Be the change, being a teacher, being me

That This Year…

Thea tells us that the only goal she has for fourth grade is to not be bullied.

She doesn’t care about learning how to read better.  How to strengthen her math skills.  How she will do more science, learn more geography, create more beautiful art.  How to do the work that fourth graders are supposed to do.

She cares about being safe.  About being liked.  About not sticking out so that “others will pick me on, Mom…” as she hides her new glasses and tells me she doesn’t really need them after all.

Her actions speak louder than her words right now.  One moment happy and carefree, the next riddled with doubt about what lies ahead.  The questions tumble from her, will I have a friend?  Will my teacher like me?  The uncovering of the hurts that were perpetuated against her continue.  They told me I was stupid.  They called me gay and I knew they meant it as a bad thing, Mom.  They told me no one liked me.  That I shouldn’t come back.  That school would be so much better without me.

And I hold back my tears and I put on my brave face, because damn it, what do you say to your kid when she would rather believe the awful lies her fellow students told her than the truth from her parents?

So we speak louder through our actions and our words than those kids could ever hope to do.  So we spend time simply being together, getting ready for the year ahead.  Telling her that this year will be better.  That this year will be different.  That she is awesome.  That she is funny.  That she is smart.  That this year she will find another friend.  That this year she will blow everyone away.  That this year she will feel safe.  That this year will not be like last year because how can it be?  And we try to piece back together what the kids who bullied her tore down so easily.

I think of her as I get ready for my own students to show up.  That while some may be dragging their feet simply because school is not fun, others may be downright terrified.  Others may lie awake at night wondering what this year will bring?  Whether this year they will continue to be picked on, picked apart, punched, pushed, and abused, all by those kids we tell to stop and “Be nice.”  Do they worry that we will not protect them?  That our nonchalance and our quick fixes will do nothing to actually change anything?

And what about their parents?  The ones raising them?  The ones who send them our way with the hope that we will see the very miracle they sent us?  Do they lie awake at night, like we do, wondering if the words we say will actually be true once the year gets started?

Thea has her first day of school outfit planned, aid out in her room, waiting for the moment next Tuesday when we wake her up, kiss and hug her and send her out the door with our love as her protection.  It took a long time to get it just right, what my seem small is now so large, because, who knows what will happen on the first day of school?

We hold our breath and expect the best.  After all, this is a new year, a new start, and for this kid it has to be.   So this is a reminder that it’s on us; the adults.  The parents, the caregivers, the educators, the staff.  That these kids are coming to school to feel safe.  To feel accepted.  To learn in an environment that will protect them no matter the child they are.    No child deserves to be terrified.  No child deserves to wonder whether this is the year, they will once again be bullied.

 

Be the change, being a teacher, being me

On Airplanes

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I am hurtling through the air, clouds drifting by beneath me, blanketing the earth from view.  Confined to the seat I was given by a computer, on an airplane as I once again cross the country in order to teach other educators all that my students have taught me.

My seat is comfortable, for short periods of time, the ache in my back slowly making its presence known, reminding me that as I get older, my body carries the signs of frequent travel and confinement.  Of sitting in airplanes and plastic chairs, of hurriedly drinking my tea before I find the seat that has been given to me, that will dictate my next hours all in order to serve a greater purpose of bringing me to the destination I need to go to.

I am reminded of how it used to be a joy to get on a plane, excited for the journey ahead, and now it is mostly just ordinary, a means to an end, no longer covered in sparkles and foil, but just another day at the office.  How my mind has made it a quest for anything to be out of the ordinary just so that this very trip can be wrapped in something other than what I have come to expect; greetings from polite attendants, the same snack selection, perhaps a movie, nothing more, nothing less.

Much like the school experience many of our children have.  One that used to be wrapped up in excitement and possibility but now is immersed in tradition, in used to it’s, in more of the same, and the same expectations for all for the greater good.

I wonder why it has taken me so long to see the similarities between airplane travel and our schools?  Wedged in beside strangers that I may or may not connect with, told within the armrests what our area is, with hidden rules and expectations of what proper behavior is.  Knowing full well how rude it is to take up more space than what we are given. How rude it is to draw attention to ourselves through the food we eat, the scents we bring with us, the volume of our conversations.  How rude it is to be loud, to be seen, to be anything but quiet and nearly invisible in order for the greater good, the common purpose.

