When We Are the Problem

Sometimes we don't see ourselves fully until a child holds up a mirror @pernilleripp

I thought she just wasn’t a very strong reader.  Not yet anyway.  She seemed lost, perhaps a little quiet, and definitely not invested.  In my head I was already planning for all of the interventions that I probably should try to make sure that this year was not a lost one.

As the year passed, her disinterest grew.  I guess I wasn’t surprised., after all, when the tasks get harder some kids tend to disengage more.  It didn’t help that she constantly seemed to be mad at me, we clashed over little things; cell phones, eye rolls, not reading.  I wasn’t sure what to do.

Mid-year and all students fill out a survey.  One question I always ask is, “How can Mrs. Ripp teach you better?”  That night as I looked through all of their answers, hers hit me hardest….”I don’t think Mrs. Ripp really likes me so perhaps that could be something she changes.”

I sat there quiet, realizing all of the clues I had missed.  That sometimes happens when we can’t see the forest for all of the trees, or the individual child for all of the students.

So the very next day, I pulled her aside, and I thanked her for her honesty.  I apologized, told her that I did like her but that it probably had not seemed that way.  The smile she gave me at the end was a furtive one, but it was a start, a promise of a new beginning.  A promise I needed to make to be a better teacher for her.

That child is no longer behind in reading.  She swallows books like a meal.  She participates.  She is engaged,  always ready to learn, eager to share her ideas.  She pulls others with her as she becomes stronger, more powerful in her thoughts, and I stand sometimes on the sidelines realizing what a fool I was.  How much we can destroy without even knowing we have a part in the destruction.

I often speak of the things we do to make students hate reading, and yet, how often do we look at how we affect the kids?  How we affect their relationship to whatever we teach because we may not be the best fit.  We may be focused on them in a negative way and we may not even be aware of it.

Not every kid has the courage to tell their teachers how they feel. I am so grateful to my incredible 7th graders that they speak up, that they help me change.  Because I try, we all do, but sometimes we don’t see ourselves fully until a child holds up a mirror.

That girl has a special place in my heart, she may not even know it.  But every day I look at her and she reminds me that I need to be the best for all of them.  I need to see the good in all of them.  I need to see everything they can do.  And I need to see myself and how I play into the equation.  Sometimes we may not like what we see, but that should never stop us from looking.

 If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, so until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

4 thoughts on “When We Are the Problem

  1. Amazing – I know who these kids are, who really genuinely seem to think that the teacher doesn’t like them. So glad you built a space where that students felt like she could tell you what she thought. Thanks for reminding me to reach out especially to those kids.

  2. This was a timely post for me to read. I did a survey with my Kinder students recently that really opened my eyes. When I would say “Mary’s doing a such a good job, thank you Mary”. Many students were actually hearing “the teacher only likes Mary”. Luckily I have time to fix that problem. I agree that sometimes you have to ask those tough questions because so much goes unsaid with kids.

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