being a teacher, being me

We Send You Our Best

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I have shared Thea’s story with school for years.  How our oldest daughter was labeled a struggling reader in kindergarten and has been in intervention ever since.  How she declared that reading was simply too hard in 2nd grade, despite her incredible teachers, but that Dog Man by Dav Pilkey made her believe that she was a reader and that she had always been a reader.

How our oldest daughter was bullied so badly that she asked whether you could survive without friends.  That she ended up changed last year, new pieces of a puzzle that we have yet to figure out how to fit together.

I have shared how we have we searched for answers.  How we have focused on protecting her hope of reading.  Her love of school.  How we have flooded her with books, fought for her right to be safe, and seemingly tried everything we can to make her believe that she has worth.

Thea is a child who tries even when it is hard.  She is our dreams come true.

What I have never shared, fully, is the guilt that comes with having your child identified as someone who hasn’t learned what they should.  The shame in your own parental structures.  The questioning of your own ability to parent successful children who do not need intervention.  Who do not end up being a question mark.

Who do not end up being bullied.  Being the victim of other children’s vicious nature and whims.

Who do not end up being the parents of a child who thinks that she doesn’t deserve friends, because she is lame.

I think of all of those emotions that are tied in with our own children’s journey.  How their journey in school only seems to highlight the failures we have as parents.  As people.  How we blame ourselves when they fail to reach benchmarks.  When they get in trouble.  When they fail to find the community that other children seem to so easily find.  When they make decisions that we seemingly cannot understand and we know that the teachers that teach them may very well think that we are the ones that pushed them in that direction.

How many nights of conversations my husband and I have had about what we were doing wrong.  About what else we could do.  Trying to come up with solutions to a situation we are not sure we understand.  How many nights we have held our tongue and assumed that perhaps a teacher did not see how something affected our child.  How many nights I have cried over how I have failed my own child because of what she has to face.  How I wish I could take her place but that I know that as a parent that is not my role.

I think of how many times I have assumed that a child stood in front of me and acted a certain way because that is how their parents or those at home acted.  That the child in front of me is surely the product of everything those at home failed to do.

I am ashamed of this realization.  Of the judgment, I have so easily passed.  Of the assumptions, I have let shape my decisions in how to work with kids.  In how to work with those at home.  But in shame comes learning.  Comes growth.

Because what Thea has taught me, what all of our children have taught me, is that most parents try their best.  That we send you the very best kid we can.  That we have probably done all of the things that are meant to make our child as successful as they can but it turns out it might just not be enough.

That sometimes even though we follow the rules, take the advice, try all of the tricks, a child, our child, will still confound us.  Will still mystify us.  Will still make us pause as we wonder what else we could have done.

I hope my children’s teachers see us as parents who try.  That they know that sometimes we don’t understand a behavior either.  That we have raised them right but that doesn’t guarantee that they will act right.  That even though we did all the things to raise a reader, our child, who is a reader, may not be able to read well, yet.  That even though we have raised our child to be kind, helpful, and loving, others may not see her as such.

May we all remember how hard it is to send a child to school.  How hard it is to let go and hope that the child that walks through those doors is the child you hoped would show up.  Because we tried.  Because we are trying.  And I hope you see that.  I hope we all remember that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.

 

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being a teacher, being me

Come Teach Again – On Teacher Guilt and the Platitudes that Grows It

For a while, I have been noticing a trend in my Twitter feed, or rather what Twitter wants me to see.  If I ever cross into “Moments” or “Search” it seems that the same white males keep popping up with Twitter telling me that if I follow education then I surely must be interested in their statements.  At times, it is right, many who are no longer in the classroom have fascinating ideas to share, research to ponder, and resources to go through.  And yet, there are times, and seemingly more so recently, that who I am supposed to be learning from in education keeps being the same white, male, non-classroom teachers that keep telling me, this classroom teacher, what I need to do to be the perfect teacher.

