being a teacher, new teacher

And Then You Say We Failed…

Go on any social media platform and inevitably you see the discussions cropping up about how the teaching during the shutdown was not enough. How educators failed their students. How kids are now so far behind. How removing grades meant that kids didn’t learn anything. How we must open schools up for face-to-face instruction for all or else our nation will fall even further behind, or else our children will suffer. How dare schools want to teach online? How dare educators try to put their own health into the equation, after all, we knew what we signed up for when we became teachers?

I had hoped that the conversations online wouldn’t be so predictable. After all it was not too long ago that educators were held up as heroes, as people who were part of the solution. And yet I knew that within the adoration would soon come the backlash. The predictability of how we had failed, how we were not enough, that we better get back to to work or leave the profession. It happens every time educators are held up as heroes.

I get the panic driving many of these conversation. I have four children of my own whose school district has just declared that they will be virtual for at least the first quarter. We don’t know how we will make that work. We don’t know how we will pay for childcare, who will be with our children as we both work full-time as teachers. How will our children’s education be changed because of the online format? How will the social components work? How will services and needs be met for my two kids with IEP’s? We have a lot of questions, but we also have a lot of faith, because we saw how their entire school rose up to the challenge the spring presented to us all. We saw the work that happened under incredible stress.

And so, I just want us to take a moment to remember what did happen during the shutdown in many places. How educators and school districts rose to the challenge and will continue to do so as we face an uncertain future. How almost none of us were ever trained to teach online, I don’t know many educators that were, we still rose to the challenge.

Because we educators tried. We did our very best when the world shut down around us. We lost sleep both literally and figuratively as we worried about the students we would no longer see, how we would translate what we had built face-to-face, how our students would still be able to learn at home facing unknown situations, some navigating life or death situations and we were no longer there to help.

I wanted to make it work for every child, for every child to feel that I was right there with them supporting them through all of this new unknown while myself grappling with a really scary time: a major family emergency and also being presumed positive for COVID-19. This is while we lost more than half of our income, much like many other families. And yet, I showed up with a smile every day because that is what we do as educators.

We took what we were supposed to be teaching live and tried to transform it to digital teaching, knowing that we had to cut back on our curriculum because it would be overwhelming otherwise. Many of us were told to not do synchronous teaching because it would be inequitable for kids. We were told to make it all accessible, to go deep but make it short, to not assign too much because the kids were barely managing it all.

We recorded videos for read aloud, lessons, check-ins and anything else we could think of to help kids understand and stay connected with us.

We created different paths for kids to choose their learning so they still had choice and voice in their education. This meant finding extra resources, creating extra resources, and then scaffolding kids through with extra resources. That takes time, time that we put in in order to somehow make this unfamiliar territory more familiar and inviting.

We set up opportunities for live question and answer situations whenever we could. We invited students to show and tell, to record videos, to do kahoots, and any other games and events just to give them a space to connect with one another in a way that had nothing to do with academics.

We mailed letters and sent postcards with encouraging notes, funny stickers, and quick hello’s just so kids knew we were there thinking of them.

We met one-on-one with students whenever they needed us at all hours of the day. My husband would have to remind me to turn my computer off every night at 10 PM, urging me to let it wait until morning. It was hard because I knew that some kids would be up late at night sending emails, I didn’t want them to feel alone.

We found time to sit in professional development to learn new digital tools in order to increase understanding and engagement. Then made time to implement it into our teaching on the fly whenever we could.

We continued meeting with colleagues to discuss needs of students and figure out crisis plans for the many kids whose mental health spiraled. We tried to think of new ways to reach kids who weren’t answering our phone calls, our texts, our emails, we tried to get them reconnected with their learning until the very last day. We continue to reach out over summer vacation.

We continued to communicate with all adults supporting their kids so that they felt included but also not overwhelmed, navigating a tight balancing act where the adults at home both needed information but also didn’t need all the information at the same time.

We continued to recreate resources that were locked in our classrooms without the necessary tools needed (even things like tape, posters, whiteboards, printer ink and such were things we had to find or pay for).

We coordinated and sent supplies to students so they could participate on as equal footing as we could create. We dropped off books on porches, brought food to those with no transportation, got internet to those whose applications were denied.

We purchased better internet plans or other tools for ourselves so that we could do our jobs, knowing that it was one more expense we would not be reimbursed for. We sat in parking lots when the wifi went down or when we needed to record videos and home didn’t have anywhere quiet. We searched for solutions to make it work whenever a new problem inevitably arose.

