Trump’s Effect on Teachers

You may have heard the phrase, “The Trump Effect” recently. It refers to an “emboldened” attitude permeating the student bodies of many schools. Teaching Tolerance and The Southern Poverty Law Center completed a report based on a survey of over 2,00o teachers, posing questions about student behavior and culture since this the start of this year’s (2016) Presidential Election campaigning. The report unveils startling insight about how this election is impacting academic institutions.

The report directly quotes some of the participants’ comments anonymously. One teacher explained, “[Students] are increasingly political (which is good),” she wrote, “but the extreme rhetoric being modeled is not helping their ability to utilize reason and evidence, rather than replying in kind.”

Teachers and educators have noted increased incidents of bullying and verbal hostility. One of the challenges American teachers face is teaching tolerance during classroom discussions; the examples displayed throughout this campaign (regardless of political party affiliations) do not align with the lessons many educators try to teach. The report explains, If marginalized students are fearful and hurting, it’s partly because other “students seem emboldened to make bigoted and inflammatory statements about minorities, immigrants, the poor, etc.,” wrote a Michigan teacher.

How does one explain to a young person that the rhetoric these presidential candidates openly use is not allowed during in-class discussions.  They are presidential candidates, yet this political ethos is not reflected in their expressions, nor does it guarantee credibility (apparently). This is confusing, especially because ethos is one of the rhetorical tools they learned to look for.

The behavioral and social complications brought upon by this election does not stop at the foot of the learner; this election also affects the educators (from pre-school to higher education). Throughout the SPLC and Teaching Tolerance report, teachers expressed their own versions of the Trump Effect.

Many said that for the first time they are struggling to remain bipartisan and stoic. Some have completely abandoned any attempts at remaining unbiased for the sake of their own personal value systems or for the sake of offering support to minority students. Many teachers have taken the silent route by choosing not to discuss the election in class; this contrasts with teacher attitudes during previous elections, when elections and debates were embraced as a learning opportunity.

From an educator’s perspective, I can attest to feeling what I want to call, “The Teacher’s Trump Effect.” I have never before felt the level of anxiety I feel today when we discuss anything related to this particular election in class. As a Composition teacher, I prioritize the ability to remain unbiased, open-minded and professional. However, these past few months I’ve become overly analytical of my own words in the classroom; this leads me to an insecure mindset.

I feel out of my element as we try to discuss the crass debates. Instead of pointing out instances of admirable communication, students and I criticize the candidates’ behaviors and word choices. I would much rather discuss debates that consist of effective and graceful communicators. As a result of all this drama, we also make a lot of jokes.

Making jokes about the candidates and news headlines is one area both students and teachers can all appreciate. But even in a lighthearted funny moment, I stop to ensure that I’m making fun of them equally. Then I wonder, is my joking just another symptom of the Trump Effect?

You can read the full SPLC report here.