Opinion | A presidential elector and educator finds hope among his students
By now, most Americans have had time to digest and grapple with the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. We’ve heard many stories and reactions that have shed light into the one of the darkest days in our nation’s history. The day held special meaning — and challenges – for me as an educator and as a Michigan elector whose signature was on one of the ballots being certified by Congress to elect Joe Biden the 46th president of the United States.
Time often gives us clarity but clarity was not afforded to educators, like me, who returned to class the “morning after” the mob attack on Congress. We had to face our students and begin navigating the dark waters that washed over our country less than 24 hours before. In my 28 years as a public school educator, the last 10 teaching American history, I have had way too many “morning after” discussions with students. From the Oklahoma City bombing to 9/11, my role as an educator has been to help students understand the inconceivable.
Every person in the school setting, from amazing support staff, social workers and counselors, to administrators and teachers, shares a common duty to provide support and assurance during troubled times. This challenge can be daunting, particularly when we are shouldering the same uncertainties and fears as our students.
On the morning after, students are expecting us to address their questions for which, in many cases, we have no answers.
Students want to talk. I teach eighth-grade middle school students and my “lesson” plan of the day was to have a conversation, which began with an invitation to ask questions and share their feelings. It is critical that every student feels they can safely express themselves as we process this or any event.
Entering this arena can be fraught with peril, especially in this politically charged atmosphere. As one of Michigan’s 16 electors for Joe Biden, I’ve had the unique opportunity to use my journey as a teachable moment for students. But on the morning of Jan. 7, I had to keep my own political feelings out of the conversation in addressing a very political event.
I was amazed at the depth of understanding many students brought to the conversation. At their age they are much more in-tune with social and political issues than my generation was at the same age. Yet with this exposure comes confusion — a consistent question was, “How could this happen?”
While tough questions like that aren’t easily answered, the school day still ended with hope.
My 7th-hour class was actively engaged in discussion and debate as the “bell” rang. We were meeting remotely and as the hour ended, I felt kids were not ready to let go. I offered to remain and carry on the conversation with those who chose. Nine stayed… for 45 minutes. These students shared their observations of how the rioters were dealt with on Jan. 6 compared to last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations that led to discussions of race in America. They wanted to process, share and seek answers to the unanswerable.
But what stood out for me was their incredible passion. These 13-year-olds listened, challenged and worked through some tough issues. My heart grew because I saw what was possible. As we closed our discussion, I shared my gratitude for them, I learned from them. They restored my hope.
These “morning after” discussion will not abate. Living in a world such as we do, it is inevitable some further tragedies will occur. Even so, we can be assured that educators will be there to help our kids process and engage in their world.
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