Many worked 12 hour+ days while trying to navigate online school with our own children as well. I had to place all of the needs of my students in front of my kids because that’s my job, and my job is our only income. I know many others in the same situation, whose own children were set aside because of the demands of work and not just within education.

We fought for the kids to not be unduly assessed on situations that were outside of their control. It’s easy to say that removing grades means kids were not motivated when your child has few obstacles to access their learning.

We tried to reach every child and provide the tools they needed to continue their growth.

We adapted, innovated, created, collaborated, grew, and rose up to meet the challenge that we were given little time or funding to prepare for. And we did it. And we will continue to do it, no matter what the fall brings. We will spend our summer preparing for a fall that many of us still don’t know what looks like. We will show up for trainings. We will create resources and lessons. We will collaborate. We will plan. We will dream. Not because we are getting paid to do so, because most of us aren’t, but because we care deeply about the education of our future students even if they cannot be with us face-to-face.

I know it will be better, after all, we now have more experience, we have had some time to think, to gather feedback and to learn. We have had more training and hopefully have more access to tools, to ideas, to resources.

So to say that we failed, or that we didn’t do enough, once again diminishes the extraordinary work that many educators and school staff put into a situation that none of us could ever have predicted. Was it perfect? No. Did everyone do all of these things? No. But did many go above and beyond because it is what we do? Yes.

I know that the fall will bring more challenges. I know that even as I plan for either a hybrid model or full online teaching experience that I have a lot of things to work out, a lot of obstacles to navigate. And yet, I saw what my own kids’ teachers did in the spring, how their school rose up as a community, and we will, forever, be grateful. So thank you to all who rose up, who tried, who continue to do the work, despite being in a nation that prefers to defund schools and blame staff rather than work on solutions.

So if we want to talk about failure, let’s discuss how a school system founded on inequity and systemic racism continues to push out children every year. Let’s discuss how schools are funded. Let’s discuss how in the US our population poverty is so large that many families depend on schools to feed their children. That in one of the richest nations of the world we have schools with unsafe water, with crumbling buildings, with unfilled positions because there is no money to hire staff. That the cost of living is so high that many people cannot afford childcare. Let’s discuss how education as a profession is disparaged rather than supported. How the voices of stakeholders are easily dismissed whenever procedural decisions are made, whenever federal changes are implemented. How our federal government failed to act in many ways to contain the spread of this virus. Let’s discuss that before we proclaim the crisis teaching that did happen as a failure. Perhaps then we can actually see some changes that we all could get behind.

administration, Be the change, being a teacher, first day, first week, new teacher, new year

On In-Service and Back to School Training

For many of us, it has been a summer of learning.

For many of us, it has been a summer of renewal.

Of finding new ideas

Of tweaking the old ones.

Of refocusing, re-thinking, and perhaps even re-committing.

We eagerly await the arrival of those kids, we hope will become our kids, and we dream of the year to come.

But before the first day of school there is bound to be training.  There is bound to be new programs, new initiatives, new things added on to our already heavy shoulders in order to make this year the possibly best year we have ever had.  And I try to be excited and I try to be ready and I try to be open-minded, but I realize now that while the program may be amazing.  While the research may be compelling.  While the intentions may be the best, it doesn’t really matter.

You could bring us the very best program in the world, but it may never be enough.

Because school is not really about implementing programs.  School is not really about the lesson plan.  Or the curriculum.  Or even about the research.  It is about the kids, of course.  We say it all the time.  And yet, where is the time spent in our back-to-school days?  What are our discussions centered on?  What do we walk away from our in-service days knowing more about?  The program or the kids?

I for one hope it is the kids, but often see them left to the end, brought up as data points and survey results.  Brought up in lofty dreams and grand ambitions.  Why not make in-service about the very kids we teach and invite a few in?  Why not interview them to ask about their hopes for the school year?  Why not have them craft questions or areas they would like us to get better at.  Why do so many of our decisions that center around kids never involve the kids?

So if you are in charge, if you are the one making the agenda, bring in the kids.  Add their voice.  Add their presence.  Let us focus not on the training of more curriculum implementation, on all the new initiatives, at least not the entire time, but instead on the problems the students challenge us to solve.  Let us focus on what we say we are really there for; the kids and let them guide us into making this the best year yet.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  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.



aha moment, being a teacher, being me, ideas, new teacher, new year

The One Great Idea Promise

image from icanread

School is nearly starting here in Wisconsin.  Less than three weeks until we say hello.  For some of my friends, it has already started and for others this is not the beginning of a new year.  We are surrounded by the buzz of excitement that comes from starting anew.  We are surrounded by the energy that will lift us up and carry us forward, led by dreams.  We are surrounded by the myriad of ideas we have concocted, come across, and considered as we inch nearer to that first magical day.

