being a teacher, being me, books

On Trigger Warnings and Potential Censorship

Warning: This post contains me changing my mind as well as unfinished thoughts. Read on to see what happens when you open your discussion to the expertise of others.

You may have come across them if you read adult books. A list at the beginning of the book telling you what types of sensitive content you are about to be exposed to. A gentle reminder to take care of oneself, to breathe and step away if needed. To pay attention to the reading experience in more ways than understanding the text, but also understanding one’s own reaction to something in order to make an educated choice about the type of risk one is willing to take.

I usually skim over them but appreciate the gesture, but as I came across another one, it made me think; should our classroom and library books have trigger warnings? Should we as educators, librarians, add in potential trigger warnings in order for students to be more informed about the book they are about to pick up or not. It couldn’t hurt surely…

And yet, I wanted to think this out loud. What was I not seeing this discussed more because it seemed like such a simple idea. If it was so helpful, why wasn’t everyone doing it?

So I tweeted my thinking…

…and was not disappointed.

A few different discussion ensued; one about the language “trigger warning,” one about the placement of a potential sticker, and then also one about the problems with this practice.

On the language of using “trigger warning”

On the placement of the label on the front of the book

And most importantly on the whole concept

So, as you can see, my thinking changed as others added their thoughts. It went like this…

  1. Great idea, Pernille, get labels and make them colorful and bright so all kids can see them on the front of the books that discuss sexual abuse and violence, have racist language like the “N” word, feature violence against children and maybe other topics as well.
  2. Don’t call them trigger warnings – call them care and concern notes instead. Keep them on the front.
  3. Hmm, don’t put them on the front, put them on the inside instead.
  4. Wait, perhaps, it should just say “Come speak to me…”
  5. Hang on, what do I know about what will trigger a child?
  6. Will I end up needing to put a label on every single YA book in my room?
  7. Whoa, I may be encouraging censorship through this process.
  8. Whoa, I may be encouraging wider censorship of books through my original tweet sharing my idea.
  9. Where will the boundary be for what is considered a trigger? How will this look mixed in with hate/animosity towards marginalized populations?
  10. Someone may take my original idea and think to do this and end up demonizing marginalized people further.
  11. I need to write about this

And so, where does this take me?

Well, I still have a lot of thinking to do, but I know I won’t do trigger warnings. What I will do instead is many folded because the identities of our readers are complicated and nuanced.

I started by reading this article shared by my friend Sara Ralph and others

I will send home our classroom library letter at the beginning of the year in order for those at home to have an idea of what types of books their learners may encounter in our classroom.

When students are introduced to our classroom collection, I will specifically discuss how Young Adult books differ from middle grade and explain how I use the PG-13 rating on books.

I will book talk many of our tougher topic books so that students can hear me discuss some of the potential emotional parts in them so they can make the decisions that will work for them.

I will encourage, as always, that each child knows themselves well enough to know when to abandon a book.

I will confer as much as possible with my students about their book choices and whether they feel the book is great for them or not.

Books that have to do with suicide or sexual assault, I will place a label on the inside with help-line numbers.

And then I will continue to mull over the fine balance between helping kids find great books and hurting their choices instead.

The bottom line is; censorship lives and breathes in our collections of books. We already know that most of the challenged books as reported by ALA in the past few years have had to do with sexual and gender identity. We know that there are many active book challenges happening at this time. We know that sometimes through our well-meaning intentsion (like my original tweet) we may be furthering censorship. But the good news is that we don’t have to.

As a child growing up in Denmark, there was no censorship on the books I was encouraged to read. If I wanted to read about mature topics, I could, my mother trusted me to navigate these books when I was ready and then also let me know that at any point, we could discuss them. It fundamentally shaped my worldview today; that children know more than we assume, that we cannot shield them from tough things in the hopes of keeping them innocent, and that they are eager to learn about others.

