Michelle Gunderson on Teaching in the Time of Trump

How are educators managing in these trying times? Reports from early childhood classrooms have been finding their way into Facebook posts.  Many are filled with angst, and the heavy burden of explaining the unexplainable to the nation’s youngest students.   Some offer moments of great transcendence—like the notes, below, from Michelle Gunderson.


A veteran first-grade teacher in the Chicago Public Schools and a doctoral student at Loyola University in Curriculum and Instruction, Gunderson is a leader in the Chicago Teachers Union, where she honors the expertise of early childhood teachers, fighting for their rights through sane policies that support them and best professional practice.


By Michelle Gunderson

On inauguration day a friend of mine, Gabriel Sheridan, said, “Let’s wake up and be our best selves.” I have always tried to be my best self each time I cross the threshold of my school. Some days are better than others, but teaching in the time of Trump has brought a new intensity to my teaching, and I find myself reflecting on my every move.

When I think about the work the children, my co-teachers, and I did today it feels like we all climbed a mountain together. And it was a mountainside of justice.

Today we sang one of our favorite songs and books, We All Sing with the Same Voice.  The lyrics of this song talk about children from all types of places and all types of families. Because I teach in a historically LGBQT neighborhood, we all love the line: “I have one daddy. I have two.” If you are not familiar with this book, I encourage you to get it and sing along heartily with your students.

One of the children turned seven today. We sang our “Happy Birthday” to him and listened to him read Green Eggs and Ham. Our Mr. Reynolds came back to us after tragically losing his brother, and we hugged and kissed him, and gave him cards. Then we played a game where we learned that it’s only fun when you play fair.

All of these things seem ordinary, but in the time of Trump they take on strong meaning for me: Celebrating diversity, caring for one another, and learning to play by the rules.

And then it happened…

One of our students who has been struggling to learn was sitting with his reading partner sharing a book when his partner came running over to us. “He read it! He really read it! All by himself.” In the field, this is sometimes referred to as “breaking the code,” or the time a child launches as a reader. When young students begin to read at first they break down each sound and word.  Then, suddenly, the walls collapse, and reading becomes smooth.

I am here to tell you that it is one of our miracles, and the reason I teach first grade.

So, how do we teach in the time of Trump? We wake up and be our best selves, and everything we do has meaning and importance. There are no small things right now.



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5 comments to Michelle Gunderson on Teaching in the Time of Trump

  • Veronica

    Really? I have spent 8 years trying to teach under the decisions of Obama and common core- he stole childhood by letting business decide what was developmentally appropriate. All this Kumbaya garbage is nice but stick to teaching and keep your social justice to yourself.

  • Matt

    Government involvement in education always seems to be an experiment about the challenge is to make better minds. What is the answer NCLB ? Who has the answer Betsy DeVos? For parents and children the whole situation is frustrating, as it is for dedicated teachers. We should try to be our best selves no matter who the President is. I hope that is something we can all agree on, or at least have the tolerance for someone else to express it.

  • Melany Spiehs

    Thank you for sharing these words with the world. It is a particular difficult time in our country to be an educator but we have the power to teach love and compassion to future generations. “There are no small things right now.”

  • Right on the mark, Michelle. We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and continue doing the good work we have always done.

  • Jessica

    Thank goodness for educators like you, who help offset the people out there who fail their children and their communities by believing that justice for all is garbage. The world is indeed a better place thanks to some of you.

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