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?

 

 

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being a teacher, being me

On the Road Again

White, Black, Yellow, Red,  Free Image

As summer beckons in just a few weeks, I have the honor of traveling to learn and teach with passionate educators around the country.  I often get asked where I will be, and while this page is almost always up to date, I thought it would be nice to have a visual of where I will be this summer in case I am close to where you are, especially since most of these are open to the public.  If you would like to have me come to your event, please see this page, it is not too late to book for the summer. I hope our paths cross!

May:

May 19th, Morning workshop, Passionate Readers, Waukesha, WI

June:

June 9th, 2018 – Speaker, Indiana State Book Festival, Muncie, IN

June 21st, 2018 – Scholastic Reading Summit, Chicago, IL

June 24th – 26th, 2018 – ISTE, Chicago, IL

June 28th – July 4th, 2018 – Barcelona, Spain

July:

July 9th – 10th, 2018 – NerdCamp, Parma, MI

July 12th, 2018 – Scholastic Reading Summit, Raleigh/Durham, NC

July 17th, 2018 – Scholastic Reading Summit, Los Angeles, CA

July 21st – 28th, 2018 – Hanging out around Carolina Beach, NC

August:

August 2nd, 2018 – Workshop, RRVEC, Grand Forks, ND

August 8th, 2018 – Workshop, WSRA, Stevens Point, WI

August 14th, 2018 – Goosecreek, Texas

August 15th, 2018 – League City, Texas

August 24th, 2018 – District PD, Calexico, CA

being a teacher, being me

After the Bullying Ends

Many have asked how our daughter is.  Whether the bullying has stopped?  Whether she is okay.

And to that I say, it’s complicated.

The short answer is, yes, the bullying has stopped.  After further incidents where Thea once again was targeted, was hurt both physically and emotionally, the girl who continued to seek her out was removed from her classroom and so it stopped.  They don’t see each other and so there has been no room for any kind of incidents to happen.

The long answer though is different.  Sure, Thea is no longer in an active bullying situation but as any parent of a child who has experienced trauma will tell you, it is not over.

Her foundational belief that school is safe for her is gone.

Her belief that adults can keep her safe is being rebuilt.

Her positive attitude toward school and what it entails to be a student is often missing.

Instead, we are left with a child who sometimes still asks to not go to school and wonders what will happen if…

What will happen if they target me again?

What will happen if they hit me?

What will happen if no one likes me?

What will happen if my teacher doesn’t believe me?

And whenever we need to, we remind her that we are here to help.  That her teachers are there to help.  That we have a plan.  That we have a system in place.

And yet, telling a child that you have a plan who has already witnessed that plan failing to protect them seems cruel at times and laughable at others.

And yet she goes to school.  She laughs with her friends.  She smiles about boys (where did that come from?), she tells me of her interest in Rosa Parks and how one day she hopes to be as brave as her.  She shares the good, the trivial, and sometimes the bad.  We speak of before and after, having found a new time marker in our life that we never wanted.  We speak of next year and wonder whether 3rd grade was just a year to forget and that next year certainly must be better.

Her father and I wonder what the long-term changes will be.  Will she continue to distrust school?  Will she continue to reach fight, flight, or freeze much faster than her siblings?  Will she continue to wonder when someone says or does something unkind to her whether they will repeat it and a new bullying situation will happen?

I wish I could say that it’s over and that she is fine.

There are days I believe it but then there are days where we see the pain from it all rear its ugly head again and we are left to pick up the pieces of a kid who so much wants to love school, to be successful, to be liked.  But who just doesn’t know if it will happen.

So all I can say, to those who have wondered.  It’s better, we believe that, but we still have a long way to go.  And our daughter?  She continues to amaze us because that is all she ever has been; amazing.  And tough.  And kind.  No child should have to experience bullying, what can we do to stop it?

 

 

being a teacher, being me

Who Keeps You In Line?

On Friday, I stood on the stage at EARCOS in front of hundreds of passionate educators from all over Asia and told them my story of change.  The story of how my students have changed me. It was met with applause, with careful words shared after about how they felt inspired, moved, how what I had said mattered and how they wish more educators had been there to hear this powerful message.  I felt on top of the world.  As if I mattered, as if the words I spoke mattered, as if I had made a difference.  Like I had it all figured out.

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Today, some of my students reminded me that our class is boring, that what we are doing doesn’t matter much, and that no, they were not happy to be back after spring break, thank you very much.  Ah, the life of teaching 7th grade.

So much changes in a few days.; from high praise, hugs, and admiration from fellow educators to sometimes harsh words served up frankly from the very students I serve.

It seems that I am not the perfect teacher after all, but I knew that already, even before today, because I teach students who speak up.  Who sometimes forget to say the nice before they get straight to the point.  Who have no problem pointing out what they dislike, but still are working on how we can make things better together.  Who, yes, sometimes like our class, but often push me to be better, to try harder, to keep thinking.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In fact, if it weren’t for my own students, I wonder how much of the hype I would end up believing.  Probably all of it.  After all, it is hard not to believe someone when they tell you just how much you matter and how great of a teacher you seem.  And yet, it is easy to say someone is a great teacher, coach, administrator, fill in the blank, when you are not in their classroom or schools.

