I stood up for the Trump guy. Life has a way of serving up some very surreal moments. Imagine, if you will, that you are looking into a mirror and suddenly it shifts and becomes one of those fun-house mirrors. Suddenly nothing is right, everything looks wrong and you suddenly don’t recognize yourself. My life has been a series of those surreal moments as of late and I often don’t recognize myself in the life I lead. I’ve shared some of the stranger moments in my writings, like
the day I explained to Dr. Stephen Hawking about his theory of black hole radiation or that time when
I got married, basically, on live television. But none was more surreal than the day I stood, facing an angry crowd and defended…Donald Trump. Donald Trump? Yes. Donald Trump. And I did it with a fervor that surprised even me. I told you this would be a bit surreal. Let go of your disbelief and hear me out. Because
I will be going back to Bangladesh I have had to work as a guest teacher—the fancy name for a substitute. That, in itself can be very surreal but generally I absolutely love the chance to visit so many classrooms, meet so many students and hear so many of them share what is important to them. But, I’m a sub, and there is the darker side of the job. Kids can be pretty terrible to a sub they don’t respect, but I have a trick. This isn’t a trick most people can use, it is my trick, but it has worked miracles. When I introduce myself in the morning I tell them, “And, if any of you would like to ask about this, come on back and ask me when your work is done.” And I show them my picture with President Barack Obama.
Mayhem typically ensues. “You met OBAMA??!!” “That’s photoshopped!” “Is that the White House?” What follows is usually a conversation about that day and a demand to know why I had been allowed to meet the president. And, usually, by the time the conversation is done, these students know I am there by choice, that I could pretty much teach in any classroom in the city, but I chose them. Then we have a great day, they do all their work fast and we end up with lots of time at the end of the day to do an art project. That’s the typical day. But one day it didn’t go that way and the angry backlash surprised me. “Have you met Trump?” asked an earnest fourth-grader. “No,” I told him. “Do you like him?” he asked. And I said the same thing I always say, “I don’t really talk about my personal politics with students. I want you guys to form your own opinions.” The boy turned red and spat out angrily, “I hate Trump!” And suddenly the whole room erupted into shouts of how much they disliked Trump. And I looked around the room, a room filled with kids of all different colors, and saw how united they were in their contempt for the president. And I was shocked by the veracity of it. These were kids. Nixon flamed out when I was about the same age and I don’t remember anything about him except he seemed like an unpleasant person. These kids really seemed to hate Trump. And then one little voice popped out of the din of angry fourth-graders. “I like Donald Trump.” And all eyes turned to the one kid in shock. There was a moment of silence while a few mouths hung open. And they laid into him. And that’s the day I waded in to defend this kid’s choice to support the president. “He has a right to his opinion!” I told them as I tried to settle them down. And what followed was a discussion on voting and how, if you don’t like someone’s politics, you can vote against them or support the politics of a candidate you like. But the message I left them with was very clear. “Democracy only works if people vote.” Then we voted on whether or not we should have extra recess. Democracy stood strong, 100 percent of the people voted and extra recess was enjoyed by all. And during that extra recess I had a little chat with our young Republican. I told him how awesome I thought it was he was willing to stand against a crowd. He thanked me for standing with him. And that’s how democracy works. And as he ran off to play with his friends, it seemed politics were forgotten for four-square but I shook my head at the oddity of it all. And this year, when I filled out my ballot, I thought of that class. Voting never felt more important.
Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. He is the only Oregon special education teacher to be named Teacher of the Year and to win the NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence. He is the creator of Ability Guidebooks, a series of support books for people with autism that give step-by-step directions how to ...