Once Again I Am the Loser – But Not Really, Well Maybe

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Tonight I am the second time loser of an award.  It happened rather anticlimactically.  I paused to check my Twitter feed in between carrying a bucket of dirty water from the carpet cleaner to the sink.  Congrats rang out all around but not to me.  I shrugged, felt happy for the winner, and told my husband I was a loser once more.  He gave me a very strange look indeed.

I have never shied away from expressing my hatred toward awards in general.  It hasn’t always been like this, I used to hand out awards like I was trying to get a degree in it, and yet, I realized one day that it was mostly the same kids getting rewards through my own fault and that of the systems implemented.  I realized one day that I was not the kid that would have gotten any because I never did.  Funny, how a tradition like that follows you into adulthood.  And yet now, I am not as bothered, I have bigger things to do.  Bigger things to be proud of.  And besides, my daughter told me tonight that I am the world’s best mom.  That’s the award I want to win every night.

And yet.  I am loser but at least I was nominated.  I was recognized for something that is bigger than me, the Global Read Aloud, which I happened to create.  I was part of an elite five that somehow had been chosen to represent all of the millions of elementary teachers in the US (or the world, I am not sure).  I had been singled out.  The young me would have jumped for joy – finally someone to recognize this greatness- and yet the adult me just feels dirty.  I cannot help but think of all of the other teachers that should have been nominated, or all of the other people who make our jobs easier, better.  All of the others that we build our success upon.

So rather than blast awards more than I have, I would rather use this blog to nominate people who I think deserve some recognition.  You may know them, you may not, I could nominate many incredible people who have thousands of followers, people who know of them already, but to me it seems unnecessary.  Chances are the people you know who have changed my life are exactly that; people you know.  So instead I would like to recognize some quieter people.  Those who make me think.  Those who make a difference not just to me, but to many others, that don’t seem to fall into any award categories.

To the bus driver, Brad,  who for the last two days has made sure that my daughter got to her new school and back to me safely; thank you.  Her last school lost her twice on the busses so having her come off of your bus with a smile and you waving and calling her by name, that means the world to me.

To the para that comes to my room in 5th hour and laughs along with me at the crazy things the students do, and yet jumps in every time anyone has a need, thank you.  Lynn, you make me feel like I am a better teacher.

To Kelly, “my” special education teacher who sometimes reads this blog but has no idea how at home she has made me feel and how much she does not just for me, but for the school, thank you.  You should have thousands of people following you if you ever get on Twitter.

To Jen Wagner, who tirelessly creates global projects that others can do for free just to make the world smaller; thank you.  You got me started on global collaboration, just like so many others.  You make it safe and you make it fun.  I don’t think the world knows how much time it must take you to do it, but I do, and I appreciate it more than you know.

To Jessica Lifshits, your post this summer about coming out and embracing who you are in your classroom, has rocked my world.  The work you are doing to create a safe community for LGBTQ teachers may be slow and painful, but you are changing the world by making it better for all of us to find our tribe.

To HappyCamperGirl, I know your name is Amy, but I realized tonight that I don’t know your last night.  We follow each other on Twitter, I have learned from on many occasions, how do I not know your last name?  Your post on finding your tribe and being there for each other as teachers completely changed the way I treat people that I work with.  You made me realize that we are not in competition, but that we are better together.  That we should not be tearing each other down, but building each other up.  You did that for me, I am sure those I work with thank you for it.

To Tony, how did you become like my annoying little brother so quickly even if you are older than me?  It’s crazy how close Voxer can make you feel to someone.  You guide me when I need it but you also make me think.  Checking in with you is a highlight for me, you make me a better teacher because I want to be more like you.

And finally, to my edu sisters; Leah, Kaye, Jena (and sometimes Sue), your words matter to me every day.  Your stories, your ideas, your dreams resonate.  I see you as those I come home to every day on my way to my home.  I love knowing you like this, I am not alone, because I have you.

How about we all took the time to nominate someone who makes our lives better?  How about for once we don’t recognze people like me who have a blog like this.  How about we recognize the people who don’t get recognized, those who may seem invisible?  I think it would be worth our time.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Yes, I Am A Jealous Child

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I felt it creep in today.  That feeling that I pretend to not have because I am grown up and above it.  That feeling that eats away at me, making me doubt whether I am doing enough, trying enough, creating enough.  Jealousy, oh you bad habit, I thought I had gotten rid of you.

It’s not that I am jealous of other people’s lives.  I love my own, how can I not when I get to work with incredible people, teach amazing kids, and then come home to my family every night.  I have a  good life, I am fortunate, but still…  Sometimes even what I do doesn’t feel like enough.  I don’t have a  fancy title to add to my name, nor any awards.  My lessons aren’t always great, just ask my kids, and my plans sometimes don’t work.  I have yet to be able to reach every child or make a difference for every one I teach.  Jealousy can sometimes feel like a constant companion when you are on Twitter.

