Friday, November 18, 2016

Sensitive Topics in the Classroom

Guest Blogger: Heather Bennett

November 8th 2016, a day that will live in infamy.  We elected Donald Trump as our next president. While some celebrated, many people were terrified.  For months the world watched as Donald Trump reduced races of people to negative stereotypes, marginalized many minorities and women, and indirectly promoted hate amongst American citizens.  For many, the election of such an individual to the most powerful position in the country brought about fear and terror. 
For many of my students, 60% of them international students, 98% of them women, and all of them African American, the election of Donald Trump instilled a deep fear, anger, disappointment and an overall lack of confidence in the workings of our government. My students seemed a little more discouraged the day after the election when they walked into class. It seemed awkward not to mention the election, as I could clearly see that my students wanted to discuss what they were thinking. I was hesitant to open up for discussion such a sensitive topic. I did not want lecture time to be consumed with discussion on the presidential election or the topic to lead to a hostile environment. However, I did not want to minimize their feelings, or fail to acknowledge the validity of their emotions. Simply not mentioning the election, I felt sent a message that I did not care how my students maybe feeling. I wanted to give students a safe space to share and elaborate on these feelings of fear and disappointment. I also wanted to encourage and support them.  I decided to address the “elephant in the room” and encourage students to disclose their feelings. I asked for students to take a few minutes and to quietly write down what emotions they were feeling after learning the results from the presidential election.  I then left it open for students to share, if they felt comfortable, their feelings with the rest of the class. I stressed that students must be respectful and listen to their classmates. I challenged them to try to understand each other’s views. After sharing, I had students ball up the paper with any negative emotions and throw them like a snowball at the front of the room. I then challenged the students to share how they could use these negative feelings for something positive. The activity only took 15 minutes of class time and several students thanked me for giving them an opportunity to voice their feelings. One student said prior to my class no teacher had mentioned the election results and it seemed as if no one cared how the students may be feeling or perhaps they too should just get over it.     
For many of us our performance on any task is tied to our emotional well-being. As an educator, I think it is important to realize that our students will be greatly affected by what may be happening in society.  We must learn how to engage students in meaningful discussion and try to understand how the emotions of our students may influence their learning. I am curious, how do more experienced educators discuss difficult and sensitive topics in the classroom? What are some techniques or strategies teachers use in the classroom to help students handle emotional topics? 

1 comment:

  1. This may not be true: "prior to my [i.e. your] class no teacher had mentioned the election results and it seemed as if no one cared how the students may be feeling or perhaps they too should just get over it." Some of us discussed the elections almost daily, before and after the elections.

    I find that the best approach is to use the elections and the results to get students thinking critically and being pro-active rather than just reactionary. One of the reasons Trump won, may be that (i.e. because) Lincoln Students and other minorities, including African Americans and Hispanics, did not vote for Clinton or did not vote at all. That allegation is worth investigating or, at least, exploring. You may find that there is independent evidence in favor of that allegation.

    Safro Kwame