I have quietly rolled my eyes.  Seethed a little.  Showed friends how funny it is that it seems to be the same people that others also see when I ask them to cross into that stream.  At times I have been baffled by the statements shared, even if well-meaning, as they seem to be written more with a re-tweet in mind than any actual learning.

This morning, as I leisurely browsed Twitter on my vacation, I came across this statement.

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A pretty typical example of the platitudes that are served up daily to all of us educators who spend time on social media.  Often, statements like this get liked thousands of times, retweeted to the nth degree.  Shared as if this is the gospel truth, pushing teachers to finally realize that they should teach as if they actually care about their job.  Seemingly wanting us, in this case, to finally realize that since everything is controlled by teachers, then surely we could create the most engaging student experience if we just worked a little harder.

Can we stop for a moment and unpack this just a little?

I used to lose sleep over how I seemingly failed my students.  How even though I spent hours planning engaging lessons, how even though I brought my very best, how even though I walked so many steps in the classroom checking in with each student that my knees and hips hurt at the end of the day, it didn’t always seem to matter.  That every day there seemed to be at least one kid who was quick to tell me just how bored they were.  How much they didn’t like what we were doing.  How much they wished they were somewhere else.

Despite my planning.

Despite my strategies.

Despite my positive urgency to reach all children.

And so when these supposed thought leaders, who seem to be fairly removed from the day to day experience of what it really means to teach, then tell us that everything our students experience is controllable by us, I cannot help but wonder how many teachers end up feeling like failures just like I did.  Despite all of the work they have done.  Despite everything they are striving to be on a day to day basis.  Despite how much they already pour of themselves into this profession because we know how much it matters.

How is that furthering anything good for educators?  Because the teacher guilt is a real thing.  Because teacher burnout from not feeling like we are enough is a real thing.  Because we already work in a profession that at times is showcased as everything that is wrong with this country.

It is hard to sometimes believe you are of any kind of worth when you are constantly reminded of all the things you should be doing if only you were a great teacher.  In fact, last year, I expressed my regret to students in how I seemed to fail to engage them all during a particular unit and that I wished I was a better teacher for them.  How I was really trying and yet seemed to not live up to the high expectation I had placed for myself.  In that moment of vulnerability, I will never forget what several students told me.

It’s not your fault, Mrs. Ripp, sometimes we just don’t want to.

It’s not your fault, Mrs. Ripp, because we are kids and it is natural that we don’t always like school.

It’s not your fault, Mrs. Ripp, because we need to bring it too…

They need to bring it too.

I love the wisdom of kids.

Because that’s it.  While we, as educators, should bring our very best every single day.  While we, as educators, should plan engaging lessons for all.  While we, as educators, should teach as if every moment matters – because it does – we are not enough.

We have to have a partnership with students when it comes to their engagement.  To their empowerment.  To their investment into our classrooms.  We have to bring our best and expect our students to bring their best as well.  We have to have an agreement with students that we will all try to rise to the occasion together, and that there will be days where that may not happen.  And that does not mean we have failed, but just that we will try again the next day.

My job is not to entertain my students, my job is to teach, and while the two are not mutually exclusive, I have to continually remind myself of what my purpose is as the teacher in the room; to help them become more invested, engaged, and critical participants and creators of their own educational experience.  That does not just rest on my shoulders, but the shoulders of our students as well.  We start conversations about what real learning looks like and then we set the expectation of how we will provide the foundation for them to stand on, but that they must do the building.  Sometimes with us and sometimes without.  That we can only bring our very best but then it is up to them to make it matter.  To make it worth their time.  That for them to have the very best educational experience, they have to invest as well.  Sometimes despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, they face in life.

To think that I, as the teacher in the room, controls all of their attention and levels of engagement is simply false.  It supports the notion that students are mere pawns and not there as active investors in their own learning.  It supports the notion that school is something we do to children rather than something they experience.