I realized a long time that jealousy is something that comes along with being a connected educator.  When you get to surround yourself with incredible people who seem to have incredible ideas any moment of the day, you are bound to feel inadequate.  You are bound to feel out of your league.  You are bound to feel like you are simply not as good as them, no matter what your brain tells you.  It is really easy to think you are bad when you are surrounded by greatness.   So we can wallow in self-pity or we can accept and move on.

A few years back, I chose to accept it.  I chose to allow myself to feel jealous, and then I chose to use that as a way to drive myself further.  I realized that it was not the attention others got that made me jealous but the incredible things they got to do.  Things that I didn’t get to do.  Opportunities I didn’t have.  So rather than be envious, I decided to to try to pursue the things that I was too scared to do before.  So I wrote a book, then another.  I submitted proposals to speak.  I said yes to things that I before would have felt I was inadequate for.  And yes, I wrote blog posts that I was too scared to write before.  Has this changed my life?  Yes.  But am I perfect now?  No.  I still see people do incredible things and jealousy sneaks in again.  But this time I don’t kick myself, nor do I tell myself that I will never reach that level.  I instead ask myself; does this matter to you?  And if yes, then how are you going to do that too?  If no, then I simply tell those I am jealous of that I am happy they have the opportunity.

We can allow jealousy to eat us up or we can allow it to move us forward.  We choose what to do with it, not the other way around.  I know what I will always choose, even if I forget sometimes.  I am only human after all.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

So What Has Actually Been Working – 7th Grade Readers Workshop

Every year I start with so many ideas of what we will try, what will do, things we can accomplish.  Every year, I have a long list of all of my ideas from the summer waking me up at night, getting me excited to teach again.  And then…the year starts, I try some things, others are forgotten, some work, some don’t.  This year with a new grade level and a new subject and only 45 minutes, there has not been a dull moment yet.   So why not share, hopefully we can learn from each other.

What has worked:

  • Starting with independent reading.  Jillian Heise shared this wonderful idea of having the first 10 minutes dedicated to independent reading,  and while that cuts class time down to 35 minutes, this is the best use of 10 minutes I can think of.  Students get settled, they actually read, and we all get a nice start to class.
  • Status of the class.  This great idea from Donalyn Miller is a simple check in tool where students write down what they read in the 10 minutes.  I use it to have students track their reading habits, such as whether or not they are actually reading and whether or not they are picking good books.
  • The “What to Read Next List.”  Rather than showcase new books one at a time, I save them up and have book shopping time.  Yet, with 5 English classes they cannot take any of the books until the end of the day.  Thus the need for somewhere to write it down.  Students get free time to browse the piles of books on the tables and share their excitement with others.  They always have a book they cannot wait to read without it taking too much time.
  • Blogging!  I was very nervous about whether we could fit blogging in but I am so glad we found the time.  We blog every other week in class but then the students can blog as much or as little as they want outside of class.  They can’t believe the comments they are getting, I cannot believe how much I am learning about them, but again, their voices and ideas are getting a place in the world, which matters so much.
  • Mini-lessons.  I wasn’t sure how 7th graders would respond to this but it has worked well.  We are able to get through the teaching so they can get to work.  They don’t mind gathering on the carpet in chairs or on the floor and I like that we have a smaller area for discussion.
  • “Adult” discussion.  We actively work on how to discuss our thoughts without raising our hands, I love how the students are figuring out how to do this while listening and responding to each other.  We have a long way to go but the seed has been planted.
  • Choice.  These students need to choose their books in order to keep reading.  I have been a proponent of choice for many years and even more so with this age group.  Some of my students hate reading with a passion and much of that hate comes from being forced to read certain books.
  • Picture books.  I wasn’t sure if 7th graders would be too cool for picture books, but once again these timeless tales are capturing their audience.  I love when I see two 7th graders sharing a picture book somehow thinking they are getting away with it.  Reading is reading no matter what.  And there is always time for a great picture book.
  • A huge library.  I knew I needed a lot of books to keep 121 7th graders reading, and boy was I right.  The taste, abilities, and needs are so varied that I am so glad I didn’t get rid of my “easier” books, nor nixed some of my tougher ones.  Sure the library is a bit more messy than it was in my 5th grade but it also getting a lot of use, even though we have a fantastic library here too.  I have even had teachers come in and borrow books, now that is a success.

What has not worked:

  • Post-its for all.  I really drove the use of post-its home with my 5th graders but have fund it less useful with my 7th graders.  Some need the, some use them, others don’t need them at all, and stil others need an entirely different system to get them thinking.  What matters is that each child is on the path to figure out what works best for them in order to push their thinking.
  • Outside reading.  I have yet to see a huge growth in outside reading.  While the students know they are supposed to read, some choose not to, some don’t have time, and others forget.  I am not enforcing it through a system simply restating the expectation every day.  I will keep working on it.
  • My old conferencing ways.  I used to call students to my table with all of their stuff but have found this wastes too much time.  Instead I pop next to them with a sheet of address labels and I write my anecdotes on those.  They then get transferred to an “I Have Noticed” sheet that I keep in their section binder.
  • Partnering students.  I had partnered students based on personalities and not friendships, this has definitely backfired.  I forgot how shy some 7th graders can be and have to re-think how to partner them better.  They do not have assigned seating which has been fine so far so perhaps self-chosen partners wont be a bad idea.

