There are days in a teacher’s career where you question your value or whether or not you can continue to do your work. Today was not one of them.
Today reinforced why my work matters. Today reinforced how important my work is.
I teach American Government. Believe me, this work isn’t for the faint-hearted. My goals have always been to create an engaged citizen who values analysis and research and recognizes bias and perspective. In an election cycle, the significance of this work becomes immediately apparently.
So I did my work. We discussed the liberal media, the conservative media, the aggregate polls, the junk polls, PACs, SuperPACs, image and the political process. On Election Night, I was glued to the news and my fingers were attached to my phone, updating my twitter account and asking questions to my students using an advertised hashtag. Finally, the election arrived. For government teachers, the election is the political amalgamation of the Super Bowl and Olympics.
This isn’t my first election as a teacher. In fact, I began my teaching career in the fall of 2000. I vividly remember telling my students on Election Day 2000, “We should know the results late tonight.” Well, we all know how that turned out.
The 2004 election was a bit trickier. We were in a war and Americans were still reeling from the effects of 9/11. The 2008 and 2012 election drew youth to the polls. My students were excited to discuss those elections and the candidates. My students mobilized for these candidates.
This election was different. I know this isn’t news to anyone but as a government teacher, I didn’t find my students incredibly interested. We did begin our discussion a year earlier, tracking the primary candidates on the board. Several of my students attended the caucuses and asked questions. A few even went to local rallies. But when the dust settled after the primaries and convention, students didn’t ask many questions or offer many opinions unless I prompted them. However, when prompted, my students respectfully recognized that they held different opinions from one another. I held a debate viewing party at school and students showed up and engaged in conversation. I knew that my students held diverse perspectives on the candidates so I thought I was prepared for how to discuss the outcome of the election. I realized that I wasn’t.
I threw out my lesson plan as my students rolled into class today. I witnessed pleased students happy with the outcome walk in and sit down next to those who were crestfallen. Regardless of their division, in front of me, they appeared united. They wanted to know more and sought first to understand. I began our class with the conclusion of Lincoln’s First inaugural Address. My theme quickly emerged as “the Better Angels of our Nature.” I steered the class into a discussion regarding what we’ve learned about campaigns in the past and how the meshes with what we saw occur. My students shared civil discourse and even as we moved into “What questions do you have for our President-elect” I became acutely aware of how real the outcome felt for them. They asked questions about financial aid funding, free trade agreements, military spending, freedom of worship, and social welfare programs. They sought answers to questions that many adults hadn’t considered. The bell rang and class ended but my work did not. Throughout my day, students came to see me, wanting to know more, wanting to understand, and they sought both dialogue and an ear. I offered both.
As I think back about my day, I realize just how important teaching is. Our job allows us to develop students into adults that can engage in civil discourse. We can role model for our students how to accept diverse opinions without fear of jeopardizing one’s own beliefs. We can exhibit respect, acceptance, tolerance, truth, and compassion. If we can do this, our young adults will learn from us how to act and respond to one another.
Today, my work mattered.