being a teacher, being me, hopes, new year, Student, teaching

What We Need to Remember

image from icanread
image from icanread

The words seem to fall off the pages as I scroll through their answers.  The beginning seeds to what will become the kids that we will get to teach.  They speak of hope, of dreams, and wishes.  They speak of failures in the past, of words beyond their control, and actions they wish they could have protected their child from.  Some merely say they hope for a good year, while others ask us to please love their child, that they could really use someone more who cares.

We take these children for granted.  We take their dreams for granted.  Their hopes.  Their wishes.  We have them speak but then do not always listen.  We hurry so much at times in our urge to get to everything that we forget that we are not here to teach content, but here to teach children.

Yet the parents.  The guardians.  The ones that sit at home.  They tell us to please remember.  To please not forget, that that child we spoke of today in our meetings, that the child we mentioned to our families, that the child that kept us up thinking late last night, that child belongs to someone.  That at one point that child was so loved that the world seemed to stop for a moment and everything else fell away.  Even if life has changed by now.

So as we get ready for another year, please remember that we do not teach products.  We do not teach neat little boxes that will follow our every direction.  That we do not teach robots who will comply with our every whim.  We teach human beings, with all of their laughter, with all of their joy, but also with all of their anger, their confusion, their restlessness, and their dreams of something better.  Please don’t forget that.

Because from one parent to another.  From one teacher to another.  Sending your child to school and hoping that someone else will get them is one of the hardest things to do.  It’s one of the biggest leaps we take.  We hope with every inch of us that on that first day of school our child will come home with a smile on their face and not just talk about all of the great things they did but about how much they love their teacher.  How much they cannot wait to go back.

We hold the power to the future, we cannot forget that.  Even on our toughest day that child is someone else’s.  That child has dreams.  And that child needs us to love them.  Even when they don’t love themselves.

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, kids, reflection, teaching

A Letter to My Daughter’s Kindergarten Teacher

image from icanread

To the woman who teaches my child,

Thea got off the bus today and asked if we could go back to school now.  She had not even taken off her backpack, nor had she told me about her day.  Not hello mom, not how are you, but can we go now?  Please?  When I told her we would have to wait until 5:30, when open house started, she got mad.  “But I want to go now mom, I have to go see my teacher.”

And my eyes got watery and I had to swallow for a second so she couldn’t see how I felt.

Then she showed me around tonight, so meticulously crossing off our scavenger hunt, asking me what next, what next. Proudly showing me the work she had done, her special places.  All the walls where her art hung, where she had made her mark, where she belonged.  But when she sat down and read me her stories, those same stories that you had so perfectly transcribed, I had to hold back the tears.  I didn’t want to be that parent sitting and crying in their kindergartner’s classroom.  I didn’t want to be a sentimental fool.  And still…

So to Jesse, who teaches my daughter every day.  I may tell you thanks but you just don’t know what it means to hear our little girl tell me she loves you.  This is the same girl who 4 weeks ago told me that she would never go back to school, that she had no friends, and that she would never learn anything.  The same girl who was scared to ride the bus.  The same girl who told me that no one cared.  That same girl who made us move heaven and earth it seems to try to get her a new chance.  And that new chance was you.  That same girl told me tonight that I had to keep all of her stories because her teacher told her so, “And what the teacher says means something, mom.”

We may think that a great school is what makes our child love school, but the truth is it is the teachers more than anything.  Those teachers we sometimes just expect to love our children, flaws and all.  Those teachers we just expect to make it work, to make everyone learn, and to do it with a smile on their face.  They make the difference, they change the world, but most importantly they change our world.

So to Mrs. H, I tell you you matter, I tell you that you are making a difference, but I will never be able to tell you how much.  You have made my daughter believe that she can, that she has a home.  You have not told her she needs to be perfect, nor that she will do everything right the first time, but you have made her feel that she can try, that she can think, that she can dream.

