advice, being a teacher, being me, label

When Your Child Is Given a Label

Although we were the ones that asked for an observation.  Although we were the ones that raised our eyebrows and rang the alarm.  Although we were the ones that thought maybe something was slightly amiss and weren’t quite sure if we were crazy or not.  Although it was us that started the process, when the news came, it still stopped us for just a moment.

When your child is given a label, if even for a second, your body seems to freeze.  For a moment  the world stops spinning.  For a moment you feel the crushing weight of parental failure.  For a moment you know you did something wrong.  Like that kid that you have been raising all those years somehow isn’t the kid they are actually talking about.  Like that kid that you have found to be absolutely incredible, sure a tad bit crazy at times, but still just a little bit of a miracle cannot possibly be the same kid that now is dissected on paper in front of you.  But just for a moment.

Because then that kid gives you a hug afterwards and asks you for snacks.  They ask to go run around and be a soccer girl so they can burn off all that energy. They ask you to come to their bedside so they can read you a book.   And you remember, when your heart starts beating again and your breathing calms, that they are a kid.  That as a kid they have many facets, and those labels that were uncovered, are just another facet.  That those labels while on paper seem terrifying are just that; on paper, and they don’t have to define the kid that stands in front of you asking for just one more book.  Asking for just one more hug.  Asking to sleep in your bed when the thunder comes.  Telling you that one day they are going to be something big, they just haven’t decided what that big is going to be.

We asked for answers and we got them.  We are grateful because now we know that our energetic little girl is perfectly fine, even though there are now labels that can help us help her.  Even though there are now things we can discuss as we support her learning.  Those labels will not define her, they were never meant to, even if my heart stopped beating for just a moment, and my eyes filled with tears.  Those labels are not all there is to her, nor will they ever be.  They are just another piece of the puzzle, of our amazing little girl, who will some day be an amazing young woman.  I am so proud to be her mother.  And that is a label that will always define her.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 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.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being me, label

Those that Matter

I often think of the labels we bestow upon each other…hero, leader, expert, inspiration

And those we give to our students…smart, lazy, underachiever, confused, creative

And I wonder how often we miss the mark altogether?

How often does the label describe the whole person?  How often do we truly know the whole person?

I do not do well with labels, and I laugh when others give them to me, but there are some I carry with me always, in awe that that I have them; mother, wife, teacher.

Those are the labels that matter

being a teacher, label, Student-centered

Are You Smart?

Every day we journal in our classroom, sometimes it relates to our curriculum, sometimes it is to start a discussion.  Yesterday I asked my students to answer the question, “Are you smart?”  Stunned students looked at me.  Then the comments came flodding in…what do you mean…I don’t know….what kind of smart….in fact one student was so flustered by the question that he was unable to journal about it. 

Now make no mistake, I knew the question would be difficult and yet we, as teachers, often use the label “smart” to describe students in conferences and on report cards.  So can we answer what it means to be smart ourselves? 

My students struggled through the journal prompt and today I had the opportunity to read their thoughts.  I was blown away by their insight.  Many lamented the fact that they did not know which smart I was referring to; was I referring to the school smart or to the logical smart?  By smart, who was I comparing them to?  They feel smart compared to a 3-year-old but not compared to a teacher.  Many kids disucussed that school can make you smarter but one pointed out that it is not the only thing that makes us smart and my heart rejoiced. 
Some discussed, again so thankful at their wisdom, that smart is something you grow into, not something you are born with.  Some unfortunately compared their smartness to how well they do on tests, and my spirit dropped a little. 

In the end, no one student had the same answer but they made me think; how do we define smart?  How do we show our students that they are indeed smart?  Is their any point in even discussing it with them or should we be focusing instead on the abilities they have; their problem solving skills, their work ethics, their creativity?  Do students need to feel smart to succeed?  And how do we stop tests from robbing them of their self-esteem and faith in themselves?

I may have asked my students one questions, but they asked many more of me.  It was a great day for thinking.

being a teacher, grades, label, rank, students

Some Questions on Labels

Those struggling learners, the reluctant readers, the underachievers. All labels heard in schools on a daily basis. The tired ones, the creative types, the giften, the talented, the fidgeters, the lazy students. We label and label in order to define them all, to fit them all into a box under the pretense of being better teachers, of making our jobs easier, more manageable, more suited for differentiation. After all, if we don’t label then how will we know who needs which services? If we do not label then who will we teach at what time? How will class lists be made up to ensure balanced needs? We may not be tracking our atudents openly but the labels keep on coming.

I often ponder labels and what effect they have had on my own life. Some teachers labeled me gifted, I was not, only gifted through circumstance. Others labeled me underachieving, where rather it was in response to the teaching method. I was labeled opinionated in history, that one stuck, outspoken in English, talentless in math, and relentless in my pursuit of academic excellence in college. Labels shaped my education whether I agreed with them or not, yet how often were they shared with me? How often was I aware of what category I was placed in? And worse, how often when I was aware did it become my definition?

Some will inevitably argue that if we do not label our students whether through tests or grades then how will we rank them? How will we teach them best? If we don’t know who our strugglers are then how will we reach them? I don’t know. But what happens when those labels become all we see? What happens when the labels end up defining the student rather than the student defining the label. What happens when one teacher’s comment becomes the mold we force the student into? Can we label our students without actually harming them and impeding their learning? Can we genuinely categorize students as struggling when they are perhaps just learning at a different pace?

I hope someone has the answer.