By bringing this discussion online and now here, I encourage others to look at labeling systems that are already present in their schools, such as “mature” sections which only some kids can access, or books that need to be checked out with parent permission. Are these really helping kids or are we stopping them from reading books that will speak to them? That may be about them? That may give them hope? Do our “helpful” systems to shield children actually end up hurting them instead?

The kids show up in a month and one day, the books will be waiting. I cannot wait to see the stories they will gravitate toward, I will be there to help them.

Follow up: After posting this post, this incredibly thoughtful comment was left on it in a Facebook group it and brought to my attention. This once again shows me how much I still have to learn, despite being acutely aware of PTSD and how it can affect you.

Pernille Ripp you’ll be in our area at the end of this month, so I shared this post with our librarians, and one of them had this response. “I appreciated Pernille’s showcasing of dialogue and evolution of ideas on the topic. However, the origin of the trigger warning I feel is completely lost in the article. Trigger warnings are for people who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As someone who has PTSD and actually has to seek out signs for potential triggers when I engage in materials, trigger warnings are literally supposed to help prevent me, who has experienced trauma, from going into panic and/or fight or flight mode. Trigger warnings are not supposed to filter distressing topics. Those of us with PTSD are not distressed. We have a diagnosable condition where our brains are like broken records that when triggered can easily be stuck on repeat, reliving trauma over and over. When triggered we can forget where we are and who we are with, we can have a complete nervous break down, suffer insomnia, physical pain, lose consciousness, need medical intervention. This article did not seem at all to be dealing with actual triggers. Many of us experience trauma in a myriad of ways – and that can include reading material that covers topics discussed in the blog you shared because, let’s be honest here, reading is an empathetic experience. However, not all of us who experience trauma develop PTSD. My point here is: If a person needs trigger warnings, they need professional help.

I think the goal behind the conversation is valid and worthy of our time. However, the focus is misplaced. In order to properly label materials with warnings or care and concerns or whatever you want to call them, we would have to be well-equipped to understand what constitutes a trigger and then engage all our collection’s materials on a deep enough level to be able to properly label each and every one. That’s not a realistic goal. So instead of zeroing in on the materials themselves let’s focus efforts instead on making sure every library has a consistently updated and very visible and accessible: poster of hotlines and local resources, book collection, and series of programs designed to equip patrons with the tools they need to handle their pain/medical conditions. Let’s train every library staff member to recognize suicidal ideation in our patrons (a lot of times that stuff just leaks right out without them even knowing), how to talk to someone in crisis, and how to stay up to date on who to contact in an emergency. “

PS: THANK YOU so much to all who discussed this with me. To see the original tweet and thread go here

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

These Kids, Our Kids

She tells us that she is not smart.  That school is not a place she wants to go to because that’s where all the smart kids go.  The ones who can read.  The ones who can do things so much easier than her.

She shows us that she is trying.  That every word that sits in front of her is a mountain to be climbed, seemingly no matter how many times she has seen it before, the climb is still there.  The doubt is still there.  The wanting to give up, because “This so hard, Mommy..” and we tell her to sound it out, to try again, to see the letters, even as they move and squiggle and run away from her eyes as she tries once again.  Everything taking twice as long as her twin brother.  Everything coming at a price of time that seemingly no other child has to give up because to them it just comes easy.

So we search for answers, for teachers who see the girl before they see the problem, for others who like us, sit with a child where reading does not come easy.  Where reading is not a magical adventure but instead dreaded work that doesn’t bring happiness but only affirmation of her supposed lack of can.  And we get the doctors involved and they tell us their diagnosis and I cry in the meeting because wouldn’t it have been nice if it wasn’t a specific learning disorder but instead just something that hadn’t clicked?  Wouldn’t it have been nice if we had it all wrong and she had us all fooled?  Wouldn’t it have been nice?