So what if instead of listening to some who may have great things to share but are not actually doing it themselves, and haven’t for a really long time, we instead had conversations with students about how we can increase engagement and attention in our classrooms?  How about instead of pretending that everything is under the control of teachers, we actually realized that the very best classrooms are those where students share the control and thus have to invest to actually learn?

Because frankly, I don’t need more people outside of the day-to-day realities of what it means to be in a profession that is constantly attacked for not being enough, telling me how I need to do more.  To that I say; come teach again, then we can discuss it, my students and I have plenty to share.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child  Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.

 

 

 

being a teacher, being me

In These Divided Times

Yesterday, I was given the opportunity to speak for 5 minutes on the ISTE small stage.  I was given five minutes to share something I am passionate about.  Something I care about.  I knew I wanted to discuss technology.  I knew I wanted to discuss division,  I thought I would discuss the Global Read Aloud, and yet as I started writing I realized the inherent opportunity I had been given to speak about something I am still learning about and growing within.  Something I have spoken about before but not at ISTE, not in a tech space.  So yesterday, I delivered the following Ignite to a full room.  I don’t know if my words will matter, I never do, but I was nervous and proud to speak from the heart.  Hopefully, I didn’t screw it up too much.  And while some told me it was a brave speech, I am not so sure about that, after all, I am pretty protected within my privileged place.   It was truly the least I could do as we continue to work toward a better world for all, not just those of us with privilege. 

PS:  Some of the words were repeated from my NCTE speech but they fit here as well.  I also think a video will be made available at some point and will add a link here.  For now, here is a Periscope version of it.

 

I was clutching the steering wheel.  The red and blue lights behind me flashing.  My heart in my throat. In my head, I kept wondering what I had done.  I knew I had followed the speed limit, used my blinkers. And yet, I was getting pulled over and I was frozen.

As the police officer walked up, I was scared.  Not for fear of a ticket, but because I didn’t have my green card on me.  That little card that grants me the permission to be here as a lawful immigrant.  That little card that I am supposed to carry on me at all times, in case the police, or ICE agents, or even strangers ever question whether I have the right to be in the US.

I didn’t have it.  It was at home. She came up to my window.  “License, registration please, do you know why I’m pulling you over?” My brake light was out.  That was it. Get it fixed or get a ticket – not questioning, not deportation. She thanked me for my time.  And then she walked away.

She never asked about my green card.  She never asked if I was here legally.  She never even thought to ask.

I was raised in Bjerringbro, Denmark, but my mother had a wandering heart and at the age of six, she moved us to inner-city San Francisco.  I navigated not understanding what someone said to me when they spoke. Figuring out how to find the bathroom when you don’t know how to ask to leave, how to make friends when you don’t speak the same language, how to show I was smart even if I couldn’t communicate it.  

And just when I felt like I had mastered this new culture, this new language, this new me,  we went home. Becoming Danish once again, rather than a kid from a foreign country. But when you see me;  Do you see a woman whose first language is not English? Or do you just see my white skin? Hear my American English and assume the rest?  

When I was 18, we moved again.  July 1998, I walked up to the counter in Logan Airport and declared myself an immigrant.  Alone and clutching my sealed papers, the officer took the papers and led me to a small room.  After what felt like forever, he finally handed them back, said; “Welcome to America” as he led me out into what felt like a whole new world.  

For 20 years no one has ever asked me for my papers again.   I have walked freely wherever I wanted to without being questioned, without being asked where I am from, without anyone asking me where I was born, all because of how I look.  That is white privilege,

When I wrote about how I am never assumed to be an immigrant, someone replied; “Well, that is easy to understand, after all, you look like an American.”

Let’s think about that for a moment.  How can I look like an American when I do not have a single drop of American blood in me? How can I look like an American when my first language is Danish and not English? How can this Danish girl be handed so much privilege – my skin of course.

You see, my family and I are so white we are like a caricature of whiteness, blonde, blue-eyed and tall.  I was born white, it is who I am, but I am on a journey to use my innate privilege to be something more. Not just an ally, but a fighter, and technology is my weapon.

