Teaching Profession

After the Election, DACA Teachers Wonder About Their Future in the Classroom

By Kate Stoltzfus — November 11, 2016 4 min read
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When Donald Trump was elected president of the United States early Wednesday morning, many teachers across the country spent the day fielding students’ questions about the outcome. But some teachers had questions of their own—did Trump’s win mean their days in the classroom were numbered?

For the 146 “DACAmented” teachers currently in classrooms through Teach for America, the election’s outcome signals an unknown future. President Obama granted temporary relief from deportation and work authorization under 2012’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act to immigrants without documentation who came to the country as children. TFA has since sought out college graduates with DACA status (also known as DREAMers) to build up a corps of teachers.

But Trump could easily move to cut DACA and increase deportations. He said after meeting with President Obama on Thursday that strict immigration and border security are among his top priorities, the LA Times reported. During a presidential campaign filled with rhetoric about promises to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, anxieties for students of color, particularly Latino and Muslim students, have run high. Their fear was palpable this week, teachers told Education Week Teacher, as immigrant students and students from immigrant families expressed concerns over deportation. Many teachers under the DACA program also have students in similar situations. But what do you do when you have the same concerns as a teacher?

Viridiana Carrizales, the director of DACA corps member support, fielded many early morning phone calls from teachers on Wednesday. Most of the teachers’ students know about their DACA status and many worried that their students would be afraid of losing them. Some teachers cried, she said, and weren’t sure they could face their students knowing their position was no longer secure.

“I’ve seen many teachers who are really afraid not only for what can happen to them but to their families,” Carrizales said. “There’s a lot of anxiety given that there’s so much uncertainty. I’ve also seen tons of resilience, teachers who are waking up every day thinking about their students and families and putting their own feelings aside to help the kids they are responsible for in the classroom.”

One teacher’s 4-year-old kindergarten student painted a picture of her family inside a box. “This is my family hiding from Donald Trump,” she wrote.

A school district in Denver was the first in the nation to employ two DREAMer teachers who came through the TFA program in 2013. “These teachers often are bilingual or multilingual and have a deep personal understanding of the challenges that many of our students face who similarly came to this country in undocumented status as young children,” Tom Boasberg, the district’s superintendent, told Think Progress.

In states such as New York, California, and Nevada, bills passed as recently as this year to allow individuals without citizenship to teach, according to Emmanuel Felton in a Teacher Beat post published in March. Among the teachers with temporary resident status who go through Teach for America, some work in states where they could not otherwise apply for teaching licenses. But not everyone is supportive; some feel that teachers under the DACA program take away positions from legal residents who are trying to get teaching licenses and jobs.

Though TFA representatives declined to let the teachers speak to the media directly over concerns for their safety, the Emerson Collective, an organization that works on issues of education and immigration reform, spoke before the election’s end to DREAMer teachers in California and Colorado about their experiences in TFA:

How Teach For America Empowers DACAmented Teachers from Emerson Collective on Vimeo.

Teach for America developed plans of support for teachers with temporary resident status this summer in preparation for Trump’s potential win. While Carrizales plans to share details with corps members soon, she said this could include anything from working with school to help them support young people regardless of the outcome or financially helping teachers transfer out of the classroom or move closer to their families if DACA is overturned.

“We have a pretty big group of teachers and have been able over the past three years to build community,” Carrizales said. “They’re finding a lot of support and love and comfort knowing they’re not alone.”

The group Educators for Fair Consideration released an open letter to undocumented young people on Friday offering support and suggestions for what they can do now—including looking into other forms of immigration relief and being familiar with their rights.

In a private Facebook group of support for TFA’s DREAMer teachers, one teacher shared the following message this week with fellow corps members:

“To all the DACAmented teachers, you are important today. You are in a position to reach so many young minds. Your struggle and strength will shine through and transcend into your curriculum. Share your stories. Be vulnerable. ... We are capable of cultivating people power, so let us plant seeds.”

Image credit: Getty

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.