being a teacher, being me, Dream, global, Reading Identity

On Hard Conversations and Having Courage

I am so white I am like a caricature of whiteness.  You see me coming; blonde, blue eyes, tall, my Viking heritage directly responsible for the four blonde children that cruise around with me in our mini-van while we bungle the words to Despacito.  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.  Someone who doesn’t just shut the door when the going gets tough but leaves it wide open.

We live in a neighborhood that does not mirror us.  It is through circumstance we came to it but by choice that we stayed.   Living among other cultures, races and identities have brought many questions to our dining room table.  Questions that were hard for us to navigate with our young children, questions who pushed our own thinking.  I shudder to think whether these questions would have been posed by my children if we did not live here.  And so I think of the choices we, as white people, make as a privileged society to keep our lives homogenous.  How we live in neighborhoods where people look like us, we send our kids to schools where they float in a sea of whiteness, we not only elect people whose values mirror our own but so do their faces.  I can choose to step away from racism.  I can choose to step away from inequity discussions.  I can choose to step away from anything that may be upsetting, dangerous, or demoralizing.

I am privileged because I get to be afraid of the type of reaction my teaching may cause if I continue to discuss inequity.  If I continue to discuss racism. If I continue to discuss what it means to be privileged in my classroom.  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 changing the future narrative of this country.  Ugliness and all.  We are the bastions of truth, so what truth are we bringing into our classrooms?

I saw this tweet from ILA

Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) - Twitter.clipular.png

and it has kept me up at night.  Where are the white allies?  Where have I been?  Have I done enough?  Where is our courage when it comes to being a part of dismantling a racist and prejudiced system?  It is not enough to have diverse books in our classrooms if we are too afraid to discuss diversity and what the lack of humanity for others does to our democracy.  It is not enough to say “You matter” and then do nothing to change the world that we live in.  Or to celebrate diversity and then not accept a child for who they truly are, differences and all.  It is not enough to say we are an ally if our actions don’t match our words.   I don’t need 100 clones of me, I need to create more opportunities for the students to do the hard work.   To offer them an opportunity to decide.   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 this year I am planning for even harder conversations.  I am planning on being an ally, for being a fighter, even when I get scared.  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 am so white, I am like a caricature of whiteness, but perhaps even this white person can make a difference by not being so afraid.  By listening, by asking questions, and by doing more than just saying that this world is filled with wrongness.

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.

being a student, Dream

On Embracing Our Stereotypes – A Post from A Student

Every year we finish our year with the This I Believe assignment.  Every year I am floored by their messages of hope, of figuring out right from wrong, of creating a world where kids feel accepted, engaged, and loved.  While many of them are incredible, I asked one student if I could share what they wrote.  

Note:  I did not do a good job explaining why I asked this child to share their writing publicly.  To me, hearing these words, caused immense sadness.  It was a metaphorical slap to once again remember how much power we have as teachers, as adults, to confine the view that students have of themselves.  While people have debated in the comments, I know what the intent of the student was.   She chose to rise above the stereotypes thrust upon her, which I told her made me sad.  No child should have to fight stereotypes in this way.  She disagreed with me, but I still wanted to post the speech because it really made me think deeply about things I still have to do better.  Thank you to those who have engaged in the debate.

Have you ever felt that because you’re different from someone, that you somehow needed to prove yourself or make someone think a certain way? That you had a stereotype that was so untrue you almost could laugh. Stereotypes. We all know them. Most of your childhoods we’ve grown up believing them. People who wear glasses are… People who are blonde are… People who are tall play… people who are popular are…  Stereotypes are bad. You shouldn’t say them, use them, or even think them. We need to do something about them. At least that’s what many of you probably think. Nope, not me. I believe stereotypes are good! They make you your best self, at least from my experiences.

There is a moment I think of whenever I say my “This I believe” sentence. I remember this moment perfectly, it wasn’t  the moment I realized stereotyping is real, I already had seen it and even had it happen to me. Instead, what I really realized was that people don’t mean to do this they just do it without realizing what they are doing. I was in the 5th grade and it was the first week of school. I’d barely talked to the teacher the past day and she barely knew me at the time. We were working on some project talking about how we thought our year would go. I was writing and writing until my hand hurt I was so excited about the year. I walked up to the teacher to ask if I could go to the bathroom. She was typing on her computer. I barely got the first syllable out when she turned around so fast it was like she was expecting me to do something and she needed to watch for it. She sat up in a more authoritative position and folded her arms and did that mean “what do you want” teacher face that almost all teachers do and said, “What?!”. I went ahead and asked her if I could go to the restroom, but as I was talking something weird happened. Her position became more relaxed and she started to unfold her arms and look less cross. Her eyes also became very wide and then normal and kinder. You would only notice this if you were watching closely or used to this happening. And she said in a much kinder way than before. “ Of course you can honey it’s right around there, Do you know where it is?” Well, that was weird I thought as I walked to the bathroom. I stayed in there for probably longer than I had to, just looking in the mirror and trying to figure out what just happened. “Was it what I was wearing?” “Had she heard I was bad!?”

