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High School Students Negatively Affected by Current Political Climate, Says Report

By Hannah Sarisohn 

In the days following Election Day last year, teachers spoke to Education Week about some of the challenges that they, along with their students, faced in the classroom. A new study reveals these challenges continued to impact students and teachers as the first year of Donald Trump's presidency progressed.

The study from UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access indicates that high school students are negatively impacted by the current national political environment.

Researchers analyzed reports from over 1,500 teachers across the country about the changes in school climate during the first four months of Trump's presidency.

According to their testimonials, there are three ways in which the national political environment negatively affects high school students: heightened student stress about their own well-being and that of their families; polarized and contentious classroom environments; and rhetoric targeting vulnerable students.

While the report mainly focuses on the political climate's impact on students, the researchers note how teachers are also bearing extra stress. Sixty-seven percent of the teachers surveyed said their stress levels increased during the 2016-17 school year, with almost half of the teachers attributing their added stress to the election.

teachers reporting work related stress.png

As students' concerns grew over issues like immigration, health care, and LGBT rights, teachers said they struggled to lead classrooms that felt safe and welcoming for all students. Among the teachers surveyed, many reported that they:

  • Didn't feel adequately prepared to respond to contentious classroom dynamics, and instead avoided uncomfortable discussion topics
  • Downplayed social and political issues, even if they related to classroom content
  • Narrowed their curriculum and pedagogy to avoid conflict

School leaders' responses to the election also played a significant role in how teachers, in both conservative and liberal districts, felt equipped to handle classroom incivility or conflict.

school leaders taking action.png

In communities where leaders took action to address polarization and students' fears, teachers felt the school culture was more civil and caring. Teachers in these communities said this school culture was fostered by statements and professional support and development opportunities. In schools where leaders were silent on political issues, teachers reported an increase in bullying and hostile environments. These teachers reported disappointment in their school leadership, and a desire for more guidance and support to help their students.

The report concludes with five strategies for teachers on how to enhance classroom civility: build relationships, establish norms, model and practice civility, structure opportunities for participation, and monitor and respond to instances of incivility. 

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