, which was not always easy.  One girl, even though unhappy with the outcome, said “Well, you know Hillary was a crook and should be in jail, so it’s not really a surprise that she lost.”  I pressed her for the nature of Hillary’s crimes, and was told “the Wall Street Journal says so, she stole a lot of money and she stole half the White House.”  I asked the student what that meant – to steal half the White House, but the girl couldn’t answer.   I told her I respected her right to her opinion, but she needed to make sure she had facts before accusing someone of a crime.

Kianna in my 5th period said “We can’t just give up.  We need to stand up for what’s right.  We’re not done for, and we need to keep protesting and speaking up.  Just being negative screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-10-10-20-amwon’t get us anywhere.”  I could’ve kissed her.  And I reminded the kids that 50% of the population didn’t vote for Trump.

In my last class, there were a few dicey moments – when two boys began baiting some of the students who expressed fears about being undocumented, or when another student told the boy sitting next to him “Go back to Mexico!”.  These last two were allegedly kidding around, but I wonder how much true feeling was in that jibe.  I hope not too much.

I’m almost ready to go home, still feeling like a truck hit me, physically and emotionally.  I just read the concession email that Hillary sent out, which put me back into the tears I began the day with.  But I’m proud of my students for discussing something so painful in such a respectful manner, and I’m proud that my classroom became a safe space for all of them.  And I’m going to try to keep what Kianna said in mind. Going to try.






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