It was as if just by hearing me talk no different than how I normally talk or how anyone else talks she thought higher of me and then after I used manners like thank you she was even more surprised. So I thought if that made her think higher of me then where was I on the scale before? But it was okay, I knew what she was thinking. She was expecting me to talk “ghetto” or say something rude or be loud because those are her experiences I guess.

The thing is, no one remembers the polite, quiet, hard working black kids.

Oh no, they remember the loud obnoxious ones who are rude, disrespectful, talk back and cuss at them.  Those experiences stick in your head. Not the good ones.  At first, when I realized this, I was angry. I wanted to go in there and accuse her of being mean or a bad teacher. I wanted to judge her on something, see how it made her feel. I thought about that pretty much all day. About what “thing” or stereotype I wanted to give her.

And I thought about it while sitting at lunch, Waiting for my bus. Even when I was home. And I forgave her. She probably didn’t do it on purpose and besides, I barely knew her yet anyway. But when I went back to school the next week, I made sure no one would ever have that realization again. In every class I sat up straighter, so straight it would probably be parallel to a board. I made sure without fail I always said please, thank you, May I, etc. I made sure my work is always in on time and always my best. I was kind to everyone and never scowled or looked angry. Close to the third week of school, we started to get homework which I made sure I did. When the teacher went around to collect it, she looked impressed that I had mine out and done and did that thing where you purse your lips and nod sort of. She didn’t do that to anyone else. Umm…. was I not supposed to have it done?

I didn’t miss one assignment that year.  Every stereotype I made sure I proved that stereotype wrong. Such as black kids being rude. I was never mean and/or rude to anyone in my class. Or that black kid who would all talk “ghetto” and have bad English. I made sure whenever I talked it was never with much slang or used words like ain’t but with respectable english. And my tone was always quieter than most very much so. (That actually took me awhile to get out of because, I became very quiet that year and I got used to it. I had to work myself back out of my shell). Whenever you have a stereotype that is not true, you work hard to prove someone wrong. You are your best self too! And most of all you show what you want to. So that people see what you really are not just what they want.

I’m used to this now. I no longer spend hours thinking about these things. I don’t get mad or sad anymore  either. But sometimes we are judged, we are judged all the time actually. And I speak from experience, it doesn’t matter if it’s the clerk’s eyes on you in a store like every single second or the way you talk. What you wear,  how you look, if you wear glasses or not. Your stereotype makes you better by giving you motivation to change it or change what people think when they first see you.  It’s very easy to form a stereotype. Heck, we do it all the time. So if you come across someone who has a completely untrue stereotype of you, don’t dwell on it. Make sure you change their minds. Make sure they remember how you proved them wrong. That’s why stereotypes help you. It makes you think more, It makes you present yourself the way you really want to be seen like. It makes you think about every decision more carefully and think “Is this what I really want to do?” It makes sure that you make yourself stick out from the crowd and prove your stereotype wrong and that’s what makes you your best self. I believe  stereotypes make you your best self.


being a teacher, being me, Dream

Before I Set Out to Change the World

I never set out to be more than a teacher , to be a speaker, an author, as someone who people ask for advice.  In fact, I still find the whole thing confounding, dumbfounded over how in the world I got so lucky to get to be inspired by so many others.  To get to teach teachers, to learn with others, and to bring those things back to the incredible students I teach at the school I call home.  And yet within this awestruck notion of being more is the truth of me; I may be many things, but the one thing I am first is the teacher to my own students.

So before I set out to change the world, I must first change the very classroom that I teach in.  I must make sure that what I say I hold so dear is not just a stepping stone for bigger things.

Before I set out to change the world, I must make sure that the very thing that has given me the courage to speak up is still the very thing that gets the best of me.  That the students, whose dreams I am trying to protect, are still the most important part.

Before I ask others to listen to the voice of their students, I must give my own students a place to speak up, to be heard, and plenty of time for them to find the words they need to share.

Before I ask others to change, I must change myself.  Reflect on my own mistakes and become better.  Reflect so I can grow and not pretend that I have all of the answers or all of the power.