So we sit down with our little girl, who really isn’t so little anymore, and tell her that we did get answers and as we thought it turns out her brain just learns differently.  That reading is, indeed, hard to figure out but not impossible.  That now that we know more, we can do more, we can get help, we can get support, and we can go in the right direction rather than searching in the dark hoping for something to help us.  We can tell she doesn’t believe us, not yet, anyway.

And as summer unfolds, we hope that having this time can give us the time we need to build her back up, not because anyone tore her down, but because this mountain of reading has been telling her for too long that she is not as good as she thought she was.  And once those whispers started they were awfully hard to drown out when the proof is right there in front of her on the page.

And I think of how the systems of school play into this self-evaluation.  How the grades and the labels so often harm.  How we, as educators, sometimes confuse good grades with dedication, as if a child who is failing a class isn’t dedicated?  As if all a child needs is to just work harder, or hard enough because then the learning will surely come, and how for some of our kids, that is simply not true.  That I can see my child work hard.  That I can see my child stay at the table longer.  That I can see my child give her best every single day.  That I can see my child get extra teaching, tutoring outside of school, and yet the results don’t come because it turns out that hard work doesn’t always equal results.

And these kids, our kids, who are behind are often the ones working the hardest if we really had to compare.

And these kids, our kids, who are behind are often the ones pulled out of recess and fun activities in order to go work more.

And these kids, our kids, who are behind are often the ones given fewer opportunity for choice because it turns out that when you need extra support we have to cut something out of your schedule.

And these kids, our kids, sit with the same kids year after year, traveling as a group because the only thing we have identified them by is their lack of ability.

And these kids, our kids notice.

And these kids, our kids, know it.

And these kids, our kids, feel it.

And these kids, our kids, slowly start to take on the new identities we have created for them in our data meetings, in our hallway conversations, in our quick meetups when we make our lists, where we make our groups, where we share the stories that we think define these kids.

And these kids, our kids, are honored for their efforts by being given new names; struggling readers, lower level learners, behind, and you wonder how they lose themselves in the process.

And you wonder why one day, despite our best intentions, they tell us that they don’t think they are smart and that they don’t want to go to school.

So as my family once again adjusts itself in our pursuit of learning for all.  As we celebrate the answers we have been given this week while nurturing the child who is at the center of it all, I ask you to please consider this.  My child, our daughter, is not a struggling reader, she is a reader.  Period.  To tell her otherwise would break her heart.

And so these kids, our kids, deserve to be fully spoken about, to be fully known.  For us to start a conversation asking how they see themselves and if it is through a negative lens we actively fight against that.  And we tell them we see their effort, we tell them we see their progress.  We tell them we see their smart, and we stop with the labels, and the assumptions, and we see the kid for who they are rather than what the data tells us.

Because this kid, my kid, doesn’t think that reading will ever be something she can do, and I need, she needs, everyone that works with her to believe otherwise and loudly, because my voice is not enough.

Please.

Be the change, being a teacher, being me

The Teachers Tell Us…

A reflection…

Working through my keynote for this morning and I keep coming back to this moment from my own students – I asked my students who the “bad” kids were and they answered, “The teachers tell us…”

Even though I was there to witness it, it still hits hard every single time I see it. The power we wield, as educators, as adults, in how human beings see each other is astounding. It is something I carry with me every single time I teach, that through my actions, whether conscious or not, I will shape how a child’s humanity is potentially seen by others. While not singlehandedly determining the narrative, my presence, my being will provide others with a road map of how to see themselves and others.

It is something I don’t feel we spend enough time discussing, pondering, and helping us shape our teaching experiences.

And it starts on the very first day where we explain through our rules what “good kids” do and a child looks at that list and doesn’t see themselves.

That quote is 5 years old and yet, I wonder how many kids would still say something like that in schools across the world.

How many kids would consider themselves “bad” kids because that is the legacy we make for them?

Or how we label entire grade levels as “hard” groups or other awful titles and then wonder why they live up to it?

