being a teacher, lessons learned, students

10 + 1 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

Image from here

Sometimes life smacks you in the face and makes you change your ways for the better.  Fortunately in education, this happens quite a bit, unfortunately it is not always in the most pleasant way.  I present a list of my lessons I learned the hard way.

  1. You may be really excited about something but that does not mean anyone else will be.  I joined Twitter more than a year ago and I have yet to convince anyone close to me of its value.  I remain undeterred in my plug for Twitter but at the same time also realize that perhaps they just don’t want to join.
  2. When you make a lot of changes, not everyone will think they are great.  I have changed many things in my classroom and while I see all of the amazing benefits, not everyone does.  I have many critics and my skin has grown a lot thicker, and yet, ouch.
  3. Not everyone wants to hear your opinion, even if you think it s a good one.  
  4. Not all parents want less homework.  I thought every parent would stand up and cheer at my decision to nearly eliminate homework, but no, some want a lot of homework for their children for various reasons.  I now encourage open dialogue on it and help out where I can.
  5. Lecturing does not engage – and neither does raising your voice and scolding the kids when they tune out.  I figured this one out after 2 years of teaching with glazed over eyes and less than enthusiastic students.  Now I look back at those two first years and shudder.
  6. Rewards diminish the learning.  I used to be a rewards fanatic but realized that kids focused more on which sticker they got then the feedback I gave them.  I also created a class divide in my room with the have’s and the have not’s.  If only I could tell all of those kids that I am sorry for what I did.
  7. When you think everything is going great, you are about to crash.  I don’t know how many times I have been on a teaching high only to crash and burn wickedly.  Life changes quickly, so enjoy the “high” while you can.
  8. Putting your thoughts on a blog means everyone wants to debate with you.  Some will cheer, some will challenge, and some will just downright criticize.  Either way, you have to take the good with the bad; it is all part of developing your voice.
  9. Even the best classroom can have a bad day.  I used to beat myself up wondering what went wrong when the day feel apart.  Then I realized that sometimes there is just nothing to do it about it that day, what matters is that you start over the next day.
  10. I am not always right, even if I really, really want to be.  I have some pretty strong opinions and fortunately for me, sometimes they change.  That means I have had to apologize to people, publicly state the change and eat crow in a number of ways.  This is a not a bad thing, but a human thing.
  11. I am not the only teacher in the room.  I thought I was the ultimate authority on everything in my room, and loved to share my vast knowledge into those empty vessels that were my kids.  What a rude awakening when I realized that my students are not blank slates.  Now I remind myself daily to step aside and let them explore and teach each other and me.  

being me, lessons learned

Lessons Learned from Home

Coming home to my native Denmark never ceases to ground me, remind me of who I am, as well as provide a few lessons that I bring back to my classroom.  This year, I chose to share them with you.

On one of my first night’s home, my mother shared this story with me:  In 1938 when my 98-year-old grandmother was young she wanted to go to France with a friend.  The daughter of a woodcarver and an aspiring math teacher, she knew that she could realize this dream but that she would have to bike there; all 648 miles.   Their minds made up though, they rode their single gear bicycles the whole way in 2 weeks, stayed a couple of days and then rode their bikes back.  The whole trip took them around a month.  Lesson learned: perseverance and fortitude.  Instead of waiting for the opportunity to arise, my grandmother or mormor as she is known just did it. 

It has been more than 2 years since my best friends, Laila and Julia, and I have sat face to face.  More children, more wrinkles, and more life experiences have shaped us differently and yet we are still the same.  Those old friendships spanning more than 16 years nurture me and sustain who I am and who I want to be.  Those two know me better than anyone and every time we get together we are able to just be ourselves. 
Lesson learned: those who knew you when, matter the most.

This past weekend as I was home alone with Thea, we were chicken sitting for my aunt.  Imagine my horror as a fox attacked them and I was left to call my aunt with the news that the fox had managed to snag half the hens and all the chicks.  While on the phone, the fox came back for me and charged a chicken close by me.  My reaction:  A blood curdling scream and charging toward it.  The poor chicken ran inside the house, the fox ran the other way.  Mission accomplished. 
Lesson learned:  You never know how you will react when something is at stake.

