by Félix Pérez; feature image courtesy of Joe Catron
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The first step in addressing student fear and anxiety resulting from the election of Donald Trump is listening, even if it means setting aside that day’s learning objectives. And educators need not feel they should have all the answers.
These are among the practical tips offered by San Francisco social studies teacher Fakhra Shah and hate and bias investigator and expert Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Kids who are vulnerable — and by that I mean Muslim students, immigrant students, students who are perceived to be immigrant, gay kids and anybody who is perceived to be an outsider — are really suffering. There is a lot of anxiety, a lot of nervousness. They are also being targeted,” said Costello. A former high school history and economics teacher who directed Newsweek magazine’s education program, Costello said there has been a marked increase in hate and bias incidents at schools since last month’s election.
In a national survey of more than 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools, Teaching Tolerance found that the election results are having a “profoundly negative impact on schools and students.” Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected, and most believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.
Shah described changes at her school this way: “We have these type of incidents where students are lashing out at each other or they’re just repeating something they might have heard somewhere, and they don’t realize the impact of that on the school climate and culture.” She said the bias, often unintended, is not only among students. Sometimes it’s unknowingly displayed by educators and embedded in curriculum.
Costello said students may not realize that what they intend as a joke can cause fear and anxiety or, in the case of refugees, renewed trauma. “The most frequent comment, story that I got told were jokes made to immigrants or people who are perceived as immigrants about ‘packing your bags,’ ‘Have you gotten your papers yet?,’ ‘Did you get your ticket?,’ ‘I’ll say goodbye now. I’m not going to see you next week’. . . This is something we really have to think about. It doesn’t mater what the intention is. It’s always about the impact.”
Costello and Shah offered these suggestions that educators and schools can take:
- Listen to, believe and validate students’ fears, worries and concerns. “The most important thing an educator can do is to spend time listening,” said Costello.
- Survey school staff, educators, administrators and students to unearth gaps.
- Have a trained team of staff members designated as school leads.
- Do not reflexively double down on discipline policies when an incident occurs.
- Vary your response according to the severity of the incident and the student’s developmental stage. In the most serious cases, police should be notified.
- When an incident occurs, attend to the student or students targeted, publicly reaffirm the school’s core values and principles, denounce the act and acknowledge students who feel guilt or regret because they didn’t stop or anticipate the incident.
- Tap into community resources such as translators, student-to-student peer trainers and faith based groups. Be specific about your need.
- Don’t make false promises. On the issue of deportations, for example, no one knows what policies the new presidential administration will enact.
- Create a “safe space” or “hate free zone” where students can go to share their concerns or unburden themselves. It could be a counselor, social worker, teacher or other school staff member(s).
Following are resources for educators:
- Teaching Tolerance has published a guide titled “Responding to Hate and Bias in Your School.”
- If you know of hate or bias incidents in your school, you can report them to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks and monitors hate and bias.
- NEA has gathered into one location a variety of resources for educators, students, and families to counter hateful rhetoric and foster positive dialogue.
- Shah developed a lesson plan that answers the curiosity of students, deconstructs stereotypes about Muslims, Arabs (or those resembling these backgrounds), and seeks to create a geographic, ethnic and historic knowledge base for students.
- Shah wrote a lesson plan to help teachers struggling with how to answer students’ questions and concerns about Trump becoming president.