Words matter, actions matter, and the way we help children shape their identities in school to the point of where some are trying to succeed despite us is something to sit with, and then something to do something about.

Because as the mother of a child who felt unsafe at school due to bullying, who felt her teacher hated her in kindergarten, that was exactly the legacy she thought she should live up to. A child who didn’t belong, who was angry, who was broken.

And as a teacher who continues to screw up, despite her best intentions, I have realized that the least I can do is ask the very kids I teach whether they feel safe and respected and if they tell me no, then do something about it.

Because then, perhaps, we can change the narrative.

Be the change, being me

Chasing Happiness…

For a long time, I have kept a journal, well, let’s be transparent here, not a journal, but a long-standing to do list in a journal form. What started as a commitment to keep a bullet journal has morphed into my own version of my life in a book, with plenty of boxes to check off daily, and also main points of the day. My husband provides the journal, painstakingly researching the ones with the best paper and presents them with pens whenever a chance affords itself, I am lucky like that.

Every morning, while my computer boots up, I pull out my leather-bound journal and make the day’s to do list. A quick brain dump as I think of tasks big and small that need to be completed in order for my brain to change focus and be present when I get home. Sometimes on Sunday’s I make my list for Monday in order for myself to continue to focus on home rather than school as the weekend ends. On the days, I feel disorganized and off it is often because I haven’t taken the time to make my list. On the days I feel more stressed and scattered, the same culprit is at play.

After the to-do lists comes the second part of my ritual, a simple list on the previous day’s page titled “Happiness is…” In the quiet morning hum of my classroom, under the covered fluorescent lights, I try to take a moment to remember all of the happy moments. The ones that brought me peace and happiness that previous day.

This year for my word of the year I chose the word “More.” More love, more joy, more slowing down, more meaning, learning, more great food, naps, and everything that makes life truly worth living; more family, friends, and people who inspire me. More of the good things balancing out the to-do’s and the must do’s in order to be a responsible human being.

And I embraced the pursuit of more, I still do, but I also quickly noticed that my happiness list was dwindling, that in my eagerness to do more, I ended up working more to get more done, to be more productive, and so there weren’t many true happiness moments beyond the big events that stood out. If you looked at my happiness list, you might think I lived a sad life, and yet, that short list also became my realization that perhaps there weren’t as many happiness moments as one might expects but not in the way one might expect.

Because there is nothing wrong with my life, instead, my lens was foggy. I looked for true happiness, that elusive feeling where the world stands still and you get that this moment, this very moment you are in, is of importance. It turns out we don’t have many of those if we compare our lives to others. We don’t have many of those if we are too busy to-doing and not just to-being. What we do have is small moments of joy sprinkled throughout our daily life that we seem to skim over in our task-slaying ways.

So this summer, all four days of it so far, I have been chasing happiness. I have been making my to do list in order to have more moments to add the next day. I have added my yoga, because it makes me feel better, I have added my bike rides with my children as they are all out of training wheels and the world beckons for our exploration. I have added the quiet nights with Brandon as we watch in wonder Good Omens and the illustrious story-telling. The chocolate, the great books – so many great books – the sunlight, the naps, the phone calls and contacts with friends, the pool time, the compliments, the great learning from others. The ideas I am collecting from the learning I am doing that I know will create better learning opportunities for all of my students. I am looking at my own deficits in understanding and not seeing them as faults but instead as a learning opportunity. How wondrous it is that we can learn so much from others and in turn become more than what we were? I am planning for these because it feels right, it feels good, and don’t we all need a little more goodness in our lives?

And so my list is fuller and so is my life.

I know, that life will get filled up again, it always does, but chasing happiness in the form of meaningful interactions is something that will always be worth it. To seek out opportunities that will bring you joy is never wasted, unless the joy is at the expense of other people. I know I can become more than I am due to the teaching of others, due to the time with my kids, due to the meaning I choose to add to my life and pursuits. That is on me, that is my mission. And I can channel that into the teacher I am, that teaches with purpose, with an eye on changing the very experience we have together in order for the children to have a better chance at their happiness pursuit. If, in the moment you are in, there seems to be little joy, ask why. Is it beyond you, because let’s face it, life can be cruel at times, we certainly have already navigated some difficult situations in the last few weeks, or is it just your lens that needs to change?