From one teacher to another; you are someone who makes me proud to be a teacher.

From a parent to a teacher; no words.

Thank you for loving our child, with all her craziness, all her ideas, and all her rainbow-colored stories.  We could never have made her love school like this.  You did that.

Best,

Pernille

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, classroom expectations, summer, teaching

Summer Is Not Here Yet – Tips To Stay Motivated and Energized

See that kid walking in; the one who smiles every day and then just kind of retracts into their own world.  yeah that child, well, it is not too late to make a connection.  In fact, now, as the end of the years nears is the perfect time to try again.  I know you are busy, I know summer looms large, but still, how about another try?

With less than 5 weeks to go, some are in summer mode, both teachers and students, and others continue to push on.  At the end of every day with my students I say, “There goes another day in 5th grade but boy we have a lot to do.”  In our room there is a sense of urgency; a need for efficiency, hard work and a little bit of pressure because the learning just does not have time to wait.  Students are busy with larger end of the year projects and I work more as consultant than direct instructor.  Sure side conversations slip in but overall there is a sense of mission.    A sense of using the year to the fullest degree, of finishing with a bang rather than a fizzle.

So what can we do to keep ourselves motivated?

  • Reach out and speak to someone new.  We tend to retract during this time, feeling that our schedules are overpacked and there is so much to do but there is something about reaching out and making a new connection.  Whether it is with a student, a colleague, or a parent even, now is the time to continue to build relationships.  It provides spark and energy and new ideas, what else could you want in May.
  • Get heavily invested.  I am very invested in these end of the year projects and I am in new territory with all of them. Students are acting as teachers in one with an assessment piece even tied in by them.  Another lets us use Adobe Elements which I have never attempted, you get the drift.  Instead of resting and trying something safe, I continue to push it and it keeps me revitalized, which directly translates to the energy level of the classroom.
  • Now is the time for conversation.  Although my mind is fully in this year, knowing I have a maternity leave coming up, I want to make sure I set my sub up with the best options, so my students and I speak a lot about what works and what doesn’t.  How would they tweak the classroom, how would they alter projects and so forth.  I, in turn, listen and take notes, changing as I go.
  • Trust them more.  I see some teachers pull in the reins and really try to control students more as the end of year nears.  And yes, energy levels are up across the board and yet, I give mine more leeway.  I trust them more to make the right decisions, to represent, and to push themselves.  They have grown so much over the year, now is the time to acknowledge that.
  • Crank the music.  And don’t take yourself so seriously.  Yes, you may be frazzled with so much to do, we all are, but is it fair to give that to the students?  I try to laugh more, smile more, and dance more as the year comes to a close.  We al need the body breaks and you an get a lot of classroom cleaning done with a great 80’s song blaring.
  • Stay with the kids.  And with that I mean, in your mind and in your heart.  I always have an awful time letting go of “my” kids even though I know they are ready, but it is something I pride myself on.  These kids know I am fully focused on them and on their academics.  They know that I want to hear their stories and I want to support them.  Even though our official year is almost over does not mean our relationship is.  So I continue to work on all of my relationships with them to ensure that they know that they belong, that they are accepted, and that room 310 will always be their home, no matter how old they get.

being a teacher, students, teaching

So I Work on the Weekends

Today is Saturday, the second to last day of my spring break, the day my daughter smiles the biggest, runs the most, and my husband beckons for me to read, relax, live a little.  Instead I go to work.  Mind you I don’t have to, no one told me in my contract that I had hours to fulfill.  No one told me that I better get in there to check on everything, to plan, to prep, to clean.  And yet in I go, blissfully so.  So why do I work on the weekend?

I work on the weekend because there is not enough time in the week.  Of course, there would be plenty of time left over if all I did was teach out of the book and not do any assignments, so perhaps I just have myself to blame.  Perhaps when I decide to plan projects, extensions, and create opportunities for all of my kids to learn, I need more time.  Perhaps when I decide that teaching straight from the book just is not going to cut it, then I need more time.  I am not mad, or angry at the time I spend fore I know that I will get results back from the time invested.  So I work on the weekends because my students deserve it.

