*Will Donald Trump Deport Me?* And Other Questions from My Nine-Year-Old Students

A student teacher reflects on what her fourth grade students are learning from Donald Trump…

By Mary Sypek

Trump*Ms. Sypek, what do you think of Donald Trump?* Karim asks. I quickly scramble around in my mind, trying to think of an answer that’s both diplomatic and clear. *I don’t really like Donald Trump,* is what I decide to say, to which he promptly responds, *I don’t like Donald Trump either.* I exhale, hoping I have managed to escape the topic of Trump without too much of a hassle. I am wrong.

It’s literacy time in Ms. Smith’s fourth grade classroom. Students are working with partners and in small groups to read nonfiction books about the US government, and I am working with four struggling readers. I am a student teacher at an urban public school in one of the most diverse cities in Massachusetts. In our classroom of 26, we represent 22 countries.

Our short nonfiction piece is from a book called Meet the United States Democracy, and it describes the branches and basic functions of the United States government. As we read, my kids notice and point out all the pictures of George W. Bush, who was president when the book was published.  I am surprised because they are only 9 and 10 years old, so the only president they have really known is Barack Obama. Inevitably, our conversation turns to the current presidential election.

trump rally*Ms. Sypek, if Donald Trump gets elected, will me and my family be deported?* Karim asks, picking up where he left off. Karim’s family is Muslim, with roots in Morocco. They visit often, and Karim frequently tells stories about *my country.* He is an artist, and he struggles to be engaged and productive at school.

My first instinct is to correct him sternly. No, Karim. Donald Trump never said that. I’m not sure where you heard or read that, but it’s only a rumor. Donald Trump would never deport families who live in our country. Then I remember his plan to stop Muslims from entering the United States. I remember the proposal to create a database of Muslim people, which Trump did not suggest but does support. Words like, *vigilant,* *surveillance,* and *eliminate* come to mind. Suddenly Karim’s question does not seem all that far-fetched.

He continues. *I don’t talk about my feelings that much, but when I think about this my heart starts beating really fast. I sometimes have nightmares about if Donald Trump is president. My parents watch the news and I hear them talking about it.*

*I don’t talk about my feelings that much, but when I think about this my heart starts beating really fast. I sometimes have nightmares about if Donald Trump is president. My parents watch the news and I hear them talking about it.*

Another student asks, *Karim, are you about to cry?*

*No. Well, a little.*

I did my best to allow the conversation to continue to its natural end, only answering questions that were asked directly to me. More and more students joined in, discussing what they had heard about Trump and his plans.

Some people say that Donald Trump *tells it like it is* or *talks about the issues no one is talking about.* Many others say that he is racist, sexist, and dangerous for the wellbeing of the United States. Ultimately, many of the loudest and most visible commenters are people who hold immense privilege in our country. They are U.S. citizens, native English speakers, white people.

trump speechMy students are nine and ten years old, and many of them are neither white nor native English speakers. They believe in ghosts, play with Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and are concerned with whether I know how to *Whip* and *Nae Nae.* In class, they are learning about perimeter, capitalization, and volcanoes. Judging by conversations like the one I had with Karim, it is clear that they are also learning a great deal about Donald Trump. They know he has called them dirty, lazy and dangerous. They know he is interested in tracking them, stopping them, moving and removing them. They are learning that Trump’s plan for our country may involve much less freedom for people like them than our reading about democracy in the United States describes:

The Constitution gives the President enough power to lead the country. The Constitution also gives the country enough power to lead the President…The founding fathers made sure that no one person could take control of the country…

For the sake of students like Karim, I hope this continues to be true.

SypekMary Sypek is a student teacher at a Boston elementary school. Names in this piece have been changed to protect anonymity. Send comments to tips@haveyouheardblog.com.

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  1. Welcome to teaching, Mary!

    I have no doubt you’ll be an effective teacher, though given the population you’re working with you probably won’t get great test scores. What’s far more important is that you hear what our most vulnerable kids have to say and try to protect them and to mitigate their very real fears. I call it teaching with love, and it works. It will be rewarding to you as well as empowering to your students.

    1. Hi Mary,
      Welcome to teaching. In addition to being a good listener and comforter of your students, I would also encourage you to have high expectations for what they can achieve academically. Despite what Ms. Langhoff implies, it IS possible for students like yours to achieve great test scores – which are a a byproduct of great teaching and learning – not the end goal, in and of itself. If your goal is only [and what an important goal it is] to listen, protect and mitigate the fears of children [and you don’t imply that is your only goal], become a social worker, therapist, counselor, mentor or Big Sister. Otherwise, make sure that in ADDITION to those things, you do your best to help your students learn to read, write, calculate, problem-solve and become informed citizens – because I think if you do, there’s a good chance they will be able to do it.