But what do you do with an idea?  to quote one of my favorite picture books.  Because we have all of these ideas that we cannot wait to try.  We have all of these ideas that will change the way we teach, change our students’ lives, and hopefully inspire change overall.  We have so many ideas that we often overwhelm ourselves before we even begin.

So I give you the one great idea promise; promise yourself that you will hold on to just one idea and pursue it with every thing you’ve got.  Find your essence, find your core, and hold on to that with every planning step you take.  Write it out, hang it up, and keep it in the forefront whenever you plan.  This is where your energy should go.  That doesn’t mean to dismiss all of the other ideas you have, but to let them slide in when they fit.  Write them down because you will forget them, but circle the one that will set apart this year from last.  Find your one great idea and love it with all of your might.

We say we want to change the world, but sometimes we need to just change one thing.  So find your thing and do it.  Don’t give up because you didn’t do them all.  The students don’t need you to do all things, they need you to do just one; love them and your job.  The students await.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

being a teacher, new teacher, parents

A Few Ideas for Parent Engagement


Parent engagement is a natural component of the elementary experience, after all, with class parties, whole school events, and weekly newsletter, parents have an easy time becoming involved in their child’s education.  Not only is parent involvement invited, it is expected and so schools and individual teachers create plenty of opportunities for parents to be involved.

Yet, with the gradual release of responsibility as students age, parent involvement becomes less and less of a focus.   We expect them to still be involved but not nearly as present.  Not nearly as informed.  After all, their children should be growing into responsible teens, which I agree with,  however, not all children are ready to be left to their own devices.  So rather than an expectation of parent involvement in the upper grades, how about an invitation instead?  Here are a few ideas to do just that.

The beginning of year parent survey.  Parents know their children best so we need to tap into that goldmine at every age.  It doesn’t have to be long, mine this year is 5 questions, but at least it gives parents a chance to communicate with us as we start the year.

The weekly newsletter.  This bastion of elementary classrooms does have a place in our older classes, but keep it short and to the point.  My team does a bullet point version of things parents can ask their child about and also an update on upcoming deadlines and projects.  If parents would like more information, they can access our website.

A beyond-the-homework website.  We have a website that yes lists homework, but it also gives team information, school announcements, helpful tips, as well as has a Google calendar where everything we are aware of for school is listed.  Parents can subscribe to it and get the news delivered via email.

Morning/Evening events.  This year I will be inviting parents along with their children in for literacy mornings or evenings where we will discuss books, view book trailers and such.  Perhaps none will show up but I want to create the opportunity either way.

The positive notes or phone calls.  It is hard to reach out to 120+ parents so split it up as a team if possible.  Keep a master list of who has had positive news about their child shared with them via email, phone call, or post card.

Go beyond the twice a year conference.  Every few months I invite parents to set up meetings with me to discuss the progress and goals of their child.  Not many take me up on it, however, they have the opportunity to come in if they would like.  And yes, that is me spending my time outside of hours to meet with parents but it is completely worth it in the end.

Weekly emails.  I send home a weekly email or so to parents discussing all things English, I keep it short and sweet and I post it on our blog too.  Parents can choose to delete it if they would like, I would rather have parents feel over-informed than under-informed.

Learn their names.  This is a not an event but a process.  I have a hard time keeping track of all of the names but I think it speaks volumes to know who it is I am speaking to.  When I don’t know I simply ask, I would rather admit it then pretend to know.

Keep learning transparent.  I try to post pictures and video from our classroom as much as possible so that parents can see what we are doing.  This year I plan on doing more of this as I feel more secure as a 7th grade teacher.  Again, they don’t have to view it, but at least it is there.

Open door policy.  I know that most parents are too busy to stop by but the point is; they can if they want to.  While I cannot stop teaching and speak to them, they can at least get a glimpse of what we are doing and how engaged their child is.

Staying connected and nice.  I know that we teach many students, I am up to 120 some I think, yet, for a parent you are only teaching their child.  So stay humble, stay nice, stay inviting, and if you mess up; admit it.  Having a teacher that truly cares about their child is on the wish list of every parent, even as they age.