I work on the weekends because it is quiet.  I don’t turn on the music, the lights and I shut the door and let my thoughts roam.  I practice, I reflect, and I tinker with what I am going to teach.  I do this uninterrupted by students, coworkers, phone calls, needs for hugs, requests for lunch, mini meetings, or friendship counseling.   I relish the quiet as my thoughts paint pictures of the results I want to have in the coming week.

I work on the weekends because it makes me a better teacher.  By coming in, spending the time, and thinking once again about what I intend to do, I grow.  I question my intent, I question my goals, and I always, always, think about the students.  How do they want to learn about this?  How can I be quiet while my students explore?  How can this become memorable and not just another daily lesson?  So I work on the weekend not by force, but by choice, because I choose to attain greatness as a teacher so that my students can attain greatness as well.  I work on the weekends because my students deserve whatever extra time I can put in, they deserve that extra attention, they deserve the best.  So I work on the weekends.

aha moment, answers, assumptions, balance, being a teacher, believe, change, education, education reform, educators, elementary, hopes, inspiration, invest, school staff, talented, teachers, teaching

Bring Out the Experts

The education community loves experts. Experts are flown in, bussed in, and wined and dined. If you are an expert on something chances are there is a school that wants to pay you for sharing your thoughts. In fact, you don’t even have to claim to be an expert, others will often bestow that title upon you as a favor. After all, how else will your expense be excused? So I wonder, how does one become an expert, after all, aren’t we all just humble learners?

The word expert is tinged with weight. To be an expert you must be not just knowledgable, but also an authority. Yet who decides when one is an authority? Does it need a book deal? A huge following? Or someone else who is an expert to look at you kindly? Who decides who the experts are?

We are quick to bring in outside experts whenever there is a need but often I wonder who could we have turned to on-site? Who at this school could already have shared that same information at a fraction of the price? Who at this school could have had the opportunity to teach others, much as we teach our students every day. I consider myself lucky being surrounded by experts every day. I find myself among some incredible educators that work hard to bring their expertise into the classrooms to benefit the students. Isn’t it time for all of us to recognize the experts among us?

I dare to propose that we are all experts. Although not world known, or even known outside of our small circles, yet we are knowledgable of something particular, something that we can claim authority on. And so consider this; at school you are indeed surrounded by experts. Whether they are experts at teaching the civil war, grammar, haikus or how to dribble, they have deep intimate knowledge that they can pass on to others. So share your expertise with others, go ahead open up and discuss what you know you are good at. We have to get better at celebrating each others knowledge, each others succeses, simply each other. We are all experts, how will you foster expertise?

being a teacher, being me, Lesson Planning, Student-centered, teaching

Simplify

As I prep for the upcoming week of lessons, I find myself cutting ideas out and slimming things down.  I am simplifying my lessons.  And not because I am “dumbing” them down, not at all, instead I am offering my students the luxury of only having to focus on key concepts rather than overwhelming them with all the bells and whistles.

In order for my students to take ownership of the learning they have to understand what they are owning.  They have to be able to take an idea, make it their own and then push it through.  if I add too many components to something, they will end up confused, bogged down, or just plain bored.

In college I was taught to make it exciting, to add visuals, support, brainstorming sheets and even hand signals.  I now rebel against that notion of having to add more every time. Perhaps that is why I am no longer a supporter of IWB’s in every classroom.  I don’t need to be more interactive, my students do.

So this week, I am cutting back all the extras.  I am focusing on what the goal is and letting students add their distinctive spins on it.  I will have supports ready if needed but I will not assume they need them.  I will speak less and engage more.  Simplify my teaching = expand their learning.  I am excited.

This post was partially inspired by this excellent post written Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher.