And Yet We Grow…

“I don’t think you were a good teacher to me and you did not help me this year at all. I don’t think you should be a teacher here. This year of english is the worst year all.”

Three lines.

Three lines that cut deep.

Three lines that can crash your world.

Three lines that can make you question every single thing you stand for and everything you believe.

We pride ourselves on the difference we hope to make.  On how we try to make our classes more engaging. On all of the ideas we try, hoping to make school somehow better.

And yet…

For some, it is not enough.

For some, you are not good.

For some, you shouldn’t even be a teacher.

I will admit there were tears.  Embarrassment, after all, am I not supposed to have it figured out?  Perhaps even confusion.  I didn’t realize that I would elicit such a strong response from anyone, but I did.

And yet in these words, beyond the surprise, beyond the hurt, there is also a truth.  A truth that must have taken a lot of courage to share, to write, knowing that I would see the words and also see who wrote them.

So rather than wallow, or lick my wounds, or at least not for long, I asked the child to tell me more.  To help me better understand so that I could prevent this reaction in future years.

Their answer was to the point; I just hate English, it is not really you, but the class.  When I asked if they were sure because it sounded like I was a part of the problem, they shrugged and said they didn’t really mean it.  They were just angry and resentful toward English.

I thanked them for their honesty and vowed to do better.

I share these words tonight because they still hurt.

They still are embarrassing.

They are words I would rather hide and pretend I never read.

And yet, within these words is a careful truth, one that is beyond the obvious of being a teacher who seemingly failed a child; we are not perfect.  None of us are.  I am not perfect, not that I have believed that for a long time.  I am still growing.  I am still learning.  And yet sometimes we look to others and think they have it all figured out.  That in their classes all kids love what they are doing.  That every child must love them as a teacher and we look at our own classrooms and wonder why we cannot seem to reach that pinnacle of perfection.

So see these words and know; they hurt, but they are not the full story.  One child’s reaction will never be.  Your story will never be told in just three sentences so do not diminish yourself to three sentences or less.

There may be days where I feel like I figured it out, but there will always be days where I know I haven’t.  The most we can do is to keep coming back and try again.  To reach out again.  To keep asking our questions even if the answers hurt.

We grow because we dare to ask.  Because we tuck our pride away and take the words that are delivered.  I don’t ever want to stop asking.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

They Taught Me

I have taught children from the ages of nine to fourteen for the last nine and a half years.  I think I have taught them a few things, I hope I have, and if the comments I get from kids after they leave our classroom is any indication, then some of the things we dreamt up together did make a difference to them.

Yet, teaching was never about me.  This journey we are on every day, every year, was never about the adult in the room, but rather those kids that come every day.  Not always because they want to but because for some reason the universe has decided that we will be on this journey together.

So as another year winds down.  So as the calendar tells me only eight more days.  So as I finish my third year as a 7th-grade teacher, I cannot help but think of all the things my students have taught me this year.  Those things I don’t ever want to forget.

They taught me that being human would always trump being a teacher.

That a single story never has to define who we are, even if others refuse to believe otherwise.

That hugs can go a long way, even when said hug is to a child that towers over you.

That sometimes truths are not easy to share, nor easy to hear, and yet they can change everything.

That having faith in every child, not just the easy ones, will always take you further, even if it so hard.

They have taught me that I never know the full story and can only be grateful for the pieces that I get to know.

That choice in some way, even if tiny, will always lead to more engagement.

That I need to love first, teach second, thank you, Jed, for reminding me.

That sometimes kids don’t know how big of an effect they have on us even if we swear they set out to push ever single button they could find.

That the best part of my day will always be them, getting to teach them, getting to learn from them.

That sometimes teaching simply is preserving hope, more than anything else.

They have taught me that even when you want to shut your door, you should leave it open as you don’t know what you might miss.

That if we want real connections then we have to be real to begin with.

That even if something has worked in the past, there is no guarantee in the future.

That sometimes we don’t make much of a difference, even if we tried with every piece of us, and all we can hope is that we did not do further damage and that they knew we tried.

They have taught me that we are not perfect, that we can plan, and dream, and scaffold, and support, and yet still come up short.  That we are humans in the truest sense of the word and we are therefore inherently flawed, and yet, that should never stop us from trying to become better.

But the biggest thing, I was taught this year?

That I choose the narrative of how the year will be for me.  That I choose the way the story is told in our classroom.  That I choose whether this was a good year or a bad.

And that lesson was the lesson I needed the most.  I will miss this group of kids.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

The Full Story

We stood staring at Plymouth Rock yesterday marveling at the history it represents.  At what it means for this nation that I have adopted as my home.  As we turned around we saw the statue of Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag tribe, on the hill, peering out to sea.  His image followed me into the car and I finally asked my husband, “Why on the hill?”  Why not right next to this monument that marks what many consider the beginning of America?  How many people miss this part of the story, marvel at the survival skills of those early Pilgrims, and do not think of the rest of the story; the other part of this complicated history of America?  Surely you must understand both sides to truly see the bigger picture…

It reminds me of my own work; how often do we, as teachers, just see the obvious?  The traits that show up on the very first day, that dominate our conversations and we never find the time to dig deeper?  We never “hike up the hill” to take a closer look at what we think lurks right there but that is hidden from view at first?  We don’t have time, we have so many kids, we have so much to do, and so our story continues single-mindedly for many of our students no matter the glimpses we see?

As many of us prepare to hand off our kids to the next team of teachers, may we find the time to tell the full story.  To sure, share the dominant things we have seen, but also the things that may be so easily seen.  To not tell the full story of a child in just data.  To not tell the full story of a child in just their behaviors.  To not tell the full story of a child in just the obvious, but dig a little deeper.  To make sure that our narrative is nuanced, balanced, and hopeful.  To give those teachers waiting to make a difference a chance at who this kid really is and not just the things that may have been the main talking point all year.

I think of the power we hold as the previous teachers of these kids.  Of how we decide what gets shared.  Of how we decide what is told.  Of how we decide what to focus on and we pass that on to the teachers that do not know them yet.  So tell the full story, and if you don’t have the full story yet find it before it is too late.  I know I still have work to do.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

 

 

Hopefully We Will Get It Right

To my sweet little girl, who may not be so little anymore but still…

Two days ago I asked you to read with me.  This week has been crazy with long hours at school for me and I have missed so much of our daily routine.  No books, no hugs, just hurried bedtime kisses and promises for a weekend together.  So you searched for a book and I watched you pick up, discard, pick up, discard, pick up, discard until you finally grabbed a book and sat in close.  You opened the first page and then stopped….

Haltingly you forced out the first word, then went through the next and then you stopped once more.  Guessed, moved on until you once again became stuck and the words did not come.  I pointed at the words, waiting patiently but I felt it in every inch of you; the tension.  The difficulty.  The work…The exact opposite experience I wanted to have with you and then you said, “Mom…reading is really hard.  I don’t think I like reading anymore…”  And I had to look away because for a second my world stopped and I had to take a breath and find my smile and look at you.  I said the only words I knew to say which were, “I know, I am sorry, but you are doing it, think of how far you have come…”

And yet…I cannot help but think of what we did wrong when we raised you to be a reader.  Of how we must have screwed up somehow because it is not meant to be this hard.  It is not meant to be such a struggle when you are eight.  It is not meant to be this constant struggle, god I hate that word, and yet struggle is exactly what you do when you try to crack the code of the word on the page in front of you, a word I swear you just knew the night before.  And so I blame myself, how can I not, because I am the one that should have done something, whatever IT was, that I obviously didn’t do and now here you sit telling me that reading is not something you like anymore.  That reading may not be your thing because it is boring, and hard, and obviously not meant to be figured out by a kid like you.  And it tears me apart because what is life without reading and how come mommy can’t fix this?

You go to bed and turn on the light.  As I tuck you in you tell me one more book, mom, and you do your version of reading, and I know deep down that it wasn’t us, that it wasn’t something we did, but I still feel so darn responsible, like I somehow screwed up by not reading more books or pointing out more words.  Like somehow I missed a step when they told me how to raise a reader, and I feel so lost in how to help you, and I am sorry.

But you, my little girl, are teaching me that sometimes things are outside of our control and even though we try so hard as parents it doesn’t always work.  That even though we stuffed our house as full of books as we could.  That even though we read to you every night.  That even though we pointed at the words and tried to make reading fun, it still may be the hardest thing you have ever had to overcome.  And that although I wish I could just flip a switch, or carry the burden for you, that all I can do is keep smiling and keep the focus on what really matters; the love of books.

