Director’s Blog

Teaching After Election Day

by | Nov 2, 2020 | Director's Blog

After the 2016 election, many faculty were caught off guard by students who wanted to process their reactions during class. Emotions were running high – students were angry, scared, happy, confused. And many felt the need to talk about it, even if the course subject matter had nothing to do with politics. Some faculty made space for these conversations, while others stuck to their course schedule. Some conversations were productive, others exploded. How can we prepare for the day after the 2020 election?

There’s no easy answer here. And while I encourage you to consider what support your students need, I also encourage you to consider your own wellbeing. Regardless of your political affiliations, this is an incredibly stressful time. The election alone is anxiety provoking – then throw in everything else the country is currently experiencing. So I’m here to tell you that it is ok to do what is best for you the day after the election. Below, I’ll share my thoughts in response to questions you might have and some advice from other teaching centers.

Do I have to change my plans for the day after the election? No. But I do want to give you some points to consider. Holding class as normal may provide a sense of stability for students. Some will welcome a break from politics (if your subject matter isn’t directly related) while others may not see their courses as the place to process their thoughts and feelings around the election. But some students may find their classes as their main points of connection and want to discuss their reactions. It’s hard to predict what your students will need.

What are some ways to structure my class? Again, there’s no easy answer here. I recommend starting with a brief check in. Acknowledge the high levels of stress right now and give students an opportunity to write about their thoughts and feelings for a few minutes. They don’t need to share them, just give them a moment to process.

You could also consider making class optional that day. It could be a study day or you could offer extended office hours. If you want, you could invite students to visit office hours if they need to someone to talk to about their stress. You can create a discussion board for students looking to talk. If you do so, make the guidelines very clear in terms of what is acceptable and what isn’t.

One faculty member shared with me that she was creating different themed breakout rooms in Zoom. Room #1 is a quiet study space. Room #2 is an office hour with the TA or professor. Room #3 is an election discussion room. And Room #4 is a general hang out with no election talk. I loved the idea of creating these options, especially now that Zoom gives you the option to allow students to choose their breakout room.

I don’t feel prepared to handle tough conversations or student trauma. What should I do? If emotions are running high or students are disclosing trauma to you, you should direct them to resources and professionals that can help them. Here are UCI resources for students.

For more detailed advice, check out Georgetown’s teaching center blog.

Take care everyone, especially this week. Feel free to reach out if you want to discuss your class.

In other news…

What I’m currently reading: All Adults Here by Emma Straub. Not bad, not great. This was a lighter read for me, and it had some humorous moments. I read it quickly and will likely quickly forget it.

What I’m currently drinking: For Halloween, we made a new cocktail, a Boulevardier. I’m a bourbon fan and this drink didn’t disappoint. I celebrated not being disappointed by drinking a second one.

Andrea Aebersold

Andrea Aebersold

Director, Faculty Instructional Development

Andrea Aebersold is the Director of Faculty Instructional Development at University of California, Irvine. She earned a PhD in English and was an associate professor of teaching before coming to UCI. She specializes in active learning, evidence-based teaching, and reading mountains of books.