Only you can fully answer that, but perhaps a list is in order. Won’t you chase happiness with me?

My main causes of happiness…

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.

Be the change, being me, failure, Student dreams

It Starts Now

White, Black,  Free Image

I have been thinking a lot about failure. About this whole notion of growth mindset and having kids take risks. About how often we ask kids to just keep trying even when it is hard yet seem to fail to do so ourselves. About how often we expect kids to give us their all, their best, their utmost, and then for them to navigate the pieces when it all falls apart, after all isn’t that what having grit teaches you to do?

About the supposed safety nets we have in place for students to fail safely.

About how we tell them that experimentation is great, that trying something new is the way to learn, about stretching themselves into unknown territory so they can discover who they truly are.

About how it doesn’t all add up.

Because the thing is, and I know I have said this before, we say a lot of things as educators without really thinking about what we are asking all kids to do. We say a lot of things without looking at the systems we already have in place, the routines and procedures that wield so much power in our schools that actively fight against this whole notion of embracing failure as another way to learn.

Take grades for example. We tell kids to take risks but then expect them to all succeed even if on shaky ground. If they don’t, then their scores or assessments reflect that. How often do we fail to recognize that it is because we attach subjective scores to something that we boil learning and curiosity into something we never intended. It becomes nothing more than an experiment in playing the grade game rather than the true learning experience it should be.

Take control and compliance. How often do our beginning of the year routines surround getting kids to be quiet, to sit still, to only ask questions when we designate the time for it. To make only the smallest of spaces for themselves in order for all of us to function because you can’t have a functioning classroom if kids are too loud, too energetic, or take up too much space.

Take how we handle behaviors. How often the preferred method is social isolation playing itself out in some form of removal from the classroom. How often we ask kids to leave in order for us to keep teaching and yet we see the behaviors continue as they rejoin us because nothing has changed in the experience, only paused.

How often we tell our loud kids to quiet down.

How often we tell our quiet kids to speak up.

How often we tell our dreamer kids to come back to Earth.

How often we tell our pragmatic kids to dream.

How often we somehow tell kids that to be a successful student all you have to do is play by the rules but then we never hand them a rule book or we change the rules altogether.

And then we wonder why kids say they don’t think school is for them.

So as we race toward the end of the year, or perhaps only the middle depending on your hemisphere, I want to take a moment to think about what my students are telling me they need. About what I am telling them not just with my words, but in my actions, my routines, and my expectations.

About how I need to continue to ask whether I not only would want to be a student in my own classroom, but also could be a successful one. About how we need to not give students a voice because they already have one, but instead need to carve out an authentic space for the things they have to say.

How it starts with asking questions – do you feel respected, does this learning matter, how can we create engaging learning opportunities together? How it continues with reflection – how is my voice and my power being used as a potential tool for inequity, does every child feel safe with me, does every child have a chance of truly belonging? How it rests with us as we realize that there is still so much to be done, and yet so that can be done if we start within the small decisions we make every day. If we take apart the small routines and structures that we put in place to make it work for everyone and ask whether it truly works for everyone, because almost everyone is not close enough. How along with our thoughts surrounding how we want to have better curriculum, we also need to think of how we want students to feel with us and then how we are going to accomplish that.

How when they tell us that they want to change the world, we start with the one they live in every day; our classrooms, our schools, our attitudes.

And it starts now.

And it continues each day.

Because much like our students, we all have so much to learn. I have so much to learn. I have so much more failing to do, only so I can keep growing.

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.