Before I set out to change the world, I must make sure that the words I speak are the truth.  That what my students and I do really is making a difference for the better.   That what we say we do is really what we do and not just what we hope to do.

Before I tell others how to teach better, I must make sure I am a better teacher.  That my teaching is not a point on the to-do list, but is the thing that challenges me in the very best kind of way.  That my teaching really allows my students to be empowered, be engaged, be passionate.

Before I give others all of me, I must make sure that I have something to give to my students.  That I take the time to get their lessons right.  That I take the time to make it work for them before I share.  That I take the time to make the time to be present when I teach and not think of the world that lies beyond.  Because in our room, room 235D, I am not the teacher of the world.  I am not an author.  I am not a speaker.  I am not the creator of the Global Read Aloud.  I am the teacher of those 7th grade students that show up to English every day at Oregon Middle School.  And that is the very best thing for me.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

advice, assumptions, Dream, students

A Child Reveals His Ambition and I Snort

Basketball (Photo credit: mvongrue)

“…Awe but Mrs. Ripp, I won’t need to know how to do this because I am going to be a famous basketball player…”

I hold back a snort.  Really?  A famous basketball player?  In my head, the statistics of this ever coming true run through at lightning speed, I am about to say something, and then I stop.  Who am I to squash a dream, even if in my eyes it is an unrealistic one?

So I take a different approach.  “Did you know that even famous basketball players have to go to high school, have to learn, have to go to college?”  The boy stares at me.  “Did you know that this will directly lead into more math that we are going to do and I have a feeling you are going think it is really fun?  Did you know that to be a true role model you shouldn’t just be great at basketball but you should also show the world just how smart you are?”  The boy nods, still unsure of what I am saying, but I walk away, dreams still in place, not squashed by this teacher.

As a teacher, I used to be the biggest realist I knew.  I was quick to tell students what they could or could not do, the odds of something happening to them.  I felt it was part of my job to set them up for “real life” with real expectations and real failure coming their way.  Now I know better, there is no sense in destroying dreams, even if we know it may not happen.  There is no sense in taking hope away from children.  What we can do, though, is to show them everything else that is important; how an education fits into their dreams.  How an education may be the ticket to get them where they need to be.    Hoa an education is not a waste of their time, so don’t make it a waste of their time.  Make it something they want to have, make school a place they want to go to.  A lofty goal perhaps, but a necessary one.

being a teacher, Dream

Allow Yourself to Dream

Cross posted from the fantastic Cooperative Catalyst

I do my best teaching while I dream.  Far away from my own cowardice that tells me to stick within the lines, follow the lesson plan, and to not deviate off the trodden path.  I do my best teaching right before sleep comes and envelopes me, right before the stress of the day falls away, leaving only time to think of what can be done.  That is when I think of how I will reach all of my students.  This is where the labels are cast aside and only ability and tenacity shine the brightest.  This is when I fully believe that they can all achieve everything.
In college, I was taught not to dream.  Dreams were for people without teaching degrees, people that might make a warm and fuzzy teacher, a softie,  but certainly not someone who made their students achieve.  Instead I was told to plan, plan, and plan some more.  Read the standards, correlate them, and throw in some spice for those students with minor special needs that may pop up in your classroom.  English language learners?  No problemo; just throw in some pre-teaching of the vocabulary and off they will go. I was ready to teach them all that school was fun and useful.  And then reality struck and I looked at the list of my not so minor disabled students, my english language learners that did not just need vocabulary, and even that one child that was just so angry at the world.  And so I planned some more.
After a year or two with glazed eyes and long, drawn out speeches about how important it all was, I dreamed a little.  I dreamt of a classroom that students wanted to come to.  A room where learning was loud, excited and maybe not always practical.  And so when I was dozing every night, I would think that maybe I could try one little thing, maybe that would not hurt my plans so much if instead of planning every minute of the lesson, I asked the students what they wanted to do instead.  Maybe they could dream along with me?
So I have become a dreamer, one who believes that children have a valid voice in their own education.  One that believes that parents should be involved in the school, one that believes we must drop the labels and see our children for what they are; dreamers just like us.  They do not dream of a school that talks at them, but one where there is engaging conversation.  They do not dream of being drones chained to desks being stuffed with information, but rather really learning through experimentation, thinking, and yes even dreaming.  So let them dream, or even more importantly, let yourself dream.  For it is in these dream that we realize just how powerful our classroom can be.  It is in these dreams that we shape the future and the future shapes us.  We are a world of dreamers, if only we choose to be.

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