What I Have to Tell Them

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

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

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

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

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

That they made me smile.

That they made me laugh.

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

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

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

That they can be more than they see themselves.

That they make people better.

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

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

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

On Counting Down the Days

Do we really want to give students another reminder of how much they want to leave school

The other day I was asked, “What is the one thing you would tell teachers to stop doing as the end of the year nears?”  I needed no time to think because my answer is simple; the countdown.

I used to do the countdown with my students.  20, 19, 18 days left of school.  Each day the kids would get more excited.  “We are almost out of here, Mrs. Ripp!”  They got crazier as the countdown neared the end, energy barely contained, and I loosened the reins, had fun, did less curriculum and more community building.  Except the days dragged on.  The kids grew restless, and I even started looking at the clock, wishing the day to be over.  Was this what teaching the last few weeks of school would always be like?

Six years ago,  after a particularly trying week, I had an epiphany – one that many have had before me.  I was creating the excited mess unfolding every day in my classroom.  My choices in doing a countdown and stepping away from our routines were signaling to the kids that school no longer mattered.  That what we were doing no longer mattered.  That all they had to do was wait it out and then this, too, would finally be over.  As if our students needed any more reminders that school is not a great place to be.

So I stopped the countdown, I went back to teaching and have not looked back since.  Because while the countdown may be fun on the surface; another way to show off student accomplishment – you made it through 7th grade -it also sends a much deeper message; we are done with the year.  I am done with you.  I cannot wait to be done and finally get a break.   Is that really what we want to tell our students?

Yet, this is not the only reason I hate the countdown.  One year, a child cried under his desk on the last day of school.  Inconsolable, I asked him what had happened.  Had someone said something to him that I had not caught?  Instead, he looked up at me, tears running down his face and said, “Don’t make me leave…I don’t want to go on vacation, I want to stay here.”  I cried with him and did the only thing I could, hug him and tell him I would always be here for him if he needed me.  Yet, his words have stayed with me all of these years.  This child did not look forward to summer.  This child faced a summer of unknowns, of food shortage, of not knowing who he would live with, of who would care for him.  Summer did not represent a break, but a punishment.  Our classroom was his safe space.  In our classroom, he felt loved.  By counting down the days, I was reminding him every day of what was ahead after that last day of school; uncertainty, fear, hunger.  None of those messages were what I hoped to convey to my students.

So It is not that we don’t know how many days are left.  I have 38 days left to be exact and so much still to teach.  It is just that we don’t advertise it. We don’t actively remind children how much better summer will be than what we are doing.  It undermines the entire mission we have had all year of instilling the importance of the work we do.  It undermines every single time we have said that school is important.  So now, when a child tells me that they are excited about summer, I tell them I am too, but also that I will miss them, that I will miss our learning, that I will miss our classroom.  That we have so much learning still to do.  That we will work to the very last day because our time is valuable.  Because we need every minute we can get.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Take the Time

For in the end it is not what we got done that matters, it is how we felt doing it. pernille ripp

There seems to be no greater rush in school then these last few precious days before we say goodbye, before our time is up.  I look at my own to-do list and wonder just how much will actually get to done.  The pressure of it all nips at my heels as I wonder whether my students could possibly speak a little bit faster as they deliver their end of year speeches.  Will we get through them all?  We have so much to do still.

Yet, as I listened today to a boy share his message of hope and forgiveness.  To another who shared the value of friendship.  To one who decided to challenge our racial beliefs, and one that made me cry (actually two did) because they stood up there and spoke their truth, I knew what I had forgotten.  To take the time.

To take the time to say goodbye the proper way.

To take the time to laugh.

To share memories and stories.  To take the time and not feel guilty all of the time for all of the things we didn’t get to do.

Take the time to remember all of the great and all of the not so great.

Take the time to remember the very best books, projects, or whatever else you may have shared.

To take the time to ask just a few more questions so that you can grow over the summer.

To take the time to thank you students for the journey you have been on.

May we never forget to be grateful for the things we take for granted, for the community we create, for the memories we make.

May we never take for granted that our year, while tough at times, was still a success and that all of those students did actually grow, even if it was not as much as we had hoped.

May we never forget that for a brief moment in time we were a part of the future by being a part of a child’s life.

So take the time to say goodbye and don’t worry so much about the to do.  Because in the end it is not what we got done that matters, it is how we felt doing it.  SO take the time to take the time and don’t let your guilt consume you.

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.

We Carry the Words

Tonight, as I sit quietly processing a moment where a student shared their fragile truth with me.  The moment when a child sat silently watching as I read their words, breath held to see how I would react, and all I could think was how very grateful I was for their trust, their truth, their faith in me as their teacher, as an adult in their life to carry the words they had chosen to share.  I thought of this post, now written 5 years ago and yet ever so true in my heart.  We may feel like we carry our students’ dreams into the world, we may feel we carry their words with us, but it is not just their words we take with us when they leave us.  It is their truth.  We protect it, we support it, and we carry it with us long after their final goodbyes and the summer vreeze settles in.  I am so grateful for the very job that I get to do every single day.

The shuffled movement, the slight look possibly from the left, a small gesture to be noticed. “Ummm, Mrs. Ripp can I have lunch with you?” Oh shoot, there goes that extra prep, but yes, absolutely yes, let’s have lunch. Over food the words come tumbling like a bottle with it’s cork pulled. Didn’t even have to ask a question, they just spill out and out, away from this student, this trusting student that needs someone to carry the weight of the world with them. It is not new, not shocking, but every day life, every day fears, every day needs of wanting bigger, better, more. And yet here, it means the world.

