Be the change, being me, kids, reflection, teaching

A Letter to My Daughter’s Kindergarten Teacher

image from icanread

To the woman who teaches my child,

Thea got off the bus today and asked if we could go back to school now.  She had not even taken off her backpack, nor had she told me about her day.  Not hello mom, not how are you, but can we go now?  Please?  When I told her we would have to wait until 5:30, when open house started, she got mad.  “But I want to go now mom, I have to go see my teacher.”

And my eyes got watery and I had to swallow for a second so she couldn’t see how I felt.

Then she showed me around tonight, so meticulously crossing off our scavenger hunt, asking me what next, what next. Proudly showing me the work she had done, her special places.  All the walls where her art hung, where she had made her mark, where she belonged.  But when she sat down and read me her stories, those same stories that you had so perfectly transcribed, I had to hold back the tears.  I didn’t want to be that parent sitting and crying in their kindergartner’s classroom.  I didn’t want to be a sentimental fool.  And still…

So to Jesse, who teaches my daughter every day.  I may tell you thanks but you just don’t know what it means to hear our little girl tell me she loves you.  This is the same girl who 4 weeks ago told me that she would never go back to school, that she had no friends, and that she would never learn anything.  The same girl who was scared to ride the bus.  The same girl who told me that no one cared.  That same girl who made us move heaven and earth it seems to try to get her a new chance.  And that new chance was you.  That same girl told me tonight that I had to keep all of her stories because her teacher told her so, “And what the teacher says means something, mom.”

We may think that a great school is what makes our child love school, but the truth is it is the teachers more than anything.  Those teachers we sometimes just expect to love our children, flaws and all.  Those teachers we just expect to make it work, to make everyone learn, and to do it with a smile on their face.  They make the difference, they change the world, but most importantly they change our world.

So to Mrs. H, I tell you you matter, I tell you that you are making a difference, but I will never be able to tell you how much.  You have made my daughter believe that she can, that she has a home.  You have not told her she needs to be perfect, nor that she will do everything right the first time, but you have made her feel that she can try, that she can think, that she can dream.

From one teacher to another; you are someone who makes me proud to be a teacher.

From a parent to a teacher; no words.

Thank you for loving our child, with all her craziness, all her ideas, and all her rainbow-colored stories.  We could never have made her love school like this.  You did that.

Best,

Pernille

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

assumptions, authentic learning, discussion, kids, learning, Student-centered, students

Do You Dare Ask for Student Feedback?

Yesterday, in a quiet moment of inspiration, as my students were presenting their super hero projects and getting a little droopy eyed, I stopped them and asked for feedback.  And not just great postive statements, but things I should change, things I should keep, things thats hould be removed altogether.  We started with the positives; they loved how I didn’t make them write a comic book but rather focused it on character and setting.  They loved the creative aspect, the shared writing, and all of the exmples.  And then I asked what they would change.  After one brave student raised their hand and gave me a suggestion of more partner share, then many joined in and added their suggestions.  These suggestions were better than my original ideas!  I sat there 10 minutes of listening and writing, dumbfounded that I hadn’t done this for every single project.

When we decide to ask students how they really feel we run the risk of being told that we suck, to use a favorite 5th grade word.  We run the risk of being told we are boring, that the project was uninspired, and that they would never do it to another student.  (You know a project is bad when it is “done” to you).  But we also run the risk of getting better ideas, constructive criticism, and valid points that propel our projects further into student-directed learning, further into deeper knowledge acquisition.  My students took ownership of the project as well as their criticism.  They didn’t feel the need to apologize for what they were about to say but  phrased it specifically and unemotionally.  They knew that I knew it wasn’t an attack on me.

So do we dare to ask the students for feedback on all their learning?  Do we dare take 10 minutes of our day to ask for suggestions, even if just one in a while?  Do we dare to actually do something with those suggestions because any fool can listen but it takes courage and dedication to do.  My students showed me yesterday that they trust me enough to share their opinions, they know I will take their words to heart and I will actually change what I did.  They know this because I have proved to them what my intentions are.  What a huge success in a 5th grade classroom.  So ask yourself; have I involved my students?  Have I asked for their feedback and opinion? Those that the learning affect the most?  Or am I too scared to do it? 

being a teacher, inspiration, kids, students

The Ones that Wrote Themselves

Maybe you didn’t see these or maybe you did, but these are the posts that wrote themselves.  The tear jerkers, the upsets, the ones that I had to write.

There could be many more but these are the ones I am grateful for writing.

  1. Stand Up if You are Average – Why we should never label students.
  2. Dear Beautiful Baby – An ode to the child that was not meant to be.
  3. Dear Arnold – When that student comes into our life.
  4. Rulebreaker – Why I chose no grades, no homework.
  5. We are Not Role Models – How I am not Superman, and nor do I want to be.
aha moment, being a teacher, believe, classroom expectations, communication, get out of the way, honesty, hopes, inhibitions, inspiration, kids, learning

When Learning Fails – We Blame the Students

Being a 3rd year teacher in my district means writing a PDP or Professional Development Plan, in which we are to continually reflect upon our learning and our focus for our professional development.  I am therefore constantly reflecting with other students both face to face and through the internet on that most important question of all; why did I become a teacher? Well, I became a teacher because I believe in children and in their potential.

