Can I just be honest for a moment? This year, many people are more heated about the election than in years past. The main two candidates have elicited strong emotions from people on both sides. That being said, it’s hard to know how to teach about the presidential election in your classroom.
Do you just pretend the 2016 election isn’t taking place? Do you ignore talking about the candidates and simply focus on the process? Or do you bring the entire presidential race conversation right into your clasroom? Let’s take a look at each of these options to help you decide which one best fits into your classroom with your students.
Your decision on how to proceed this election season is going to largely be influenced by school/district policy, where you live, the relationship you have with your students, your personal comfort level, the grade level you teach, as well as other factors.
Please keep in mind that a 1st grade teacher can approach things quite differently than a high school social studies teacher can. The opinions stated by educators below are just that, opinions. They are meant to help guide you in your decision making process.
This post is intended to give you options for how to handle the election in your classroom. I hope you read it with an open mind, that you’ll consider your school/district policy, and then tread carefully. I do not want to see any educators in the media for going about things this 2016 presidential election the wrong way.
One teacher friend of mine recently shared, “I may just steer clear of the whole mess this year.”
Just make sure that if you do go this route, you aren’t doing your students a disservice.
Focus on the Presidential Election Process
Jodi from Clutter-Free Classroom recommends starting by talking to your administrators: “While I think it is important to help students understand the electoral process, this specific election poses challenges for teachers. Americans are demonstrating much more passionate feelings about the candidates than in previous years. Children have been exposed to these feelings either through media or conversations they’ve heard at home and what they may unexpectedly bring thoughts and ideas into the classroom discussions might not be appropriate. My advice would be to have a conversation with administration on how to handle this year’s election. Regardless of how deep a teacher gets with the election the most important thing to remember is to keep your own political views and opinions to yourself and not share them with your students.”
Honestly, this cycle I won’t even be mentioning the candidates. We are going to talk about the job of the president, the role of the government, and characteristics that a president might have. – Catherine Reed, 1st Grade Teacher and blogger at The Brown Bag Teacher
I am not currently in a traditional classroom, but I teach history classes for homeschooled students. I do not mention candidates by name with my students, however, I do mention that there are two main parties, and many independent parties. I mention that there has never been a third party candidate elected as president (though some would argue that George Washington counts), but I also remind them that nothing is impossible. In this day and age, you never know… – Rebecca Morley, History Teacher
Carmen Zeisler, a current fourth grade teacher who also has experience in 2nd grade and Kinder says, “I love teaching the process through a Cookie Election. Students break up into teams based on cookie choices and crest a campaign about their cookie and why we should vote for it! They give speeches in front of the school and we do ballot boxes! It’s tremendously successful!!”
We have an election – Pepsi vs. Coke. They begin to campaign for their choice. They talk to their parents and bring those opinions too. It’s just a playful way to debate and disagree without really getting mad. And when I tell them that some restaurants only serve Coke or Pepsi, they vow to never eat there again! It’s hilarious. 🙂 – Martha Sosa
I think younger kids need to understand the roles and process, but I wouldn’t touch on the candidates. They can’t fully comprehend the issues, and the only thing they know is what they hear at home. Giving your thoughts or opinions on one candidate or another is asking to be the focus of the next Yahoo article. High school is different, and only IF it’s part of your curriculum. As a teacher, it’s your job to stay neutral. You are Switzerland, but you also need to be careful to not let dissenting opinions in your classroom get out of control or over heated. If the election is not a part of your curriculum, I would stay away from it -especially this year as emotions on both sides are high. – Lisa Frase, director of Effective Teaching Solutions
Have Full Conversations
I teach high schoolers – I talk about everyone. I try very hard to make sure they have no clue who I am voting for and tell them that flat out. I argue for and against all candidates and positions. Its very difficult to do sometimes, but I feel like its our job to show our students (especially our students approaching voting age) how to find information about all the candidates, not just the ones their parents like. You may HATE Trump. You may HATE Clinton. But our classes this year are going to be filled with students who are hearing messages from home that may differ from our own…and if we’re not careful, we’ll alienate those students and lose their trust. – Meghan Mathis, High School English teacher
Heather (that’s me!) here at HoJo’s Teaching Adventures says, “When I taught sixth grade I played Devil’s Advocate on EVERYTHING! My students were so upset because they had no idea who I was voting for, but I also didn’t have any parent complaints. I think it worked to help bring up election issues. I only wish I had talked about third party candidates more and how the two-party system works so students would have a better understanding of why so many people say they don’t want to ‘waste’ their vote.”
I have taught 12th grade Government & A.P. Government for 11 years now, which is so very different than some others having taught younger grades. My job is to talk about EVERYONE offered in the election; however, we also talk about the Electoral College and the problems there are with it. As a result, students realize the challenges that independents & 3rd party candidates face. I give them statistics like the 1992 election when Ross Perot received 19% of the popular vote but did not carry any state; therefore, he did not receive ANY electoral votes. Needless to say, it doesn’t take long for students to discuss the ‘wasted” vote concept. I discourage this of course but when you look at statistics it is really hard to dispute it. I always challenge the students with the idea of how we, as a society, must demand a change politically if we are unhappy with the way our elections work (e.g. eliminate the Electoral College). I also make sure my students know about both the two major parties & four minor parties. Most students have never even heard of anything other than Democrats & Republicans. I love when they come back telling me how they told their parents about the other parties & they found that their parents didn’t know about them either. I love having my students educating their parents and engaging them in political discussions! – April Collum, High School Government Teacher
Once you’ve decided which approach to take, it’s important to follow a few certain guidelines:
- Keep your own personal bias and opinions out of the classroom. You don’t want to alienate students or their families, yet alone get in trouble with your administration and potentially lose your job or license.
- Ensure students do not know who you will be voting for. Again, you do not want to ruin student or family relationships. Worse yet, you don’t want to lose your job.
- If you do decide to tackle issues head on, make certain that some students do not become overbearing to the discussion. Topics like this can get heated quickly, and you want to make sure all students have the chance to be heard and that a few do not drown out the rest.
- Be prepared! If one of your students starts talking about the election and you planned to avoid it altogether, how will you respond? Or what if a student says something entirely inappropriate? Have a plan of action for what you intend to do. Of course you can’t plan for everything, but if you’ve given this some thought you won’t be caught quite as off guard.
Do you have a differing opinion about how to teach about the presidential election in the classroom than those stated above? Or maybe you have another tip that you believe all educators should know. Feel free to share it in the comments below! We can help one another out a great deal by learning and discussing in a professional manner.