While this is just a snapshot, I am happy to see more ideas that have worked than not.  Working under the 45 minute time constraint has given me a whole new appreciation for middle school and high school teachers and all they do.  Whew, there is a lot to cover int hat amount of time.  What has been working for you?

When It’s Nobody’s Fault

We thought it was the teacher’s fault.  Isn’t that always the gut reaction you have when something bad happens to your child?  Someone must be to blame and in this case, since Thea told us she hated school, well then the teacher must have been to blame.  Except, I asked, and Thea said that no, she loved her teacher.  Was it the kids?  Was she being teased?  No, sure there were recess squabbles, typical of a 5 year olds’ day.  Was it the homework?  The reading log?  The lunch?  As we asked every night, searching for the answer, Thea just kept shaking her head.  “I just hate school, mom…I hate all of it.”

What do you do when your child says they hate school and there is no one to blame?  No way to fix it?  When their hate is based on a notion that they would rather stay home and play than learn?  That they have decided 2 weeks into Kindergarten that school is not a place for learning, nor is it a place for fun, besides in recess and gym.

We can blame the teachers, “They must not be doing their job to make it fun.”  We can blame the other students, “Those kids must be disruptive.”  We can blame the district, after all, they make all of the decisions.  We can blame our own child, after all, she must not be trying hard enough.  We can blame ourselves since somehow we have not instilled a natural love of learning in our child.  But really in the end, there is no person to blame.  Sometimes it is nobody’s fault.  Sometimes it is truly the system, a faceless entity that we must change.

So instead of blaming, we are trying to fix, to mend, to repair.  To teach Thea that school is a great place to be.  That school is magical, that learning is one of the most powerful things we can spend our time on and how lucky we are that we get to do it every day.  Sometimes there are no easy answers.  Sometimes there are no easy fixes.  That doesn’t mean we give up, it just means we try to change rather than blame.  There is so much to do.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

How Many Readers Have I Hurt?

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Every year I share the story of my husband and how he hated reading for most of his life with my students.  I used to share it because it was unfathomable to me; how can anyone hate reading?  But in the past few years, I share it so the students know that hating reading and feeling like a bad reader is not a box that should define them.

Yesterday, as I told the story to my 7th graders, head nods all around as I explained how my husband would rather ride his bike than read a book.  He knew he was a slow and bad reader, so why even bother when the world has so much else to offer?   I asked the students; why is reading hard?  Why do we think we are bad readers?  One boy raised his hand and said, “I was told I couldn’t read a book because it wasn’t at my level…”  More head nods, and I cringed a little, pretty sure I have told students something similar at some point.  But still I asked them, “What else has happened to you?”

One shared the story of being told to read other genres to break out of their preference, another of the five finger rule and how it was enforced.  A girl told us of how easy books were not allowed, only the ones deemed “Just right.”  Stories of forced books, worksheet packets, and reading logs arose and my mortification grew because I know I have said and done all of those things.  But these kids were telling me how harmful it had been, not helpful as I had thought every time I said it.

I wonder how often our sage reading advice hurts rather than helps?  I wonder how often our great intentions damage what we are trying to build?  I know that students need guidance when it comes to growing as readers, but are levels, forced books, and “just right” the way to do it?  In our helpfulness are we instead creating reading boxes that our students cannot break free from?   I told my students that I would never define them by their level and that the books they choose to read need to be just right for them.  Just right at this time in their life.  Just right for what they want to do.  That can mean many things and it can change through time.

I end with the story of how my husband realized at the age of 35 that he was not a bad reader.  He was a slow reader, yes, but that did not make him bad.  He realized that had he had more choice, more books, something else in his younger age who knows what would have happened.  The past is out of his hands but the future he controls.  So as he slowly makes his way through books, he is becoming a reader.  I tell my students that they have control of the label they give themselves and to not let that label hinder them.  We have all been “bad” readers at some point, we chose what to do with that label.  It is my job to help them with that, not give them more boxes to hold them back.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

 

 

We All Have Worth

image from etsy

We do not think our words have value.  We do not share our new ideas as loudly as we should, instead whispering them in the hopes that someone hears us.  We do not want others to think we know better. We tread lightly so that others can see we know our place.  We beat ourselves up before others can, that way we are ready for the disappointment.

Yet we tell our children that their words matter.  That their voice should be heard around the world.  That they should speak up, stand proud and stand tall behind the ideas they share.  That their worth starts within them, not based on the opinions of others.  We tell our children that they can make a difference if only they speak up.  If only they dream.  If only they try.

Yet our own actions do not fly so boldly.  Instead we cower within the box we have placed ourselves in, even though the world needs our voices as well.

We forget that we have worth.  That our words are worthy of an audience.  That the ideas we carry within may help others as they have helped us.  That although we may be unsure, we will not find greatness if we do not try.  Our words have power.  Our words have strength.  Our words may take on a life of their own if only we release them.  We all belong in the conversation, join in.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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