 Over the summer, I went through one of the most transformative periods of my life, developing a PLN and going through my chosen curriculum asking myself, “Why, why, why?” Why do I choose to teach the things I teach, besides the obvious state and district standards? Why is it that I force students to do book reports when I find them boring and unproductive? Why do I do packet work when it does not ensure learning? Why do I talk all the time, is it for control, for learning or because I am that in love with myself? Why do I fail 4th grade students? Why do I assign at least 40 minutes a homework a night? All of these were massive questions that were daunting and breathtakingly hard to be honest about, but I did it, I survived and for that I am a better teacher.

I realized over the summer that when teachers stop to question themselves is when the curriculum becomes stagnant. I know that we all get in our comfort zones and we feel that something works, so it becomes hard to give it up. But how many times have we stood in a situation where a particular cherished lesson or approach did not work and we end up blaming the students, rather than the teaching method? I had to realize that if something was not a success than I was to blame, not the make up of the students, or the particular day of the week, just me and my delivery. I therefore also knew that if I was going to rethink my teaching process than I had to fully believe and be passionate about what I teach. So this year my classroom is all about the students, or as I like to call it; it is the student-centered room. You will still find me teaching the students some of the time, but you are also more than likely going to find me walking around or sitting down and discussing curriculum. The students are learning to take control of the classroom, however, they are frightened at times, not quite sure what they are doing and yet I urge them to speak, to think, and to listen to one another. This system is not perfect, it is work in progress, but as my students grow, so do I.

So as I continue my conversations with fellow teachers, and we constantly re-evaluate ourselves, often being our own harshest critics, I am honored when others feel secure enough to tell me of the overwhelmedness or exhaustion.  I know that I have been in that same place but that this year I won’t be. Sure there may be things that do not work out, and learning that does not quite happen as well as I would like it. However, when I glance around my room and see the confidence level of my students and also the excitement that is building in regard to our learning, I know that I am to something. I am back and I am staying.

being a teacher, blogging, kids, no homework, rewards, students

If I Were a Teacher – Reflections from Students

Ah from the mouths of students.  Every week I challenge my students to blog asking them various questions.  This week I thought why not ask them how they would run their classroom?  What do they love when we do and what would they change.  Well the answers are in and they are very revealing (and not so surprising after all).

  • No Homework.  The consummate complaint is that teachers give too much of it, that it is too hard, or even worse that it is boring and/or pointless.  We know this probably from our own school experience, so why is it most of us ( and I used to be one) feel the absolute requirement to prescribe homework?  Students already give you at least 6 some hours of their day, how about we give them a break and let them enjoy life a bit?
  • Rewards, candies, and parties.  Yes, students want to be rewarded and they do not know why.  No students wrote how they would “earn” said rewards but many pointed out that parties were the best thing about school.  Makes me sad to think that with all of the amazing learning going on, the parties we throw are the ones that kids remember.  So how do we change that?
  • More spelling tests.  Ok, that one was a surprise.  I have a couple of girls that love spelling and so for them a perfect classroom means more spelling tests.  Preferably on Thursdays when their minds are still fresh.  I am still thinking about that one.
  • More creativity.  Students don’t want to show us their progress through another worksheet (well, some do but many don’t).  Students want to create.  So my students are asking for more creative projects.  I cannot wait for them to see the Native American Battle simulation I am working on right now.
  • Rules.  Not the rules you set up, but rules they come up with.  This year I do not have rules posted on the walls but we discuss them a lot.  Especially trust and just how important it is in our classroom.  It shows again that students crave structure with some freewill embedded and gives me a good reminder that we need to have another class meeting to discuss norms.
And then the compliment.  Almost all of my students had to share just how amazing I am as their teacher and while I certainly appreciate the compliment I also wonder about it.  The challenge did not say anything about me or rating my performance but rather what they would do themselves if they were a teacher.   When are students taught that they must tell you that you are their favorite teacher or that you rock?  I always tell my students that they do not have give me compliments unless they mean them but whenever I mention teachers, there it is, “well, you are my favorite one.” Oh if it really were so, I will settle with being one they like and not let the rest go to my head.
If you would like to see the blogging challenge (blogging challenge 3) and their thoughts on tests (blogging challenge 2) as well go to our class blog.  While you are there, leave us a comment.  They love to hear from others and we mark you on our map as well.
being a teacher, believe, connect, education reform, embrace, hero, inspiration, kids, love

We are Superheroes

We are superheroes. Or at least in the eyes of some students, we are. We can do magic such as melt styrofoam cups, solve complicated algorithms in our head instantaneously, and know exactly what is happening behind us when our backs are turned. We are all-knowing, knowing who needs a hand, a soothing word, a joke. We come to the rescue of students that are lost, disheartened, upset over a fight with another child. And we love endlessly, always ready to share , hug (if allowed), laugh, and even cry. We are superheroes.

And yet, sometimes we forget that, and a raised voice stains our image. A sharpness of tone shows that we might be a little bit evil. A lost temper may prove it once and for all. And the students watch, and talk, and remember. And yet, they continue to believe because we build it back up. We continue our quest to make them superhuman, to make them believe in themselves. To pass on our powers as healers of the world, changers, movers, learners, teachers. We do it all and we do it out of love, respect, necessity. We let our students become our mission because someone has to show them that there is faith that they too will become superheroes one day, that they too will believe in others, that they too will change a life. So believe in yourself so that others may believe in you as well. The difference is being made, just look into the eyes of your students and you will see it. They believe in you, now believe in them.