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I don’t know what the next four years will look like. But my classroom will be full of love

Our First Person series spotlights the voices of people on the front lines of critical education issues. If you’d like to contribute, email us here.

On Tuesday, I spoke with my students about the importance of even one vote. On Tuesday, I took two of my students with me as I cast a ballot. On Tuesday, I felt hopeful.

I knew then that I did not need to be happy with the results, but I did need to be ready to talk about them. And after I woke up on Wednesday and saw the news, and as the feelings of discouragement and defeat settled in, what got me out of bed was the realization that my job had never been more crucial.

I teach 26 extremely hard-working, kind-hearted, and loved first-graders. It just so happens that they are all black and have already, at 6 and 7 years old, been touched by poverty, violence, and discrimination.

I worry about a president who misunderstands those injustices or even encourages that discrimination. The tenor of this ugly campaign is our reality now. And so, as I made my way to school, the color of my skin weighed more than the heaviness of my heart. I had never felt my whiteness more.

But as I reached my classroom, I realized that I needed to use my frustration and discouragement as fuel to press on. There really is no other option. We must keep going.

I do not know what the next four years will look like, but I do know that what happens inside my classroom walls will be nothing short of love, encouragement, opportunity, and preparation for a strong future.

On Wednesday, I was humbled to sit beside a few of my co-workers and listen to their stories of oppression and discrimination. These women are resilient, honorable, and exceptionally hard working. I am grateful to be able to work alongside each of them. Their stories gave me even more fuel to continue the hard work we do every day. The work is not done. We cannot stop now.

One of the students I took with me to vote walked into class on Wednesday morning with a note. It read, “Ms. Kaplan, thank you for letting me go vote with you yesterday. I learned so much and I thank you for the experience and everything you have done for me.”

It was exactly the reminder I needed at the moment. It will remain hanging in the front of my room as a reminder of the futures that are at stake.

Katie Kaplan is a founding first grade teacher at Memphis Delta Preparatory School in Memphis, Tennessee. She is also a 2013 Teach For America Memphis alumna and recent graduate of the final Teach Plus cohort in Memphis.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.