Teaching Profession

Teachers Cite Post-Election Rise in Negativity, Bigotry in Schools in Survey

By Madeline Will — November 30, 2016 4 min read
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It’s been about a month since Donald Trump was elected president, and thousands of teachers are reporting in a new survey that the divisive election and its results have negatively impacted the classroom—effects that many say will be felt in classrooms for months to come.

Teaching Tolerance, an educational project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, unscientifically surveyed over 10,000 K-12 teachers, counselors, administrators, and other educators about the results of the presidential election, and found that the vast majority report that the bitter campaign season is reflected in classrooms. The educators who responded say that students feel a heightened sense of anxiety and concern, due to Trump’s campaign rhetoric about immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, women, and other marginalized groups.

It’s important to note that this survey is not representative—Teaching Tolerance and other like-minded organizations distributed the survey online via email and social media. Those who chose to respond may have a higher level of interest in racial and cultural sensitivity, and educators who have seen problems in their classroom may have been more likely to participate in a survey on the issue.

Still, the collection of 10,000 responses is quite large. Here are some of the findings:

  • Half of the educators surveyed said that students were targeting each other based on which candidate they had supported in the election.
  • Half of the educators surveyed said they are hesitant to discuss the election in class—and some teachers are even prohibited by their principals from doing so.
  • Over 2,500 educators recounted specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be tied to election rhetoric.
  • Forty percent of educators have heard derogatory language directed at students of color, Muslims, immigrants, female students, or LGBT students.
  • Two-thirds of educators said their administrators have been responsive, but 40 percent said they don’t think their schools have action plans to respond to these incidents of hate and bias.

The survey is a follow-up to a similar study conducted in March where about 2,000 teachers surveyed said many of their students were feeling vulnerable about what will happen to them after the election, and that there had been a rise in uncivil political discourse.

The newest report includes a sampling of quotes and anecdotes from teachers who participated in the

survey. The chart to the right, taken directly from the report, shows the number of racist, sexist, or other derogatory remarks or references that teachers recounted in the survey.

Teachers reported seeing more blatant racism in schools than ever before, including an uptick in anti-Mexican or anti-Muslim sentiment, students drawing swastikas, or other forms of race-based bullying.

Teachers said their students were wary of each other, and trust had eroded. Students who supported Clinton were angry at—even fighting—students who supported Trump.

One middle school teacher in Georgia said her African-American students have been refusing to work with the white students who supported Trump. “Students are no longer looking at each other as people, but are looking at them as who their parents supported,” the teacher said. “It is no longer about issues, but about hate and fear and disagreement and all the things we work our tails off to teach our students to be careful and wary of. My heart is breaking.”

Of course, not all teachers said the election results have had a lingering effect in their classrooms. A “very small minority” of respondents, according to Teaching Tolerance, said their students have accepted or welcomed the results and moved on.

Still one high school teacher in Iowa said that teachers were also struggling with how to return to a sense of normalcy after the election. “I am wondering if teaching Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ might bring me grief,” the teacher wrote. “I’ve never even considered such a thought in 20-plus years of teaching!”

So, what can teachers do in the aftermath? Teaching Tolerance offers several recommendations for teachers and for school administrators. Educators should make sure they have the resources and are prepared to help students of color and immigrant students who might be scared or anxious after the election. (Justin Minkel wrote for Education Week Teacher about what he is doing for his Latino students.)

Teaching Tolerance also advises educators to remind the school community of anti-bullying policies and set the expectation for students to speak up when they hear or see harassment. (Gina Caneva wrote for Education Week Teacher about how educators can combat bullying and harassment—and why that’s more important than ever.)

Teaching Tolerance also has a list of civic activities and resources on countering biases for teachers to use in class.

Source: Image #1 by Evan Vucci, via the Associated Press. Image #2 via Teaching Tolerance report.

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