classroom expectations, classroom management, life choices, Student-centered

The Story of the Child that Changed Me

If I could go back and undo what I did to a child some years ago I would.  This child, who so desperately needed to feel in control of something in their life, came to me and only got more of the same.  Less control, more demands, more punishment, rather than a safe haven to feel like they was ok, like they belonged, like they were listened to.  They say you learn from your mistakes, and this is one of those kids I have learned from the most.  

    Peter wasn’t always unhappy, as evidenced by the smiling pictures I saw of him from younger years.  By the time he reached the third grade though life had gotten in the way and those smiles were far and few in between. The first time I met him, his mother dragged him into my room late for orientation and started to tell me how I would have a hard time with this one because he was lazy and didn’t care.  I don’t think any child’s shoulders have ever slumped more than that.  As I nodded through his mother’s complaints, I swore that I would be different, that Peter would start to love school again, that I would help turn this kid around.  Looking back, I see now how failed this notion was given the constraints I had placed myself under in my classroom.  I was a novice teacher, someone who still believed that I should run my classroom like those who had come before me, like people I had read about in textbooks, like they had taught me in college.  I believed that the teacher was the power, the one with all of the knowledge, and the best way for students to learn was to listen to me dole out wisdom.  Sure there would be fun, we would have parties and rewards for homework turned in and good behavior.  There would also be punishment for those who misbehaved or dared to not hand in their homework.  Grades would be motivation and threats would be the norm.  Nothing like building a relationship with a child by telling them if they don’t comply they will get an F.

    So Peter put his trust in me and at first I got him to smile, to open up a little, to have some success.  Days passed and I thought I was helping, I was fixing, I was changing this child’s life.  That is, until he didn’t do his homework.  I didn’t take the time to find out why, I didn’t ask any questions, but just told him to put his name on the board and to stay in for recess.  During recess he worked so slowly, punishing me for calling him out in front of the class, that the next day his homework was still not done.  Again, I didn’t ask any questions but just called him out, embarrassing him a little and then told him again that recess would be mine until this math was done.  Again slow and painful work meant that he barely finished.  What I didn’t know was that our power struggle had just begun and it would last the whole year.  Me in the role of enforcer, as supreme teacher that took away instead of gave, that punished rather than asked questions, that wanted more control rather than let him have some.  You see, I think all Peter wanted was control.  He wanted a space where he could come in and feel that he had a voice, that he mattered, that he belonged.  But by removing control from the classroom and even more so for him, I didn’t let him find his voice.  I didn’t let him invest himself into the classroom.  I didn’t change his mind or change his ways about school, I just let him live up to what his mother had so thoroughly predicted; that he was a no good troublemaker.

    Peter made me almost quit teaching because I saw what I had done to him.  I saw by the end of fourth grade how my decisions to run my classroom in a traditional sense had taken all of his pleasure out of learning.  I knew that summer that I had to change and one of the biggest things to go was the passion for control.  Students had to feel they belonged because they had to feel it was their room.  They had to have a genuine voice that listened to their needs and let them shape the classroom.  They had to have room to grow, to fail, and to embrace each other’s strengths through collaboration and hands on exploration.  No more teacher as the sage on the stage, but rather shine the light on the students.  Had I given Peter classroom like the one we create now, he would have had a reason to speak up, to get invested.  He would have loved the choices, how his voice mattered, and how his creative side could be explored.  He would have perhaps taken a small leadership role to show the other kid that he was worthy, to show them that he did belong on the team, he would have cared.

I run my classroom now with the mantra of students first in everything I do.  Their voice matters, their choices matter, and their opinions matter.  I do not punish and I do not reward.  Students work together when we can and always have a choice in how they do things.  They sit wherever they want and we try to eliminate homework.  If you work hard in our room you do not have to bring the work home.  They belong, they own the room, it is theirs and that is what I should have done from the moment I started teaching. I realized it isn’t about me, but about them.  I can never undo what I did to Peter and those other students before him but I can make sure I never do it again.  I have changed my teaching style because of this child and for that I am grateful, even if he will never know how much he influenced me.
being me, life choices, word choice

Those Little Words

I am proud of you.
Look at what you did.
You can do this.
Explain this to me
What else can happen?
Thank you for today.

Small words, big meaning.  Those words we choose to share with those we surround ourselves with every day.  Those words we do not ponder or carefully measure out.  Those words we do not plan for, study, or write down lest they be forgotten.  Those are often the words that carry the most weight to our students, to our colleagues, to ourselves.

