[Image via SEIGAR]
It took me a long time to officially give up on the night of the 2016 election. Perhaps it was because I had so much on the line. As a trans and gay social studies teacher to a diverse student body, I not only worried about my future in the United States, but for the safety of my sophomores. When I came home from the parent-teacher conferences that were scheduled earlier that evening, I promptly turned on the TV and began to watch the results with my Tweetdeck set up on my laptop. I was able to maintain that for a few hours, until I compromised and let myself rewatch a few episodes of my favorite anime while I kept tracking the results online.
Even when it looked particularly bleak, I went against my training as someone who teaches US history to hold out that there was still a chance that Clinton would win. I maintained this frantic optimism as I went to bed, my partner crying as I continued to refresh the election results. It wasn’t until I watched Pennsylvania fall red did I accept that mathematically Trump was the winner. I don’t entirely know when I fell asleep after that, but I do distinctly remember holding my partner as they cried, me wondering if my students were also still up at this hour.
The air in my town was heavy the next day I walked into work. It was overcast the entire day and I had more parent-teacher conferences in the afternoon, resulting in a half day. Everybody appeared disoriented- teachers were glassy eyed as students rubbed each other’s shoulders as a weak form of support. Our town, whose defining characteristics include a high Jewish population and a recent news spot for its progressive transgender student policy, was momentarily in shambles.
In all honesty, I didn’t want to be there. As a social studies teacher, I knew that there was not a historical precedent for what had happened. I was a nervous wreck who just wanted to try to catch up on sleep. But I knew that while my training as a teacher never really went over scenarios like this, as a social studies teacher, it was my obligation to be there for my students. I marched into my classroom, put on my best face, and decided that I was going to devote the day to just letting my students speak.
I get that teenagers naturally get a bad reputation. They are still in the process of figuring out a lot of social skills and can be grating to many people. But what I love about teenagers so much is that they are constantly trying to make sense of the world around them. When they were given the chance to speak, I got to hear them trying to do just that.
The discussions were difficult. I had one of my students, a strong young woman I visit at the local bagel shop every Sunday, break down in tears as she worried about her reproductive rights. Other students were less focused on their individual concerns, most likely because they understood just how uncharted this territory was. Thankfully, having the students speak on the subject allowed me to be able to avoid my own opinions, instead letting them be able to use my class to vent. I reassured them that we would go over the Constitution during the time of the inauguration and that it would address a lot of the concerns that they had concerning how much power a president actually has.
When the final bell rang, I realized that the energy of the day reminded me of another moment in American history. The blank faces and the fumbling through the day was strangely reminiscent of the period of time after 9/11. While I was in middle school at the time, I remembered how going through the routines of life before such an event felt aimless, especially because I could see the smoke from the burning buildings from my small North Jersey town. Luckily, much like my hometown after this tragedy, my newfound town was able to find ways to heal.
Technically speaking, a social studies teacher is expected to stay neutral on political topics. I allow myself to speak out against human rights violations, but for the most part I try to not bash politicians, even if I don’t agree with them. Seeing as though I have a mediocre poker face and I am out as gay to the school, my students can read between the lines. But I have tried my best to reaffirm one thing to my students since the day after the election- that it is within their rights to vocalize concerns. Thankfully, my students have run with it. Several students led an Anti-Trump protest that raised money for several nonprofits that would support marginalized groups. The club I ran last year, Global Awareness Group, raised over two hundred dollars to be donated to support Syrian refugees. Many students went in groups down to DC for the Women’s March, many of which with their mothers and other women in their lives.
The administration has also been extremely supportive toward the students that have been affected by many different policies. While the school district has encouraged us to stay neutral in the classroom, the school board has been making very pointed statements about the current presidential administration. Reports of ICE agents targeting schools have increased, so our school district put out a resolution saying that it’s our duty to retain that schools are a sanctuary. Protections for transgender students have been removed, so we surveyed students about where they would want gender neutral bathrooms and established them as such. If you walk around our town, there’s many politicized signs that say messages like “stand up to bigotry,” “hate has no home here,” and messages in multiple languages that state that everybody is welcome. Whenever I have friends visit, they say the same thing- that it’s refreshing to see one town is vocalizing their concerns and are willing to do whatever they can to keep the community safe.
Even with my credentials as a social studies teacher, I am still constantly in the dark about this administration. I interpret the past and anticipate trends, but I really can’t foresee how this administration will go. What I can say is that there are a lot of passionate fifteen and sixteen year olds I see five days a week who are going to be able to vote this upcoming presidential election. I don’t think anybody, regardless of their political affiliation, is going to know what hit them.
Seigar is an English philologist, a highschool teacher, and a curious photographer. He is a fetishist for reflections, saturated colors, details and religious icons. He feels passion for pop culture that shows in his series. He considers himself a traveler and an urban street photographer. His aim as an artist is to tell tales with his camera, to capture moments but trying to give them a new frame and perspective. Travelling is his inspiration. However, he tries to show more than mere postcards from his visits, creating a continuous conceptual line story from his trips. The details and subject matters come to his camera once and once again, almost becoming an obsession. His three most ambitious projects so far are his “Plastic People”, a study on anthropology and sociology that focuses on the humanization of the mannequins he finds in the shop windows all over the world, “Response to Ceal Floyer for the Summer Exhibition” a conceptual work that understands art as a form of communication, and his “Tales of a city”, an ongoing series taken in London. He usually covers public events with his camera showing his interest for social documentary photography. He has participated in several exhibitions, and his works have also been featured in international publications. You can find him on Facebook and Instagram.
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