The morning after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., teachers and students here in Vermont returned to the classroom. And they talked about it.
Until Thursday morning, Spaulding High School civics teacher Katie Saint Raymond hadn’t seen her students in person since October. Spaulding, which is in Barre, went remote due to COVID-19 outbreaks in Washington and Orange counties this fall.
Saint Raymond’s civics and AP government classes Thursday were taken up by discussion of what happened in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, when armed pro-Trump extremists broke into the Capitol building to disrupt the certification of the election. They were unsuccessful, but the event was unprecedented, and a historic threat to United States democracy.
“It's already incredibly difficult to be a teacher in a pandemic. It has been exceptionally difficult to be a civics teacher,” Saint Raymond said. “If you told me what my teaching experience would be like a year ago, I couldn't even begin to believe what you were describing to me.”
Saint Raymond, 27, had posted a livestream of Congress to her Google classroom page on Wednesday after school, so students could see the electoral process. She was trying to get some work done, but then the news began to show the chaos that was unfolding, and it became impossible to look away. And she knew that in class the next day, “we would have to talk about it, and confront it, and address it.”
Greta Smith is 18, and a senior at Northfield High School. She first saw what was going on when her parents were watching the news.
“And then it was all over social media, mainly TikTok for me," Smith said. "Reporters were uploading videos of them in D.C., showing what was happening.”
She watched as people in MAGA hats walked through the halls of the Capitol, and saw pictures of a man walking away with a podium. She talked about it all with her sister. And when she walked into homeroom this morning, that was what people were talking about.
Katie Saint Raymond says students came to her classes at Spaulding Thursday morning with a range of opinions, and a lot of questions. Like: “What’s going to happen with the 25th amendment and President Trump? What happened with the National Guard last night?"
"Usually it's a lot of clarifying questions," she said.
Saint Raymond did her best to walk them through it, and showed them a video from PBS about what happened. She explained to them, “I as a teacher, an individual, don’t personally know all the ins and outs of what happened in D.C. yesterday, but here’s what Vice President Pence said. Here’s what statements were made by Sen. McConnell, Sen. Graham. We looked at polling data, and looked at what Americans are thinking and feeling overall."
When asked if she felt she was able to successfully communicate the gravity of the situation to her students, Saint Raymond sighed.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I can’t speak for them. The best that I could do was just to be as honest with them as possible. Where I tell them this is something I have never seen in my lifetime. My mom, my grandma did not see this in their lifetimes.”
She’s honest, but keeps her own opinions out of class. Instead, she focuses on giving her students accurate information. Her job, she said, is to teach students about the Constitution and how the government works, and “how two different dueling philosophies on political policy have created and impacted our personal lives in Vermont here today.”
Saint Raymond knows she’ll be teaching the events of this week in future history classes. And, as high school senior Greta Smith imagines, far beyond that.
“This is definitely gonna be in history books,” Smith said, “Like, some kids are gonna be writing a history paper on this definitely in like, 2050.”
When asked what her message to those future students would be, she said it’s that this historical event shows what it’s like in America today.
“There’s legit people who believe that the actions of our president are OK and support him," she said. "If you can wrap your head around that, good luck trying.”
Smith hopes that by the time those history papers are being written, things will be different.
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