As I visted my grandparents, I told them of how excited I was to move to 5th grade and in particular what we had planned to do for our math instruction.  My mormor, a former math teacher, instantly perked up and told me that she would really like to hear about what we planned on doing and to keep her informed.  She would even offer up suggestions if she had any.
Lesson learned:  Once you find your passion you never grow out of it.

Coming home I instantly felt I belonged and Danish is spoken to me automatically wherever I go; I fit in.  In fact, I wrote a post about how important it is for kids to get the same feeling when they enter our classroom.  I could only feel this way because I know the social norms and expectations in this nation, something most tourists are not privy to. 
Lesson learned:  Share expectations, norms and normal behavior for everyone to feel they belong.

authentic learning, being a teacher, feedback, lessons learned, students

Hold Your Tongue – Why Feedback has to be Time Appropriate

    Today, as we practiced writing our weekend webs, the students had to focus on writing a catchy first sentence.  It all ties in with our major writing goals of better word choice and yet was still met with groans and eye rolls.  “But that’s hard, Mrs. Ripp” was expressed repeatedly.  “Absolutely,” I said, “And that is why we have to practice it.”  
After the 15 minutes of writing were up, I had students share just their opening sentence with the rest of the class.  As we went through each sentence, I stayed quiet beside the occasional “Nice” that slipped out.  These sentences were not created equal by any means.  Some were catchy, exciting, inviting and others were just ho-hum.  In the past, I would have given my honest opinion at each sentence, and yet today I held my tongue.  Instead of sharing my opinion to each individual, I asked the students whether they heard a difference in sentence quality.  All of them agreed and some even ventured that there were certain stories they would love to read right away.  A discussion then broke out as to the purpose of that first sentence.  Was it to explain everything such as “This Saturday, I went to the carnival” or was it to entice the reader?  This discussion would not have happened had I greeted each sentence with a comment.  Instead, I would have had some deflated students, unsure of what their next step should be.
Public criticism disguised as feedback is always something I avoid.  Not because I feel students should not be aware of what their goals are, in fact, we discuss this quite often in my classroom, but rather the public part of it.  Of course, there are times when public discussion does happen such as addressing inappropriate behaviors, or when the whole class is trying to learn from each other in a more deliberate way.  Just stating though that student’s work isn’t their best, is simply not doing them any good.  In this instance, I would not have had time to properly discuss ways to change their sentence, and I knew that some students would figure out theirs was not as strong if they simply heard the other ones that were.  So I am learning to be quiet, to be more deliberate in my delivery of learning, and to sometimes forgo it all together.
Feedback is one of our strongest tools but can also be one of our more damaging ones if handled inappropriately.  While you can easily build a child up by publicly praising their work, one misplaced comment can undo months of confidence as a writer, reader or student.  This goes for disingenuous praise as well; children will see right through it if you don’t mean it.  So as I continue to grow alongside my students I try to keep it simple, earnest, and meaningful.  Saying “good job” might work at that specific moment in time but the students learn nothing from it.  Just as saying “That wasn’t a great sentence” delivers no learning opportunity, we must be willful and deliberate in our words.  How do you handle feedback in your classroom?  What are you stopping doing?  Am I the only one on this word choice journey?
being a teacher, boring, inspiration, Lesson Planning, lessons learned

Today I was Boring

I love Mondays.  They are loud, a little bit crazy, and always exciting.  My students are tapping their feet, their are sharpening their pencils and asking a million questions about what we are doing this week and when are we going to get to do this really cool thing?  The noise can be kind of intimidating to cut through but then you realize that it is excitement, not just chatter, and it becomes a different beast to maneuver altogether.

Today, I was boring, though.  I had my lessons planned, even with discussion questions, extra surprises and movie clips.  And yet, I fell flat.  During social studies, where I was teaching the writing of the Constitution, I yawned.  And you know if the teacher is bored, then imagine what the students feel.  So I stopped.  I put the book down that I was reading aloud and then asked them what questions they had.  A little bit of perking up.  Then I asked them to write on the board everything they knew about the office of the president, some motion and activity.  Then I started to drone on again – moment lost.

I don’t know what it was today.  I had a long night with my daughter with croup, my mind is heavy with the scary legislation vote looming over us, and I didn’t take the time to think this morning.  I have a pretty set morning routine where I get in 1 hour and 15 min early, turn on my music, jam to that while I clean, pull out, discuss, give hugs to colleagues and just focus.  Today I had no music, ran around, got visited by students early, stopped by a great Valentines Day breakfast and just spoke a lot of politics  By the time the bell rang, I was ready physically not mentally.