How the attendants start us all with the same speech, assuming that only a few are paying attention and yet they try to tell us how important it all is for our future as they vie for our attention while using hands-on manipulatives and humor.

How the seats we are given mirror the very experience our students have when we give them rights that are based on what they already have.  More wealth or status gives you a better seat, a better seat gives you better service, food, blankets, and careful attention.  Remove the privilege, remove the ease, as the rest of us regular folks can only sit and watch behind the mesh curtain, aware that we are not good enough, not properly attuned to sit up there where the air must surely be better because the food certainly is.

And I am confined, not just in my physical space, but also mentally.  I find it hard to concentrate on the tasks at hand, longing instead for the air to move, for the wiggle room to do something other than sitting here, even though I know that the quiet I have been given in this very moment should be seen as a gift.  A chance for me to take a moment and do whatever I want, but this is hard to do when all I want to do is not be confined.

I count down the minutes until the journey is over so that I may resume regular life.  Outside of these rules.  Outside of this space.

And so what do we do within this knowledge of what school may be seen like for some of our students?  How do we, within the rigid systems we claim are in place for the greater good, find space for all of our students to breathe freely, to break the boundaries of the space they are given and recover the sense that where we are going matters?  This is what I ponder as the attendant waits for us to push the button in case we need anything, as they do everything in their power to ensure we all have a pleasant and safe flight.  As they wrap us in infinite patience.  Feed us snacks to make sure our inner rumblings don’t become outer ones.  As they try to take us to a destination that we surely wanted to go to at some point.  But perhaps we just forgot.

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.

 

 

 

being a teacher, being me, Reading, Reading Identity

On Not Being a Reader…Yet

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She tells me she doesn’t want to go to first grade.  That she no longer wants to be a first grader.

This child who loves school.

This child who loves her teachers.

This child who has been beaming since the day she realized that after kindergarten came first grade, another year to learn, another year to grow.

And yet, here she is, declaring that for her school is no longer where she wants to be.  So I ask, what changed?  Why not?  And she gets a little quiet, sinks a little bit into my body, snuggles up as if the secret is hard to carry and tells me quietly, “I don’t know how to read…”

Because in her mind, all first graders know how to read.  Because in her mind all first graders know how to look at a book and automatically unlock all of its secrets just like that.  And why shouldn’t she?  Hew twin brother, 21 minutes younger, is already deciphering words, putting letters together to uncover the mystery of the page before him.  Asking me what this word means.  How to spell this word.

And yet she sits in front of a page still working through her letter sounds, trying to remember the foundational blocks before she pieces them together.  She sits in front of a page and instead of seeing opportunity she sees something that she cannot conquer, that she has not conquered, despite now being an almost first grader who supposedly should have conquered it.

I realize that once again, our well-meaning intentions, those benchmarks we put in place to ensure every child is a success has claimed another temporary victim whose self-esteem now relies on a part of her that her brain simply isn’t developmentally ready for.  Because that’s it.  There is nothing wrong with her capabilities.  Nothing wrong with her skills.  Nothing wrong with that smart brain of hers, other than that it is not ready.  Not ready right now, no matter how many district mandates tries to say she should be, but she will be.

And so I wonder how often do we lose kids within our standards?  How often do we add labels because of a rigid system that tells us not only how each child should learn but also when and then lets us decide that a perfectly fine child is now behind.  How often do we, because of outside forces, lose a child’s place in school because a chart, a book, a system, told us that the child was lost.

I will tell you this, much like I told my Ida, she is a reader.  She is a reader who is figuring it out.  She is a reader who is growing.  But more importantly, she is a child.  A child who will read when she is ready.  Who is ready for first grade despite the benchmarks reminders of what she should be able to do.  She is ready and until the first day of school, and for every day after, we will snuggle into bed together with a book, reading the pages together, developing at the pace that was intended.  Not the one dictated by something that will never know the nuances of my child.

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.

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.

 

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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