Like most teachers, I've always wanted my classroom to be a sanctuary. A safe haven for kids where they can be free to take risks as learners. A place where the outside world stops at the door. This week has been one in which the horrific news events have permeated every aspect of all of our lives. Children have heard and seen things that we all would rather they had not been witness to.
It happened on and after 9/11. Who doesn't remember exactly what they were doing when they got the news? We all knew that living here in America would never be the same again. Patriot's Day is a tough topic to take on for so many reasons. Although there are picture books and kid friendly reading passages to address this sad piece of our shared history, many administrators still prefer that we pause for a moment to reflect and then move quickly on. The curriculum demands weighing down on us every day also stage whisper in our teacher ears to keep on steppin'.
Election time can be fun to address in most election years. Hold a "candy bar" election, discuss voting and vote on something fun like more recess time or pizza for lunch every day. Done. Not this election year. Americans are sharply divided over the candidates in the 2016 election. Divided more than ever. Friends are learning things they probably did not wish to know about their friends. Families are divided in their preferences. The children are listening. Watching. Absorbing. Whether we care to see it or not, each of us is setting an example of some sort for the next generation.
As teachers, we have a chance to shape the thinking of our students in very subtle ways. Sharing our political views in class is certainly not recommended! The best way to handle the difficult questions that are sure to come up in our classes this year is to be prepared. We need to think through exactly what our responses will be.
I like to have some powerful, memorable quotes handy. I hang them around the room. They are subliminal messages; environmental inspiration. When I say them to kids, they think (and often say!), "Hey, I've heard that before!" Yes, you have, sweet child. Now get out there and say it to others. Live by it. It will shelter and protect you. It will make you a person who brings goodness and light into our world. All time, top of the list quote for my kids: "When you know better, you do better" (Maya Angelou). Walk into our local high school in September, and say, "When you know better..." to almost anyone, and I'm pretty sure you'll hear, "You do better. And I know better!" My babies are out there spreading the word! "We must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish as fools." (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Who wants to be seen as a fool? Uh, not me! Not you, and not your students either. Don't hammer it in. Subtlety is key. Hang it up, and say it when it fits.
I've thought long and hard throughout the primary debates this election year. What would I do in the classroom? How would I address the election and the very polarizing candidates this year? How would I keep my administrator happy, and my parent community satisfied that I have taken a neutral stance? Here's what I came up with: a quick series of lessons around general election knowledge to weave into Social Studies standards or even a classroom economy and government. I think some election talk would be a great way to get an authentic classroom government off the ground.
Next, I would present a brief and neutral view of each candidate. Close reading of that view would provide a test prep experience and arm my students with some knowledge. Then a "Me for President" campaign in which kids could identify issues important to them and share those issues with each other. Make it kid friendly and all about them with just enough of the outside world intruding. Just enough. Not too much. (Secondary teachers, I know you have different rules and different approaches. You probably stopped reading awhile ago though!) My thinking here is what would work for third through sixth graders. Those are the students I know best!
Here's what I came up with. I hope it will help. I'm also working right now on a Google Drive version of this bundle for your paperless classroom.
Wishing you a peaceful and nurturing new school year!
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