We carry those words.

Another morning, a moment, a need for a hug and then a drawing shown. “Do you think I can make it, Mrs. Ripp?” “Of course, you can, just dream and work toward it,” is what I say but what I think tells more… Work hard, little child, don’t believe those people who will try to steal your dream. Don’t believe those people that tell you you are not smart, that you will not amount to anything. Don’t listen when they make you angry, or when they make you cry. Dream, dream on, dream strong.

We carry those dreams.

At the end of the day, a mad rush, backpacks on, cubbies emptied, and one last, “Thank you for coming.” I mean it too, thank you for being here, for sharing your day with me. For sticking with me when my voice got tired, or my explanation made no sense. For listening when I should have been quiet, for raising your hand patiently and waiting your turn even though you were really, really excited. Thank you for laughing, for thinking, for creating, and trying. Thank you for believing and caring, for trusting and loving, because that’s what it is; trust and love and hope and hard work, every single day.

And within the words they share.  Within the dreams they hold.  Within the hushed conversations and quiet moments, I realize that it is not just me that carries something, or even just the other adults.  But all fo us as we protect the fragile relationship that exists within  our 4 walls.  And when they leave us on the last day of the year all we can do is hope that we have given them enough strength to keep on, to still dream, to still trust.  And in the end, we were not the only ones that carried, fore they carried us too.

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.

This is the Time

This is the time where I don’t feel I am enough.  I am not fun enough.  I am not smart enough.  What we do is not making a difference, nor is it engaging.  Where the test scores come in (thanks STAR) and I disagree with the stupid computer that clearly has no idea just how much our students have grown.

This is the time where I look forward, hoping next year will be better, while still trying to squeeze out every last drop of this year.  Where I look around and realize that the students are counting down, the books are still missing, and the time for settling down stretches out before us.

I am not alone.  How many right now feel like they didn’t do enough?  They weren’t enough?  That they still have so much to do?

But this is the time where I see a kid buried in a book who asks for just one more page and please don’t make me stop.

Where a child shows me their to-be-read list and tells me that they cannot believe how big it is.

This is the time where a child gazes at the book shelves, pulling out bin after bin until another child hands them a book and tells them they must read it because it quite possibly is the best book ever.

Where a child who has fought all year actually does something the first time it is requested.

This is the time where a child tells me they are ready to share their truths with the classroom, that they want to make sure that others see them for they are and not just who they think they are.

This is the time where I forget just how much they have grown.  That they have learned.  That they have changed.  That they didn’t hate English, nor me.  That I cannot be everything for everyone, but that I don’t have to because I am not alone.  A team stands behind me.  A team that cares about all of the kids.  A team that sees all of the kids.

This is the time where I hold my breath as the end barrels toward us and I cannot believe that we made it another year.  That I hope that the fragile seeds of reading that have been planted will blossom over the summer and stay strong until September.

This is the time where I know that every day I tried and so did the students.  That what we had did matter.  That they have changed and so have I.

This is the time to be thankful.

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.

 

It Is Time to Remove the Scaffolds

http---www.pixteller.com-pdata-t-l-384893I think we have 25 or so days left of school.  I may be wrong, I haven’t been counting.  I don’t like to count down, I want to savor every moment, embrace every opportunity, teach until the last minute.  I owe it to the kids.  Yet with the inevitable end of year in sight, I feel the urge to release my students.  To maybe even push them away a little as they need to stand on their own.    To let go a little more, to have them try the exploration by themselves first and not rely so much on me.  Because in 25 days or so, I won’t be there anymore.  I won’t be there when they write, or when they discuss, or when they book shop.  I won’t be there to support, to help, to push.  So they need to find their own way; after all, fostering independent learners is one of our major goals in education.

Yet it seems we have created a paradox.  Within our own eagerness to be the best teacher we can be, to provide everything for every child, I think we forget to let students go a little as well.  We create so many scaffolds in our classrooms in an effort to help students learn more and then forget to remove them, wondering why students come to next year’s teachers seemingly ill prepared to be independent.  And I am not alone in these  thoughts as I am reminded of Bob Probst speaking at NCTE about how we teach kids in early years that NF stands for “Not fake” and then never correct that notion.  Or Donalyn Miller, who wrote an incredibly wonderful book about creating wild readers; readers that would read outside of our classrooms, after they left us.  It seems in our passion for teaching, we may be creating kids who lose sight of what education really is about and instead rely on our systems to pass from class to class.

So right now, as we slip toward the end, I think of all the ways my students must be released.  To make sure that they know that the signposts that we find because of Notice and Note are not the point of reading, but are meant to deepen their experience.  That a MEL-Con paragraph is not the task at hand, but instead just a way to remember that if you present any evidence when you write, you must analyze and explain it.  That they must look inward to discover who they are as a reader so that they can select books using their own methods that do not revolve around what the teacher book-talked.  And the list goes on.

At the beginning of the year, we are so focused on the routines we must set up for our learning communities.  On the expectations that we create along with the students.  We start programs, curriculum, and set our journey up for the most success.  It is therefore only right that toward the end we start to unravel the same routines, the procedures, the scaffolds, so that students can leave us better, bigger, and more independent.  So the students can leave us and not look back when they go, knowing they are ready for the next challenge.

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.