being a teacher, being me, end of year

The Full Story

We stood staring at Plymouth Rock yesterday marveling at the history it represents.  At what it means for this nation that I have adopted as my home.  As we turned around we saw the statue of Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag tribe, on the hill, peering out to sea.  His image followed me into the car and I finally asked my husband, “Why on the hill?”  Why not right next to this monument that marks what many consider the beginning of America?  How many people miss this part of the story, marvel at the survival skills of those early Pilgrims, and do not think of the rest of the story; the other part of this complicated history of America?  Surely you must understand both sides to truly see the bigger picture…

It reminds me of my own work; how often do we, as teachers, just see the obvious?  The traits that show up on the very first day, that dominate our conversations and we never find the time to dig deeper?  We never “hike up the hill” to take a closer look at what we think lurks right there but that is hidden from view at first?  We don’t have time, we have so many kids, we have so much to do, and so our story continues single-mindedly for many of our students no matter the glimpses we see?

As many of us prepare to hand off our kids to the next team of teachers, may we find the time to tell the full story.  To sure, share the dominant things we have seen, but also the things that may be so easily seen.  To not tell the full story of a child in just data.  To not tell the full story of a child in just their behaviors.  To not tell the full story of a child in just the obvious, but dig a little deeper.  To make sure that our narrative is nuanced, balanced, and hopeful.  To give those teachers waiting to make a difference a chance at who this kid really is and not just the things that may have been the main talking point all year.

I think of the power we hold as the previous teachers of these kids.  Of how we decide what gets shared.  Of how we decide what is told.  Of how we decide what to focus on and we pass that on to the teachers that do not know them yet.  So tell the full story, and if you don’t have the full story yet find it before it is too late.  I know I still have work to do.

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.

 

 

being a teacher, end of year, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On the Reality Of Trying to Create More Readers

I wish I could tell you that they are all reading by now.

That they all run in, books in hand, eager to settle in, settle down, and get to reading.

I wish I could tell you that they told me that they cannot wait for summer because that means they can read all of the time.

That they cannot wait for more books in that series, or by that author, or in that genre.

That they cannot wait for 8th grade where they will get to come back and talk more books.

I wish I could tell you that they all ask for one more minute, one more page, and beg for a whole day of reading.

I wish I could tell you that they all love reading by now, but I would be a liar.

You see, when you teach actual 7th graders, it turns out that sometimes you are still not enough.

That it doesn’t matter that you have thousands of books at hand.

That it doesn’t matter that you book talk amazing books.

That it doesn’t matter that you give them time.  That you give them choice.  That you tell them to abandon those books that do not work and only read great books.  That it doesn’t matter that you ask for their truths and then try to do something about it.

You made a difference to some, yes, but not to all.

And yet..I would also tell you that it is okay.

That no one expected us to be miracle workers, that no one expected us to convert them all.  To make them all reading believers.  Instead what we were asked to do was to not make it worse.  To not make them hate it more.  To protect what precious positive emotions they do have about reading and shelter them from distress.  To stay hopeful, to stay positive, and to keep believing that what you did mattered, and so you kept on believing they could.

And so we did, and we tried, and we are still trying because the year is not quite over yet.

Because we still have that book to discuss.

That reading experience to create.

That picture book to make them laugh.

So this realization of perhaps not having reached them all is not one of failure or of giving up, because, again, the year is not over yet, but it is one of reality, one of truth, one of things beyond our control and the forces that work against us.

So we do not despair when they tell you they still do not like reading, but instead, we ask, “Have you changed at all?”  And then you smile when they say, “Well, maybe a little…” because sometimes we will not be there for the biggest change, but only for the humble beginning.

And that beginning was worth every single step we took to help them become or remain kids who love to read.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Be the change, being a teacher, being me, end of year

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.

 

 

Be the change, being a teacher, end of year

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.

being a teacher, being me, building community, end of year

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.

being a student, being a teacher, being me, end of year, Student dreams

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.