And so I wonder what happens when we don’t have the presence of those we serve to put us straight.  When we leave the classroom, or the school, or the job and no longer are in touch with those who our words affect the most.  When we only hear the good but don’t get a lot of bad?

What happens when our great ideas no longer really have to stand the test of time?  When our great ideas and “just do’s” don’t actually have to face the test of our own classrooms?

How do we keep ourselves in check if all we get is admiration?  Who brings us back down to Earth to remind us of how teaching continues to be a challenge, even when we think we have it all figured out.

I see it play out in social media all of the time.  From the inspirational tweets that seem more quippy the older I get.  From the followers that rush in to excuse any old statement someone makes because surely they didn’t mean to sound like an idiot, or condescending, or like a know it all.  To how we end up equating followers and likes with quality, with actual work, with some being “rockstars” or somehow better than “just” the regular educators.  How we constantly seek inspiration to be just like those who forget to share their failures, who somehow appear more than the rest of us.

I think it is a dangerous thing.  I think it is too easy to take oneself too seriously.  I think it is easy to write about only the good and not share the bad.  I think it is really easy to compose posts, tweets, or pictures that only tell half the story.  Yet, showing off flaws, off failures, off the not so great is what makes us all human.  Is what makes us actually relatable as educators.  I have never claimed to be a perfect teacher, nor will I ever, my students would tell you that there are great moments, and then there are boring ones, just like in most classroom.

And so for that, I am grateful.  For their honesty, I am thankful.  Because if it weren’t for my students, it would be easy to think that I was more than I am; just a teacher still trying to figure out how to become better.  Not someone who already knows it all.

So who keeps you in line?  And how do you grow from their words?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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

It’s All in the Small

She tells me, “You know, Mrs. Ripp, I really learned a lot in 7th grade…”

I grin, and ask whether she is sure, that I often wonder if anything we do really helps them learn.

She says, “What helped me the most were all of those little things you would teach, the easier ways to do things.  I use those now…”

The bell rings, my sub time is over in 8th grade, I tell her to see me for a book, and she is off to see her friends.

I am reminded in these moments that as an educator I need to see the small steps.  That I need to count the little moments that really are the big wins in the bigger picture.  That it is easy to see that one child who all of a sudden becomes a reader, or a  science lover, or a coder, or a successful student.  But that when I only look for those big moments, I miss all of the small ones that are equally important.  I miss the moments that show signs of important growth, that may not be as obvious as that big aha moment.

Like the child who independently abandoned his book and then immediately went to the bookshelf to grab another one.

Like the former student who told me he didn’t have a book and then actually came and book shopped and found one.

Like the student who told me that he thought it was pretty cool that he doesn’t hate reading now, but doesn’t mind it as much anymore.

Like the child who trusts me enough to tell me that she is lost and needs help.

Like the child who only takes two reminders to settle in rather than five.

If we only measure education in the big successes, we may lose faith in our ability to actually create change.  For our students to actually grow.

Because those changes happen so gradually that they are easy to miss.

Because those changes often happen after they have left us.

Because those changes aren’t always shared in an outward way.

Because those changes often get overlooked when we compare students to each other and then wonder why they are not all acting the same way.

So if March is bringing you down.

If you are having a hard time remembering why being teacher is the very best job in the world.

If you are wondering if you are making a difference.

If you are wondering if your students are learning and growing.

Look for the little change.

Really remember how they came to us.

See how far they have come.

And if you are not sure, ask them.  Do they know how far they have come?

Count the small steps and then count yourself lucky that you get to be a part of this incredibly complex process we call school.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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

Priorities

Can I just discuss priorities for a moment?

I find myself at a point in time where it apparently bears repeating that some of our priorities in education seem a little misplaced.  After all, I don’t know how many more discussions I can bear witness to that centers around which expensive curriculum to purchase when our librarians are being forced out of their jobs.  How many more giveaway prizes are needed rather than actual books?  How many more paras we need to help the students, rather than certified staff?

If our priority is to create education that actually works for all kids and not just the ones who are easy to teach, then we need to discuss what our priorities should be.

Our priority should not be how to punish the kids that misbehave but rather how we help them remain in our classrooms instead.

Our priority should not be for how we can force kids into our rigid systems but instead how we can make our systems more flexible.

Our priority should not be how many skills a program will teach if we don’t have the foundational knowledge to understand why these skills are needed.

So can we instead decide that it only makes perfect sense to…

Invest in certified staff, particularly in areas that have the biggest impact such as special education, the arts or the library.

Invest in books before basals.  Books before programs.  Books before computer programs that teach basic reading skills.

Invest in raising student’s voice, rather than finding ways to quash it.

Invest in mental health services, in counseling, in smaller class sizes so we can truly connect with all of the students we teach rather than in more security and locks.

Invest in the staff we have, in order to retain an experienced staff, rather than always focusing on how to recruit the new?

Invest in community.

Invest in access for all kids.

Invest in hugs.

In smiles.

In high expectations for all.

In challenging all.

In equity and in hard conversations that uncover our own areas of weakness.

In the basic components of education that may not garner news headlines but that we know works, respect, credibility, training, reflection, and yes, love.

Can we please make it an expectation that if you teach kids you have to actually like kids.  After all, it doesn’t feel like too much to ask.

Perhaps if we straightened out our priorities and went back to common sense, we wouldn’t be having so many of the same conversations again and again.

Perhaps…

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.