So tomorrow we are home and I will ask you once again.  “Come sit by me and find a book, let’s read it together…” and you will.  And you will pick up, discard, pick up, discard, pick up, discard and together we will slowly piece the words together and hopefully, we will laugh.  And hopefully, you will be proud, because I will be.  Every day.  Every book. Every word, even if we don’t get it right the first time.

 

What I Have to Tell Them

I watch them come in, hands clenched, eyes downcast, not quite sure what to think.  I tell them to take a deep breath, tell your story, there is nothing to be worried about.

Our students lead their conferences and while it is not perfect, it is incredible to watch their story unfold.  To see them decide what deserves their attention, to see what they find valuable.  To see those that come from home ask them questions and see them truly realize what we have known for quite a while; they have grown, they have changed, and yes, they are almost ready to leave us.

And so I smile and share the good.  Tell them how proud I am of them.  How I have seen them come in not quite sure what to think or how to speak up.  Not quite sure what this 7th-grade thing really is to this…these kids that have conquered almost all that we have challenged them with.  And I remind myself to tell them that I will miss them.  Because I will; these kids with their stories, these kids with their dreams, their kids with their hopes that this year would be different and for many of them it has been.  They marched right into my heart, threw down the door, and settled right in.

So before I forget I remind myself to tell them that they matter.

Before I forget I remind myself to tell them that I was the lucky one.

That they made me smile.

That they made me laugh.

That they made me cry too, sometimes out of frustration, but mostly out of pride.

That they pushed me harder than I thought I could take but that I am still standing.

Before I forget I remind myself to tell them that their stories deserve to be heard, that their work matters and that they, too, have changed the world.

That they can be more than they see themselves.

That they make people better.

That there is a place in the world for them, no matter the thorns they sometimes unfurl.

I came into this year not knowing if 7th grade was for me.  Haunted by the perpetual doubt of whether I was enough.  Whether I could handle the challenge of another year of second-guessing, of feeling lonely, of not quite fitting in.  Whether I was meant to teach this age, to teach just English, to be at this school.  It turns out I could because this year I was never quite alone.  The kids were right there, believing in me, believing in us.  Perhaps not every moment, but those that mattered.  And so in the end, after watching these kids with their hearts, their hopes, their dreams, and even their fears tell their stories and own what they are, I feel it is time for me to tell mine; I am a 7-th grade teacher, for better, for worse.  It turns out I just forgot to remind myself of that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

 

 

This Year

“Has this year made it harder or easier to write, Mrs. Ripp?”

We are sitting in circle today (a restorative justice process we use to communicate), and the question now hangs between us, fourteen kids staring at me, waiting for an answer.

I know what she is asking me; has this year, with this group of kids, made me write less or more?  Has this year been too tough to handle or have I found inspiration?  What will I tell others about the kids I teach?

I don’t hesitate, I tell her the truth, after all; these kids tell me their truth all of the time.

So I tell her it has been hard.  That I have had to weigh my words more carefully.  To really craft the sentences that have been published on this blog.  To think deeper before hitting publish.  To take a moment to breathe before I go to write.  To write clearly, to write with intent.  To write with care and with meaning.

But not because this year has been hard.

Not because these kids have been hard, although some days have been hard.

No.

But because this year I have been pushed as an educator further than I have been pushed in many years.

Because this year I have felt like a terrible teacher more days than before, and not because I lost my temper, or things fell apart, but because I wanted to be everything for everyone. Because I wanted to change the narrative; the story these very kids told me of the reputation they came with, of how they knew they were the “bad kids” and how hard that was to carry when they didn’t feel bad.  To help them know that they are not “bad” or “trouble,” that the actions of a few do not define the whole.  I wanted to help them know that we, teachers, saw this as a new beginning, that with us they could reach the goals they set, even if some days would be hard.  To help them all believe that reading was worth their time.  To help them understand how transformative writing could be.   To help them at this incredible stage of their journey.  To make sure that every day I brought my best because they deserved it.

But some days I have failed.  Some days the minor things have piled up and I have left feeling like I could never be enough.  That I was not enough.  And that is hard to write about.  After all; which parent wants to read about how their child’s teacher does not think they are enough?  Who wants to publicly admit that sometimes they don’t have the right answer, a new idea, or even a clue as to how to make everything work for all of the kids you teach.

Yet.  This year, with these kids, this is one I will remember.  For how they pushed me, for how they questioned, for how they wanted to be something more than the story they felt was written about them.  This year may have been hard to write about, but it sure has been good to be in.  And that is something worth remembering, even when we feel we are not enough.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.