What other ideas do you have?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.  

advice, aha moment, being a teacher, new teacher, new year

6 Things New Teachers Remind Me to Do Every Year


You can usually spot a new teacher a mile away.  There is just something about the way they talk about the upcoming year, how they hold themselves, and even the very air that surrounds them.  So much joy, so much enthusiasm, mixed with a certain air of fear.  Right now seems to be the time where people start talking about all the mistakes new teachers make their first year and pass on advice to them whether they need it or not.  Yet, every year I learn so much from the new teachers I meet.  Every year they teach lessons to me.

  1.  Be enthusiastic.  The joy that comes with teaching  your very first year is one we should chase after every year.  We should love teaching, not take it for granted, not get caught up in the misery of all of the outside things that make teaching difficult.  Let’s all be excited that we have a job and that we will get to do what we love so much for another year.
  2. Ask questions.  New teachers know that they don’t have all of the answers so they ask a lot of questions.  As a veteran teacher, I sometimes think that I should know all of the answer so I feel stupid asking many questions.  Yet teaching is about learning and we stop learning when we stop asking questions.  Ask away and don’t be embarresed if you don’t know something, embrace that you are learning.
  3. Know their students names.  My first year of teaching I spent hours memorizing names with faces so that on the first day of school I knew all of my students by name.  This small gesture of respect went a long way in building classroom community.  As a middle school teacher, I have a lot more names to memorize – I think I am up to 136 students this year – and yet I have started looking at their pictures already.  I want to know all of their names by the end of the first week, no later.
  4. Say”Why not?” a lot.  First year teachers tend to question many things we see as established norms, and sometimes I think veteran teachers, myself included, can get a little bit offended when something we hold near and dear is questioned.  Yet it is in this questioning that we start to discuss new ideas, we find inspiration, and we change the way we teach.  we should all be asking “Why not?” a lot more than we are.
  5. Stay true to our noble intentions.  I became a teacher to help students become better people, yet within my first few years, I lost sight of that.  New teachers joining our profession may seem idealistic or delusional to some, yet within their dreams is something we should all be chasing; the belief that what we do matters.  The belief that we can make a difference.  That we can create schools that students actually want to be a part of.
  6. Make connections.  As a new teacher you don’t know that many people so all year you are trying to find your tribe.  yet, often, we settle into our patterns of who we speak to and shut ourselves off from the rest of our community when instead we should be continuing to make connections as often as possible.  why can’t you know all of the people in your school?  Why not reach out across your district?  While it is nice to have people that know you well, make sure you make connections with new people as well.  You never know who will become a part of your tribe.

If you are a new teacher reading this, welcome, this is truly the best job in the world.  May you love it this much or more each year you teach.  And if you are a veteran like me; I hope your year is filled with wonder, with laughs, and with joy.  We are lucky to be teachers, even if the world sometimes seems to be against us.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.  

Be the change, being me, new teacher

I Would Be A Liar


I would be a liar if I told you that I am not amazed at the amount of Twitter followers I have.  I would be a liar if I told you I didn’t know how many people roughly subscribe to this blog.  It has astounded me for a long time that anyone, other than my mother and my husband,  find value in me.  Yet, those numbers don’t mean much if I let them mean too much.

Because we are bigger than the follower count we have.  We are bigger than the number of comments we get.  We are bigger than the favorites, the mentions, and even the likes that we can garner in our lives.  The more influence we artificially have on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram or whatever tool you use, the more we should be doing to lift others up.  Because all of those people are the ones that are holding up the very platform we stand on.

I do not take my job as a teacher lightly. I do not take my job as a writer lightly.  I do not take my job as a speaker lightly, nor for granted.  When I get to speak to others, it is something that I value on such a deep level that I tend to get emotional, because I am put in a position where I can possibly help others.  Help someone else not feel crazy.  Help someone else not feel so alone.  Help someone else by being a friend.  
When someone reads my blog, I am humbled.  When someone reaches out, I am honored.

So if you are a connected educator, whatever that may mean, I hope you are using your influence for good.  I hope that you are using your position, no matter how small you may feel it is, to lift others up.  To make connections.  To help others share their voice.

We all started with 0 followers.  We all started blogging for ourselves and no one else.  We all started from a place of hoping that someone would notice us and make our worlds better.  So make sure you are still noticing others, because this isn’t about us, it’s about the kids and making their education better.  And sometimes it seems that we forget that in the midst of our own seeming popularity.

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 – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   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.