Philly teachers trade tips for ‘Educating in the time of Trump’

 Mark Gleason, Philadelphia School Partnership executive director, outlines the plan to raise and distribute $60 million to city schools over three years. (Avi Wolfman-Arent/WHYY)

Mark Gleason, Philadelphia School Partnership executive director, outlines the plan to raise and distribute $60 million to city schools over three years. (Avi Wolfman-Arent/WHYY)

On Tuesday night a liberal group of teacher activists held a workshop in North Philadelphia and titled it “Educating in the Time of Trump.”

The organizers expected roughly 10 people to attend, about 70 showed up. Still more — some from other states — requested the session be shared on video.

Clearly the presidential election is still reverberating in city classrooms. Now the question: What happens with all that energy?

The Teacher Action Group, which organized of the event, hopes the impending presidency of Donald Trump will galvanize Philadelphia’s politically progressive teachers.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“We know people are hungry to come together around this,” said Anissa Weinraub, who co-led the workshop.

The extent of that hunger — and what exactly it means in terms of actual political muscle — remains an open question. But those who gathered Tuesday night said the recent election has touched them and their students more deeply than other current events.

For many, Tuesday’s session was cathartic, a time to swap stories of dramatic encounters triggered by the election results.

One told of the Ecuadorian student who explained that “Trump doesn’t want us here.” Another spoke about a second-grader referring to the Democratic nominee as “Killary.” A third referenced the fellow teacher who joked about grabbing women by their private parts.

On the whole, many simply seemed relieved to talk freely with like-minded teachers about the world after November 8th.

It’s no secret Philadelphia went for Hillary Clinton in the election and the city teachers’ union strongly backed Clinton. Basic demographics suggest most of Philadelphia’s school children supported Clinton, or at least had parents who supported the Democratic nominee.

Many teachers at the meeting said they’re struggling with how to comfort students upset with the outcome, and how to deal with their own emotions. Should they acknowledge their feelings or remain silent? How do you respond to inflammatory comments from students or coworkers?

Adam Bailey, who works at an elementary school in North Philadelphia, shared his strategy.

“My answer to most questions is another question,” said Bailey. “I just want to know more about why do you feel that way? What would happen if this happened?”

Bailey said after Trump won the election he joined the Caucus of Working Educators, a progressive wing within Philadelphia’s teachers union that recently tried to unseat union leadership. Some said it was imperative that teachers take a more activist role.

“Our work ahead of us is pushing back against fascism and racism and the forces of profiteering,” said Weinraub, the event coordinator. “We’re going to have to get strategic. We’re gonna have to participate in different ways.”

Others, however, worried about taking too political a stance, especially when many expect teachers to be impartial arbiters of classroom discourse.

The educators that gathered Tuesday represent a sliver of the city’s teaching workforce, and it’d be folly to assume their political leanings reflect that of the average Philadelphia teacher. But the unusual level of interest in this seemingly obscure workshop suggests this election has left at least some teachers eager to share. Perhaps more than anything, the teachers seemed grateful to be around one another.

The meeting ended with all the attendees gathered in a large circle. The organizers encouraged people to shout out progressive political organizations teachers could join. Finally, each person was asked to share a one-word reflection on the workshop experience.

The most common response: “connected.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal