aha moment, attention, being a teacher, being me, Passion, students

I Challenge You to See Every Child, Not Just the Ones That Demand Your Attention

…I remember thinking that the teacher in front of me probably had no idea I was even in their class.  That my parents didn’t come to parent-teacher conferences because they heard the same thing over and over; Brandon is doing just fine.  I was the just-fine student, the average kid, and teachers never saw me…

It’s Friday evening at our house and for the past two hours, my husband and I have been in deep discussion about race, education, being a foreigner, and what it means to be a kid these days.  But it is these words that stick with me.  The words about being the average kid who never got much attention.  It is these words that have hung over me the past few days.

Because my husband is right, there are those kids that we do not see in our classrooms.  Where entire class periods or days can go by and we have had little interaction with them.  Where we struggle to really describe what they can do and how they should grow when we speak to their parents.  The kids that are doing just fine, they don’t cause problems, they are perfectly challenged within our learning, they do their work, they sometimes raise their hand.  And they fade away into the background of our classrooms as we focus on the outliers; the kids that demand our attention either for good or for bad.

Yet, those kids need us too.  The sheer fact that there are kids that slip through our days should make anyone shudder.  Every kid deserves to be seen, every kid deserves to be noticed.  Every kid deserves to feel that their teacher knows who they are and what they can do.  Every kid, even the just fine ones, deserves to be taught.

This year with 116 students, I have seen how easy it is to not be a part of a teacher’s day.  I have seen how easily a child can go through their day so quietly that no one really recalls whether they were there or not.  But I have also seen a school that tries to notice every child.  It is not easy and there are days where we fail, but at the very least we are aware.  In 7th grade we use a few tricks; I schedule small group instruction with all students, I use a clipboard with their names on it and track who I am speaking to, we send postcards to every single home to highlight the great things we see.  And yet, there are days where I don’t recall whether a child came to English or not except for their attendance.  And that makes me sad.

So my challenge to you is a simple one; notice all of your students.  Find a system, a cheat if you will, and make sure that every single kid leaves thinking that their teacher knew they were there.  That every single kid leaves every single class thinking that it mattered that they showed up.  Yes, I know it is hard.  Yes, I know that it will take more work than what we already do, but we have to.  No child should think they are invisible.  No child should feel like they don’t matter.  No child should sit 20 years after they graduate and share the story of being invisible like my husband did.  It starts with us, will you take the challenge with me?

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.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

2 thoughts on “I Challenge You to See Every Child, Not Just the Ones That Demand Your Attention”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I was faced with this just last week. I realized I didn’t know much about one of my students. So I upped my interactions with her last week and I learned so much. I invited her to lunch in my classroom and she talked and talked about her life. I felt ashamed that it took until April for me to discover this perfect flower and I’m so glad I did.

  2. How very true that is. These “just fine” students are often the ones who need the most help. If they are capable of doing “just fine” without any help or recognition, just think about what they can do with some positive interaction with teachers who see them not just as students occupying a desk, but rather as real people with real hopes, aspirations, problems and crises. When one just takes the time to sit down and listen to what they have to say and show some interest in them and their lives, that can make all the difference in the world. Let them know by your actions that you believe that what they have to say really matters. Talk with them, listen to them, go to their ball games, track meets, school plays, etc. When they see you doing these things, the expression on their faces will tell you without words, how much of a difference you are making, not just in the classroom, but in their lives.

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