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

being a teacher, community, students, teachers, teaching

Sneaking into Inference

Two weeks ago we started the dreaded WKCE (Our standardized testing) and I could tell that kids were stressed over whether or not they would do well on these horrid tests. It is not that I am totally against tests, I am not, but these ones do nothing for my instruction. They are so secretive, that we must sign confidentiality agreements, and lock them up after each session, just in case someone uninvited wanted to sneak a peek at them. What’s worse is that we do not get the results until March, so how are they supposed to inform my instruction? I am at the very least staying hopeful since we have been promised that this type of test will be phased out within the next years, to be replaced by something else.

Either way, here were my poor students getting more frazzled as the testing week grew closer so I suggested we sing a song to lighten the mood a bit. I wish this were my idea but it is really inspired by this post from Greta Sandler and this one by Joan Young. I love singing, in fact, I sing all of the time. I sing instructions to my students, I ask for their attention through singing, and at home I am unstoppable show-tune belter. I majored in music in my native Denmark, and always thought I was going to be a performer. (I guess that sort of came true as we do nothing short of perform every day in front of our students). But I digress. I asked my students which song they would like to sing? Crickets…. Then I asked them which song did they know? Row, Row, Row your boat was one option and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star was another. Not to be discouraged, we sang a hearty rendition of Row, Row, Row Your Boat, or rather I sang my little heart out while the students mumbled under their breath.

That day, I told my husband my horror of how few songs they knew. You see, in Denmark, you sing all of the time in schools. We sing at every assembly, we sing with our teachers; music is everywhere so by the time you graduate you have quite the repertoire of well-known and beloved songs that the rest of the Danish population also knows and will gladly sing with you at a festive gathering. Oh, my stoic American husband absolutely died when he realized how much my family sings. So what’s a teacher to do?

I have long been a believer in exposing students to poetry that is not deemed “kid poetry” so I took the same approach to songs. So Tuesday’s are now Music/Poetry days in my room. We take a classic song – our first one was “Imagine” by John Lennon, the students predict what the theme is based on the title and then we listen to it. Students are asked to write down anything they think of while they listen. Afterwards we read the lyrics and it is now up to the students to figure out what the song is really about. So ta da; we are now teaching inference and they don’t even know it. The best part is; the kids then want to sing the song, and then sing it some more. In fact, “Imagine” has become our go-to song whenever we need a break. The parents have noticed their kids coming home singing some of the classics. Students are even requesting to sing/learn certain songs now and I find myself constantly searching for songs that they may like or have a great message. “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” was a favorite hit and the kids could not believe that I let them listen to the song, why not I say, it made them think after all.

So if you happen to be around my room, don’t be surprised if you hear kids belting out a tune. For this coming week, it will be one of my favorites again, “New York, New York” because after all “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” So why not let them sing, let them find their inner voice, who knows who you will inspire?

education reform, observations, principal, teachers

A Teacher Can Dream

This blog is in response to Tom Whitby’s rally for blogging about education reform.  While this may not be an answer to the major problems, it does serve a purpose in discussing a cornerstore of the misconstrued”tenure for life” debate – observations by principals and how teachers would change those if they could. 

It is time for the observation schedule to start at my school and I know I am on the list, after all, this is only my 3rd year teaching and I am therefore still on probation and under observation.  The first year I was observed twice, last year once, and this year also only once.  While something beneficial always comes out of my observations, here is what I wish they really looked like.

  • I wish there were more.  I am not an excellent teacher, I have many years to grow from, so any feedback is important to me.  However, when that official feedback is only given once a year after a 30 minute observation, major things may go unnoticed or not be discussed at all.  What a missed learning opprtunity.
  • I wish some were surprise observations.  I sweat over my observation, I ponder and torture myself as I prepare only to realize that I am in essence putting on a dog and pony show.  My students act totally different than they normally do, not because I ask them to, but because the principal is sitting in my classroom and that is uncommon.  So therefore my lesson looks, feels and is different.  It is not in order to deceive but an adaptation to the situation.  If observations were more frequent and less formal a true snapshot of my teaching would be gathered much more easily and I could be observed in a genuine manner rather than in a staged one.
  • I wish there were other observers.  Most principals have a view of education that has been set by their own educational experiences as a teacher.  Feedback, therefore, is often derived from this knowledge set.  If others come in to observe you, differing ideas or viewpoints will be brought to light. How amazing would it be if a different principal came in to see you or someone not in administration?  Think of the various feedback that could be given.
  • I wish principals still taught.  In Canada, some principals such as @MrWejr are required to teach a class while working as assistant principals.  I think this is an incredibly powerful idea.  If a principal still teaches, their observations on your teaching will be much more relevant because they are not relying on experiences in their past, but rather in their present.  They become more relatable and also more current in their work and can thus provide up-to-date feedback and encouragement.
  • I wish the conversation continued.  Often a post-observation conference is scheduled, held and then nothing else is discussed until the next year.  In my fantasy, goals are written and discussed throughout the year.  And not loose goals either but actual tangible, observable goals decided in a partnership with the observer.  That way I know specifically what to work on, how to achieve it while being provided a chance to discuss progress and setbacks with someone.  The learning therefore continues after the observation is officially completed.
While these are my major wishes, I wonder what observations would look like if teachers were able to shape them instead of being told how they should look.  Imagine the conversation and reflection that would be gained from such a task.  So fellow educators, what do you wish for, what is your fantasy and more importantly, how do we make it a reality?