Be the change, being a teacher, being me, summer

Ending the Year on a High Note – Some Must Do’s As We Wrap Up

Yesterday, I wrote about what I wanted out of the year and how it had gone, and yet, within that post is also the hope for the coming few months, for the coming year. Isn’t it funny how we, as educators, already start to plan for the “new” year already in the spring?

And so with only a few precious weeks left, I wanted to once again share what my Must-Do’s for the year are in case anyone else wants a few ideas.

I plan on surveying my students.  While our school does both a home and student survey, I also need to know what I can work on.  Every year, the words of my students help me shape the experience to come.  Every year, the words of my students help me grow as an educator.  Don’t let the kids leave without helping you grow. To see this year’s survey, paper copy go here – I will do it as electronic version as well, to see that go here

I plan on keeping certain experiences and make a map.  Looking through the year and reflecting on what really worked, whether it was a lesson, an idea, or simply a moment, helps us think of the year to come.  Don’t let this year end without you realizing what worked.  Whether you go through lesson plans or simply write a bullet list, take note so that when the time comes for your ideas to come back, you have a place to start. We have started as a team to create our map for the upcoming year, this helps us plan and discuss what we want our students to experience with us.

I plan on face to face collaboration. Our district believes in paying teachers to collaborate over the summer, which I plan on once again taking advantage of. So as I take on a new class next year (Enriched English), I plan on spending time with those who know more than me. I am so grateful for this opportunity for concentrated learning.

I plan on getting rid of certain lessons.  While our experience inevitably changes year after year, there are also certain things that despite our best intentions simply didn’t work.  So I am getting rid of them both physically and mentally.  Goodbye feedback tracker! Goodbye reading rate tracker! Goodbye to you so that I can make room for better things.

I plan on freshening up the room.  Every year, i do revamp of our room, but this year I get to move rooms altogether to a larger room with more room for all of our books. So not only do I get to go through everything, but I also get to set up a whole new experience for the students. However, if I wasn’t moving, I would still move furniture, go through files, weed books, and just refresh everything. While we don’t have a lot of fancy furniture, these small changes help keep the pride in the room intact which shapes the experience.

I plan a focus.  This summer, I get to both teach others and learn from others and so I need a focus.  Where does my craft need to grow?  Writing continues to be a focal point, as well as the hard work of equity and social justice.  And so I go to conferences with a few goals in mind.  I read PD books with these goals in mind.  I reflect, invent, and write down ideas with these few goals in mind.  In the past, when I have had a broad focus, I feel I have learned little, but when I have a few questions in mind, such as how will I continue to help students understand their role in the world or how we will we create more meaningful writing experiences that will help students reignite their writing identities, then I leave summer with a few tangible ideas that shape our experience together. Some of these books are re-reads, others are brand new and I cannot wait to let the work of others shape the every day work I get to do with students.

My stack of summer PD reading awaits – I can’t wait.

I plan a break.  Teaching is amazing, it is my favorite thing to do as far as work., but it is also exhausting, heartbreaking at times, and hard.  So summer is time for a break, and not a kind of break where I still work, but one where I feel no guilt for not checking my email.  Where I feel no guilt for reading whatever I want even if it is slightly trashy.  Where I feel no guilt for not checking in, creating something, or coming up with new ideas.  But you have to plan for it or it won’t happen.  We know how consuming teaching can be, how it can spill into every part of summer, but don’t let it.  Allow yourself to detach completely so that you can get excited.  So that you can let ideas marinate in the back of your mind.  So that you can remember what it means to have a life, if even for a little bit, outside of teaching.  Because if you never leave, then you cannot get ready to come back.

Summer is a break.  A much-needed one for many.  But it is also an incredible time to become something more than what we ended as.  To remember why we entered teaching.  To get excited, to catch up on sleep, and to become the very best version that we can be of ourselves so that when September rolls around, or whenever our students come back, we can say, “I am so glad you are here,” and truly mean it.

PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us as it kicks off next weekend!

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.