Shared from the 10/26/2017 San Francisco Chronicle eEdition

U.S. teachers see students’ stress jump in Trump era

The day after President Trump was elected, teacher Ariel Brown called in sick because she was too upset to face her students at Castlemont High School in Oakland.

Within minutes, she was jolted by the realization that her students needed her.

“I can’t not be there for my students and the community in a time like this,” said Brown, who teaches special education and government economics. “Now is a time more than ever that we as educators need to show up.”

A survey released Thursday by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access found that the president’s political rhetoric and policy decisions have spilled into classrooms at public high schools in significant ways, causing stress, polarization and hostility among students.

The survey, taken in May, examined responses from 1,535 teachers at 333 public high schools across the United States. More than 50 percent of teachers reported that an increasing number of students felt “high levels of stress and anxiety” in the first months of Trump’s presidency.

About 10 percent of the survey’s respondents were California teachers, said John Rogers, the director of the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access.

Though California is a progressive state that overwhelming voted for Hillary Clinton in the November presidential election, Rogers said there wasn’t a major statistical difference in the experience of California’s teachers compared to the rest of the country.

Furthermore, he said, California was one of the few states where teachers reported an increase in students displaying Confederate flags and other racially insensitive symbols on campuses.

More than 20 percent of teachers nationwide, according to the survey, reported heightened polarization on campus and incivility in classrooms. More than 27 percent reported a surge in students making derogatory comments directed at minority and LGBT groups during class discussions.

Just last weekend in Davis, an image of a swastika and anti-Semitic slogans were found spray-painted in a boys’ restroom at Davis Senior High School.

Several students from Albany High School last March targeted African American students and a staff member in an Instagram post that included their photos as well as a photo of a black doll alongside images of a torch, a noose and a Ku Klux Klan member.

Brown said she’s never taught students who are more informed about the current affairs of the country, but their anxieties sometimes dictate lesson plans.

“We will be talking about dictatorships or forms of government. I swear, everyday someone will bring up North Korea,” Brown said. “People are consistently asking if we are going to war.”

According to the survey, many students expressed stress over the deportation of undocumented immigrants, the Trump administration’s travel ban, the environment, health care and restrictions on LGBT rights.

Harrison Noah, a debate and ethnic studies teacher at Skyline High School in Oakland, said he had to interrupt his lesson plan when Trump announced he was phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which provides some immigrants illegally brought to the country as children temporary protection and work permits.

“We have a portion of students here who are undocumented or whose parents are undocumented, so the fear ... is certainly there,” Noah said. “We wanted to address that and let them know that we as a school community ... got their back.”

The most effective way forward, Rogers said, is in providing teachers with support and guidance on how to create a more respectful and tolerant school culture, and opportunities for teachers to learn from civil rights lawyers and community organizers.

“There is a sense of urgency that we have to do better for our young people,” Brown said. “It’s stressful because I’m also unsure about the future.”

Sarah Ravani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @SarRavani

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