I pulled her aside, wondering how I could help as we face another half a year of 7th grade. Carefully I asked why she was with me, what had held her back from understanding what I had planned out. What stood in her way of not completing her work. I searched for clues to be a better teacher for her and hoped she would she some light on why she never asked the questions I am sure she had.
“Do you get what the assignments ask you to do?” I asked searching for a place to start.
“No.” She answered matter of fact.
“Well, why don’t you ask me questions about them then?” A classic follow up question.
“A teacher once told me I asked too many questions. Whenever I raised my hand he would say, “Oh here comes another question…” and so I stopped. I figured I didn’t want to upset my teachers. I figured they didn’t want to hear it.”
The weight of that statement swallowed me for a moment, the enormity of a child telling me they had stopped questions, so I looked her and said the only thing I could.
“You have our permission to ask as many questions as you need. You have our permission to ask even after you have asked and you still don’t understand. Don’t ever let someone stop you from asking a question. Part of my job as a teacher is to answer your questions, don’t forget that.”
I think of what I have probably said in the past when I have been in a hurry. When I have been annoyed that a student asked that question. When I felt sure that they just hadn’t listened and so they didn’t really deserve for me to answer their question. I shudder at the permanent damage I may have caused from my own terrible judgment. I shudder at the things I have taught students just because of my own impatience.
The thing is with teaching that I sometimes forget; part of our job is to answer questions, not judge them with our answers. Not judge them with our veiled contempt at yet another question. Part of our job is to create classrooms where students feel safe to ask. Safe to ask again. Safe to ask in a different way. Our job is to teach all of the kids. Even the ones who don’t understand. Even the ones who ask us question upon question. Our job is not to teach students that they should never ask a question. Think of the damage our words may cause. Think of what we truly teach children with our words.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark, who has taught 4th, 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. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.