And what a difference that makes!  All day I played catch up, tried to find my brain – it must be around somewhere – and just made it through.  That is not what teaching is supposed to be like; surviving.  So I wonder; what do others do when the lesson isn’t working?  Do you throw it out?  Stop and do something else entirely or just lumber through it?  I felt I robbed a great moment in history from my students today, something that I cannot get back.  So when your brain disappears and the day just seems to happen to you, what do you do to put it back on track?

I, for one, am going to bed early, charging my Ipod, getting my red shirt ready (all union workers are wearing red to show unity this week) and packing chocolate in my lunch tomorrow.  I will not let my students down like this again.

being a teacher, inspiration, lessons learned, students

Not More Resolutions but Renewals Instead

It is indeed a new year, resolutions abound, and people fell eager, excited, rejuvenated, and ready to change their lives.  I am one of these people as well that truly views a new year as a time for transformation, a time to renew vows made to oneself, to reflect, and to reevaluate.

I, too, made a resolution, a small one to save more money for traveling, but that is it.  Professionally, I have quite a few resolutions going on already, as my husband reminds me, such as limiting homework, throwing out grades, student blogging, and my fun new blog for sharing lesson and.  So yes, I have a full load, but a fun one.

So instead of a resolution, I decided to remember the goals I have already made for the year.  We get so busy with piling new ones on, that we can forget about the awesomeness of the old ones.  So the goals I renew to myself are, in no particular order:

– Remember they are all of our children. There is no such thing as just “your” students anymore, make yourself visible to all, and treat them all as if they did indeed belong to you, because they really do.

– Question yourself. Why do you do the things that you do in your classroom? Why do you teach this way?

– Take time to discover your passion. Your passion may be apparent to you but to some people it isn’t, however, if you don’t give yourself the gift of time to really reflect, how will you ever discover that you love zombies, technology, and Neil Gaiman?

– Give the gift of now. Be present wherever you are, whether it be in your classroom, with your family, or in the car. Give that moment in time the honor of being there fully, even though that may be hard, it is worth it in the long run.

– Reach out to others. Whether it be through Twitter, your PLN, or staff members, use them, reflect with them, and praise them. These are the people that will support, encourage, and challenge you on a regular basis, these are the people that will raise you up.

– And finally, don’t survive it – live it!

being a teacher, college, Lesson Planning, lessons learned, new teacher, questions, students

Veering Off the Chosen Lesson Path – or Why You Should Take a New Route

As college students when taught the craft of becoming a teacher, one thing is hammered into us again and again; the necessity of lesson plans. We are given graphic organizers to ensure that we account for every single possible thing; special needs, types of learing, beginning, goal, standards and on and on. I slaved over my mine, creating perfect fictitious classrooms that would need my supposed expertise to reach the goal.   It would always be me as the fierce director bringing students into learning, the keeper of the flame.

As a first year teacher, I continued my meticulous planning, always knowing the end goal and more importantly the exact path that I would take to go there.  Students were forced down my chute of learning so that they could reach their glorious destination, often not having time to take a different direction, a different approach.  I had curriculum to get through and by golly I would!

And then I realized what I was really doing.  By glossing over student questions, by forcing my path on the students, I was losing them.  I was losing their inquisitiveness, their creativity, their sense of learning style and most sadly, I was losing their trust in me as a teacher.  Why would they open up when I barely ever slowed down to listen to them?  It wasn’t that I wasn’t a decent teacher, I was, but that was it, decent.  No room for individuality, no room for new discoveries, just here is the goal, let’s reach it.

Learning is always happening in any classroom you walk into.  But notice the different types of learning.  Is there room for student exploration?  For veering off the path?  For taking a totally different route altogether?  How stringent is the teacher with their lesson plan, is it followed minutely or used as a guide for the ultimate goal?  How loud are the students?  How engaged?  I was once asked by my principal what my goal for a particularly disastrous lesson plan was and I couldn’t tell him, what I could tell him was the path I was going to take.  What a wake up call that was – thanks Mr. Rykal -know your goal, think of a path but then don’t be afraid to go another route, to listen to the students,  let them shape the learning.  I promise, you will see the difference in excitement, in caring, and in learning.  Do you dare to take anther route?