My students and I have taken the curriculum that the world has handed us and tried to figure out where we fit into the world.  We have used books and computers to connect to the world. Web cameras, videos, and apps to not just share our work but to learn more.  

Yet when a student asked what does refugee mean and another child answered, it means the enemy, it was a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done.    On the urgent need to use technology so that we can make our own decisions based on actual experience and not just hearsay and biased opinions. Use it so that those of us, who live with privilege,  can be a part of the fight for a more just world.

Because let’s face it, I am privileged because I get to be afraid of the type of reaction my teaching may cause if I continue to teach about inequity. If I continue to teach what it means to be privileged.  I get to be afraid for my job and I get to choose whether to have these hard conversations or not. But the truth is, there should be no choice. We, as teachers, are on the front lines of writing the future narrative of this country.  Of this world. Ugliness and all. We are the gatekeepers of truth, so what truth are we bringing into our classrooms?

Where is our courage when it comes to being a part of dismantling the fears that drive us apart because It is not enough to bring in devices, the latest gadgets, without using them to learn about others.  To understand others. To have the tools to dismantle our prejudiced world but then choose to do nothing to change the world that we live in.

We, as people with privilege, must use technology to create more opportunities for the students to do the hard work.   To create an environment where they can discover their own opinion. Where they can explore the world, even when it is ugly so that they can decide which side of history they want to fall on.

So look at the power of the tools you have at your disposal.  Look at what you can do with a camera. With a computer. With your voice and your connections.  Look at whose voices are missing in your classroom. Look at who your students need to meet so that they can change their ideas of others.   

We say we teach all children, but do we teach all stories?  Do we teach the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or just the sanitized version that will not ruffle any feathers?  I can choose to bring others into our classrooms so that their stories are told by them. I can choose to model what it means to question my own assumptions and correct my own wrongs.

What if the next time a child made a statement that divided rather than united, instead of scolding them, we used a camera, a microphone, and others as a way to start a conversation.  What kind of world could we be? What kind of history would we write?

 

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being a teacher, being me

But Do They Run Into Your Classroom?

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For eight years I have been sharing my thoughts on this blog.

Eight years of good.

Eight years of not so good.

Eight years of simply needing to get it out so that my brain could process whatever it was and move on.

Eight years of trying to be more than I was.  And so there is something that still needs to be said, that has been driving me crazy for a long, long time.  That makes me feel like a fraud, like a charlatan teacher who probably doesn’t really have the right to share anything about how anyone else should teach. What no one ever told me before I became a teacher was how there would be this unbelievable pressure to be an amazing teacher.  To be the kind of teacher that truly changes lives.  To create the type of environment that students cannot wait to be a part of.  What no one ever told me before I became a teacher was how much social media would lead me to believe that I was doing it all wrong, most of the time, because my students are not those students that love school.

It is fed by the statements that surround us as teachers…

“If they didn’t have to be there, would they really show up?”

“Students should be running into your classroom not running away…”

“If they don’t love it, then you are doing it wrong…”

And while I get the sentiment behind these statements, I also think of the danger of them.  The unattainable versions of reality that really none of us can ever live up to.  These notions of creating such over the top unforgettable classroom experiences that make kids want to run into our schools, choosing us and our classroom above everything else.  Every. Single. Day.  Who can live up to that?

For ten and a half years, I have chased the mirage of being a perfect teacher.  Of being the type of teacher that created those types of experiences that would make students flock to our classroom.  That would make students want to come to school.  And while there have been days where it almost felt like that, I have never achieved it, because let’s face it, it is a completely unrealistic notion.  And it is a notion that are driving teachers to feel as if no matter what they do, no matter how hard they work, they will never be enough.  They will always be lacking.  How exhausting and debilitating is that?

