“Mr. Montei, who is your favorite rapper?” asked one of my high school freshman students.
Before I answer, some context: that week, one of my professors encouraged all of us to try telling the truth when we taught. “Just…try it,” he said. “I know it sounds a little silly, but just try telling the truth. See what you learn about yourself.” I was moved to take his advice. Not that I’ve been dishonest or anything, but I’ve certainly kept some walls up. It feels necessary to do so as a teacher, to some extent, to keep some mystique around one’s self, to maintain some illusion of having secret adult powers. For example, I remember many of my high school teachers refusing to say their age, and this withholding of precious information gave them an authority none of us could quite put our fingers on. Why it mattered to the teachers and to the students is unclear, but we all knew it had something to do with power. Secret adult power. Agelessness. Omniscience. Being so uninteresting that having no specified age becomes terribly interesting.
In becoming a student teacher, I toyed around with withholding my age as well, but upon further reflection, coupled with the aforementioned advice, I decided that that was a cheap path to authority, and disingenuous, too. My classrooms would be defined by back-and-forths rooted in principles of honesty. That way, the students and I would be free to learn and discover together.
So, in response to my student’s question, I said “Kanye,” knowing full well the bizarre weight that name currently carries and hoping I’d just get an eye roll.
My student was aghast. “But…he’s a Trump supporter.”
Now, that’s a loaded statement. It’s not entirely true. But based on Google searches and headlines and reporters looking for something to be incensed about and pictures of Kanye wearing a red MAGA hat, I see where the opinion came from. So I took the conversation a different route.
“True, but I still like his music—I get far more out of it than a political view.”
“But supporting Trump is wrong.”
“Well, we can still value Trump supporters, right? And some of the work they do?”
She shook her head, “I don’t think so.”
Forgive me while I take us on another flashback. This time, to my first staff meeting with all the other ELA teachers at my high school. It was a boring meeting. Nearly every single detail of it has slipped from my memory except for one comment from an older colleague that I’ll likely carry with me for the rest of my life: “Teachers are revolutionaries.” Everyone nodded their heads in tacit agreement. The statement, simply said, requiring no further elaboration, spoke volumes. Teachers shape knowledge acquisition for each successive generation. What students learn, how they learn it, and what they believe of their learning—all of this shapes the world. Of course teachers are revolutionaries. Of course.
That line was in my thoughts at that moment, watching the student vocalize the commonly held belief that Trump supporters are not to be valued. She was just matching the tone of our times: justified disdain. Kanye is a Trump supporter, therefore Kanye is a bad person, therefore his music should be no one’s favorite. Prominent news outlets confirmed this. Social media feeds made it gospel. Hold Trump supporters in disdain. Belittle them. Defeat them.
Well, teachers can’t do this. We’re going to have kids come through our classes from conservative, republican households, and it is our job to teach them as best we can. Their success is our success. And to teach well, you must love well. In the profession, the practice of love is referred to as “high expectations.” Teachers must have high expectations of every student in the room. Again and again, studies confirm that when a teacher believes their students are intelligent, despite all evidence to the contrary, students perform significantly better (Google it). The language of disdain would counteract this, and thus it is inappropriate.
So back to the conversation with my student. I said, “Trump supporters are still worthy of our love,” while secretly thinking of all the students in my room. All the work they’ll do throughout the year. I get to see it, you know. I get to see them. Of course.
Will Montei (’13) graduated with a major in writing and a minor in philosophy. He currently lives in Seattle, taking full advantage of the abundant local coffee and surrounding mountain hikes. He is an avid daydreamer, an old soul, and a creative potty mouth.