A smile, a hug, or even a look in the eye.  Those speak volumes every day.  The little things we do matter more than we know, so be aware and give enough of the happiness you should feel waking up every day knowing that you are part of the change, of the hope, of the incredible world that is ours.

life choices

Rain Puddles

Today, freshly picked up from daycare, my two year old Thea ran out out of the car and into the nearest puddle.  Free from inhibitions, my husband blames this on me, she jumped and jumped until her pants were soaked.  Thinking nothing of this minor obstacle, she quickly sat down in the puddle, took her sandals off, then her pants, and then her diaper for good measure.  As I stood there watching her so uninhibited enjoying the freshly made rain puddles, I quieted the voice in my head that told me to get her inside.  That voice that warned me of germs, and colds, and what will the neighbors think.  And so there she sat in her puddle, by then eating a popsicle she had begged for and she said “swimming mommy, I swimming.”  In her head this puddle was the biggest swimming pool she could have ever asked for.  In her head life at that very moment offered her everything that she wanted; no clothes, water, and a delicious treat.

So I let her play and was once again reminded that it is okay to back off.  It is ok to not reprimand or remind of the rules. It is even okay to sit with your butt in a rain puddle if it happens to be the perfect day for that.  Thea will be just fine.

being a teacher, choices, life choices, Passion, students

Today I Choose to be Happy

Image from I Can Read

This morning as I woke up. I chose to be happy.  It was not a hard decision, the temperature has finally reached above 60, the birds were chirping, my husband was there.  And yet, I made a choice to be that way.  When I get to my classroom this morning, I will also choose to greet my students with a smile, give them a run-down of our day and end it with a “I am so excited for today.”  I do this every day and my students crack up, after all, how can one teacher be so excited about every single day?

The attitude we bring into our classrooms is a choice, and a very important one.  There has certainly been days where I have chosen to be in an awful mood, stress will do that to you, but when those kids walk in our door, then I choose differently.  I don’t believe in putting on a show for the kids but I do believe in giving them my best, after all, they choose to come to school excited as well.  So together we get excited, sometimes we choose to be mellow and snuggle in with books in our special reading spots, other times we meditate on the floor, whatever we do, we choose it together.

So today I choose to be happy and just a little bit goofy.  The school year is winding down, my students are having  harder time focusing, so together we will not just get through the day, we will experience it.  Every moment is a choice we make, whether we acknowledge it or not.  What do you choose?

being a teacher, choices, inspiration, life choices, students

Choose Your Message

With the waves of uncertainty surrounding us, I remain steadfast in my commitment to my students. I remain steadfast in my commitment to my family, to myself, and to my dream of positivity. To say that life is stressful would be an understatement. Personal life-changing issues abound, as well as professional ones, yet I remain steadfast in my dedication.

We choose what we portray. We choose the message that we bring. And although life may be very hard, we choose how we deal with it. This time has tested me to the core, and yet I choose to smile. I choose to exhibit hope and positivity, fore I choose to stay above water and not get pulled down. So ask yourself, what do you choose? What do you bring in with you when you show up at work or at home? What is it people will leave your conversations feeling like?

As teachers we affect more than just our students. We affect all the staff in our schools, and we affect how the children entrusted to us, go home and in turn affect their families. We have an immense opportunity and indeed responsibility to have a positive effect on all the paths we cross. So yes, I get how tough it is right now, and no, I am not a saint. I have bad days, I have horrible days, but I cannot focus on those. I have to remember why I am here in the first place; to make a difference, and not a bad one.

We speak of peer pressure as if it is a always a bad thing. I exert my peer pressure but use my powers for good rather than evil. I choose to continue to focus on a message of positivity, of challenging oneself to not be the pebble, and hope that I can influence others to do the same. Perhaps it will be cool again to smile? Perhaps laughing will become the new “it” thing to do. Who knows? I choose to remain dedicated.

being a teacher, believe, life choices, Passion, personality, teachers, teaching

They Call Me…

They call me Mrs. Ripp and I look around for my mother-in-law, oh wait, that’s me now

They call me mom and I smile a little and then laugh with them when they apologize

They call me “hey you” when they are in a hurry

Or “dude…” when they are steaming from their recess kickball game

They call me a force, whether good or bad, but always believing

They call me honest, to your face and very, very direct

They call me early-riser because I love coming to my classroom

They call me a believer because that is what I do

They call me passionate

They call me a difference maker

They call me a changer

Because I am a teacher