So I am going to give it to you real straight because that’s what I always try to do; most of my 7th graders would probably rather hang out with each other than walk through our door.  Most of my 7th graders would not run into our classroom if given the choice.  They would probably rather sleep, watch Youtube, or simply hang out.

And I am okay with that.

Because that’s normal development.  Because it is okay for our classroom to be low on their choice of experiences.  Because it is okay for our classroom to not be something they think about when not in school.  Because it is okay for kids to not be excited about the idea of going to school.

What is not okay is for them to hate it once they do get in our rooms.  There is a big difference.

And so that is where we do the work.  To create experiences that make students want to engage with our learning.  That makes students feel as if they matter once they are there.  That makes the time fly, the minutes pass until the next class, where they can hopefully experience that again.

So while most of my students would probably not volunteer to come to our classroom, once they are there, many of them love it.  Many of them love what we do, who we are, and how we grow.  Many of them would choose to stay once there.  And to me, that is what matters.

So the next time you hear someone state, “But would they choose to come?”  It’s okay to say, “Probably not” and not feel like a horrible teacher because what you realized is that the question was wrong all along, not you.  Because what you realized is that you can teach your heart out and still have a hard time competing with everything that surrounds young people these days.  Because what you realized is that the question should have been, “If given the choice would they choose to stay?”

And to that I can honestly answer, “Yes, most of the time they would…”

It turns out that perhaps I never needed to be a perfect teacher, I just needed to be real.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child  Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.

Be the change, being a teacher, being me

Lessons From Ten Years of Trying….

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The night before my very first day as a teacher.  This is what terrified looks like.

Ten years ago, I said thank you to my very first class of 4th graders.  Thank you for their dedication.  Thank you for their persistence.  Thank you for their love.  I know I cried as I hugged each and every one of them, thanking them for our year.

Today, I will hug as many 7th graders as I can.  I will thank them for a year filled with laughs.  With challenges.  With growth.  With love.  Teaching is by far the best thing I can do with my professional time.  When I look back on ten years of teaching, I cannot help but think of all the things I have learned.  Of how I have grown.  Of how I am still growing.  There is so much to learn, still.

But ten years has also taught me a lot about what it means to be a teacher.  What it means to get up every morning and do this job.  Not just because you have to, but because you can.  And as always, the kids I have had the privilege of teaching are the ones who have taught me the biggest lessons.  The ones who have made me who I am today.  They taught me…

That’s it’s not about me.  That the needs of the students should always be my focus.  That when I am wondering what I need to change, they are where I start.  That my assumptions, while sometimes on point, will never be as accurate as what they will actually tell me.  That their advice, if we only take it, will transform our teaching for the better.

…but sometimes it is.  Sometimes I am the problem.  Sometimes I am the reason a child hates school.  Sometimes my decisions, even if made with the best of intentions, will harm rather than build.  It is my job to make sure that I know that.  That I realize the immense power that we have over the future of the very children we teach.  That I ask the hard questions in order for me to grow and to create an experience that works for every child as much as humanly possible.

They have taught me…

That a smile will always go further than a well-developed lesson plan.  That my attitude when it comes to the very kids I get to teach is a choice.  That saying hello, that smiling, that telling them how much I love this job, how much I love them, will make a difference.  Even to those who push the hardest.

….but sometimes a well-developed lesson plan can move mountains.  When students plan lessons with us, offer up their ideas, and invest their energy, we are already further than we could be without them.  That lessons need choice, relevance, and challenge.  That every child deserves to be held to high expectations, and every child needs a second chance when something doesn’t work.

That those who push you the hardest, leave the biggest marks.  That often those kids who see no value in school, no value in you, are the ones you will fight the hardest for.  That it is not your job to save them from their lives, themselves, or their circumstances, but that you are there to love, to offer up ways to navigate their lives, and to remind them that they have worth.  That in this world, they matter.

…but sometimes they don’t want you to be in their corner.  And that’s ok, too.  We can try to connect with every child we teach, knowing that for some we may be exactly the type of teacher they do not want.  The biggest gift we then can offer up is, besides not giving up, to help them forger connections with others.  To help them have someone they connect with, so they know that they are not alone.

