being a teacher, being me

To the Strangers that Become Friends

5 years ago I thought I was crazy.  That there was no way, I could do all of the things I knew I had to do to become a better teacher.  I knew that “testsandgrades” were killing my students’ curiosity.  I knew that when I held a child back from recess due to unfinished homework I was tearing down all of the community building I had worked on .  And yet, this is what good teachers did; they gave homework, they handed out grades, they punished and tried to make children behave with any means they could.  But I knew that if that is what it meant to be a great teacher, I didn’t want to teach.

But instead of quitting, I turned to Twitter.  To all of those people I admired that seemed to have it all figured out.  Because I felt so alone, so isolated, because no one else seemed to think that what I was doing was the right thing to do. I felt like a fraud, like someone was going to walk into my classroom and tell me how much I was damaging these kids with my crazy ideas.  But the thing about Twitter, or being connected, is that you realize that you are not alone.  That there are others out there who have had the same ideas as you, that have blazed a trail for you to follow.  That these random strangers can become the inspiration that you need to be better, can become a friend, even if you never met.  That in their fight, you can find strength.

Yesterday the education world lost a warrior.  A true trailblazer who in his sharing and speaking up gave me the courage and the guts to make my teaching better.  My friend, Joe Bower, passed away, leaving his two young children, his wife, and a global network of teachers stunned at his sudden passing.

And so I write this post in tribute to the strangers that become friends.  To all the teachers that dare speak up even when it has consequences for their own lives.  Who never back down when it comes to kids, even if they seemed too harsh at times.  Joe taught me to fight.  To speak up.  To give kids a voice and never make it about me, but always about the kids.  He taught me that there were always others to ask for advice from, that there was always a way to make something better even when it seemed like there wasn’t.    That even if you never met, you could still matter to others.

The world lost a fighter yesterday.  Many of us lost someone we admired, that we looked up to, that inspired us.  But we haven’t lost his voice.  His words will continue to push me and others to fight for change, to never forget what it is really about.

Joe wrote a chapter for a book called Reduced to Numbers and he starts with the line, “I am not the same teacher I used to be.”  Truer words cannot be found today as I mourn his passing.

Joe, I am not the same teacher I used to be, because you gave me courage.  For you and all those kids, I will keep fighting, we will keep fighting.  Thank you.


7 thoughts on “To the Strangers that Become Friends”

  1. I admire all you do, Pernille. Wish I had known Joe but now will read more of his blog posts. His voice is here, still. Such sadness for his family and friends and for education and “our kids”. My sympathy to all.

  2. The education world lost an incredible catalyst for change with Joe’s passing but we can keep his spirit alive by continuing to fight for change, both in ourselves and in our schools. Joe will live on!!

  3. Very beautifully written Pernille. I googled Joe Bower on Twitter to find out more…
    These words of his jumped out at me:
    “Want to collect data on how children are learning? Know them. Watch them. Listen to them. Talk *with* them. Sit with them. Be with them.”
    Wonderful advice. I will continue to find out more about this educator who walked the talk and had the courage of his convictions.

  4. This is a fantastic tribute to Joe. His chapter is insightful, informative, and inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

    Lauren Gould

    6th/7th Grade Teacher English Language Arts

    Indian Mound Middle School, Room 152 6300 Exchange St. McFarland, WI 53558

    Email: Phone: (608)838-4500 ext. 4855 Twitter: @MsGouldsClass Website:

    Check out our Donors Choose Project, Creating a Multicultural Classroom Library .

    *The McFarland School District does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, sex, including transgender status, change of sex or gender identity, English language proficiency, age, military status, or physical, mental, emotional, or learning disability in any of its student programs and activities.*

  5. Beautiful post. I have started to feel the same… About strangers all over the country who I’ve never met in person but are the best source of encouragement, who ‘get’ me and who share my beliefs about children, books & education. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.

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