      1. “…great test scores – which are a a byproduct of great teaching and learning….”

        Baloney. “Great” (you mean, “high”) test scores are a result of either (a) being fortunate enough to be born into white, affluent American culture or (b) incessant test-focused drill-and-kill “teaching” enforced (because it has to be enforced) by no excuses “discipline”, which is the exact opposite of good teaching.

        1. I know you won’t believe this is true, but:

          My 7th grade classroom is not test-focused, nor is it drill and kill. My math classes start with a problem-solving task, followed by group and whole class discussions, with rigorous practice to follow. In science, we do labs and simulations (both hands-on and computer-based). We teach computer programming through Lego robotics. My ELA partner teaches books as varied as Lord of the Flies, All Souls, Twelve Angry Men, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Outliers. They study the history of slavery – from ancient civilization to the modern human trafficking. They write on computers every day – in genres as diverse as poetry, personal narrative, short story, and expository essays with a focus on argumentation. Our kids work hard, but their days are diverse and nothing like the drill and kill narrative you claim is the only way to make non-white kids do well on a standardized test. I’d put my upper middle class white daughters in my school any day (if only they could get off the waiting list).

    2. Ms Langhoff,

      I just have to say that your comment (“though given the population you’re working with you probably won’t get great test scores”) is decidedly disheartening to hear from an educator.

      Why say welcome to the profession, and then follow up with such a characterization of her students’ ability?

      1. I say this because the high stakes tests correlate so completely with socio-economic and first language status and reflect nothing at all about the students’ true abilities. What kids’ academic talents are and their ability to handle college level work (and that is what the tests profess to measure) are never captured on a standardized test. Recently, the MA DESE stated that PARCC and MCAS are as good predictors of college success as the SAT. Yet, the SAT has been found to predict no more than a 14% – 22% correlation with college success in freshman year. (GPA , i.e. what kids do in school, is a much more reliable indicator.)

        Saying Mary’s students are not likely to get great test scores in no way diminishes either the students or the teacher – it’s what the research shows. Teaching kids while creating a safe space in class for them to ask about what troubles them is the foundational step is creating an environment in which all learners flourish. Creating such an environment is exactly what high expectations looks like. Maslow’s hierarchy will tell you that barriers to learning include not feeling physiologically and emotionally secure. Remove those barriers and kids can thrive and become active learners.


        Their test scores ought to be the least of it, yet this relentless focus on “measuring student success” by bubbling in a Scantron has somehow translated into “high achievement”. It is no such thing. It’s useful to remember that standardized tests have their roots in the eugenics movement. Lemov’s “Teach Like A Champion” has popularized this simplistic notion of what teaching is for. I say more Maslow, less Lemov.

        1. I shall attempt to carve out the time to respond in more detail, but am slammed at the moment with work.

          Let me relate this as a counter to your response and your attempt to bring “high stakes testing” into the argument as justification of the students’ abilities to perform.

          The students at my son’s elementary school spoke 26 different languages. 72% FRL. Many religious faiths. You name the challenges at home, and it was not unknown in the student body.

          His school went from one of the lower performers in the district to consistently performing at the same level and above (on every metric — including standardized tests) as the GATE schools and the schools where the population had a decidedly more affluent lifestyle.

          When you start from the premise that kids who have a different primary language than yours (or a different socio-economic background), you have already endorsed the idea that they shall not perform as well.

          And no. His school was not a charter school or a magnet school. It was a school where the administration and the teachers believed that every kid was capable of the same quality of work. They certainly did not operate from the belief that their students were not capable of equal quality output.

          1. Test scores have nothing to do with student learning. Christine is right. The more you pursue high test scores, the more you miss real education.

        2. (And excuse typos/screwy grammar. Typing on my phone while standing in line at the grocery store.)

      2. I see what you did there — equate “students’ ability” with “great test scores”. Busted! Great test scores have to do with students’ ability to take tests, not ability, generally.
        Nothing disheartening about it at all — new teachers in poverty areas SHOULD receive this information. Otherwise, they put unreasonable expectations on themselves and their students, which leads to disappointment, and burnout. The mathematical fact is that standardized tests put students on a bell curve “rank and sort” which FORCES them to fall on the curve along socio-economic lines. The psychometricians behind the tests see to it — that’s their job.

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