They have taught me…

That I don’t know it all.  Especially the more I teach, I realize how little I know.  Ten years ago I didn’t think about my privilege.  I didn’t think about how marginalization hurt the very kids I taught.  How inequitable our school system is.  How white skewed my classroom library was.  How I didn’t know everything.  But I grew, and I will continue to grow.  I will continue to admit when I screw up, and it happens a lot, and I will continue to apologize, to use the power I have been given to fight for others and with others.

…but I do know some things.  I know that love matters.  That research matters.  That conviction matters.  That sometimes being the sole voice for change is scary, but necessary.  That we grow best through kindness, but sometimes kindness will not tear down walls.  That what we believe in directly influences how we teach, but that our bigger job is not to give students our opinion, but instead make space for them to develop their own.  That every day I get to work with kids is a better day.  That there is hope.  That this new generation of kids we are raising are changing the world.  That I would rather be a part of the fight, then safe on the sidelines.

I became a teacher because I hoped to make a difference.  I hoped to create a classroom where every child felt safe, where every child felt loved.  I don’t know if I have succeeded, but I do know that teaching has changed me.  That I would not be the person I am without the influence of the many incredible children I have taught and who have taught me.

I came into this profession to make a difference but in the end, it was the kids that made the biggest difference to me.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child  Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.

 

 

being a teacher, being me

What We Could Have Done, Perhaps

I am not sure why I am writing this.  Perhaps it is simply to get it out of my brain, if even for a few minutes, perhaps it is to not feel so alone.  Perhaps it is because someone, somewhere, out there will have some sort of magical answer that will somehow make all of this better.

The very harsh reality that we now face as a family is that our oldest daughter started this school year as a fairly well-adjusted eight-year-old who liked school, was nervous about making friends as the new kid, but was known as being kind, helpful and as a hard worker despite the obstacles she faced.

And then the school year happened.  And the bullying happened.  And life seemingly turned upside down from what we knew or at the very least thought we knew.

We now end the year with a kid who is angry a lot, sad a lot, who hates school, begs us not to send her, and worries that she will never be liked by her peers. Who snaps for little reason, has insomnia, and has continued to face learning obstacles that we have not been able to address because her mental health comes first before we think about reading intervention.

We now end the year with a kid that can go from being happy one moment to completely devasted the next.  Who yells so much, I sometimes forget what it sounds like to have a normal conversation with her.  Who asks for our protection and we know there is only so much we can do.  And yes, we have her seeing someone both in and out of school, but it does not seem to be enough.  Nothing seems to be enough.

While the rational part of me knows that there is not much more we could have done to protect her, I cannot help but feel like we did this somehow. Like we somehow failed to equip her with the tools she needed to survive this school year.  That perhaps if we had raised our voices sooner.  If we had yelled louder.  If we had seen the signs.  If we had taught her how to change her personality.  If we had not moved to our new house.  If we had not switched schools.  If only…

If only…

As parents, we pick up the pieces of our children every day.  We marvel at times over the miracles they are, over how they grow.  Over how they seemingly become this incredible person we always knew they would be.

But sometimes the pieces seem to no longer fit.  We wonder where this child came from and how we need to parent now.  We love, even when they yell.  We hug, even when they say they don’t need it.  And we keep telling them that they are beautiful.  That they are smart.  That they have worth.  Even when they don’t believe us because the words of other children now speak louder than whatever we could say.

This year, we count down the days until school’s out in this house, something we have never done. (17 days tomorrow).   We tell her just one more day, tell your teacher if you need to, look for a friend, hold your head up high.  And we hold our breath for the bus to bring her home, waiting to see what will be unleashed as she walks through our door.

I can’t help but think of how I somehow failed as a parent.  Failed to protect.  Failed to guard.  Failed to fix.  But perhaps it was never that simple?