But We Hate to Write

image from etsy

“It’s just…”His eyes dart away and he stops talking.

I sit there quietly, waiting for him to finish his sentence.  I can tell he is down, I can tell he is unsure.

“It’s just…” he begins again after a long pause, “It’s just that I really hate writing, I’m sorry.”  And he gives me that look that only a child can give you, that “please don’t hate me” look that cuts straight through me.

A million thoughts fly through my head, mostly surprise.  I would never have guessed, not this kid, not him, he is too good of a student.  And yet, he waits, so I ask the only thing I can think of, “Well, when did that start?”

I don’t think I hated writing as a child.  It was something I did gladly, often delving into long stories filled with tragedy and drama as I worked through my own quiet life.  I remember all of the essays I had to write and how I had to wait until I was inspired or the deadline had passed and a teacher was asking me to hand it in before I wrote.  But hated it?  Nah, more inconvenienced than anything else.

But this child, with his courageous statement, is not alone.  More and more often I hear it from my students; “We hate writing.. We hate being told what to write.  We hate having to come up with something when we are not inspired.”  And I know I cannot be alone .

So what do we do as the teachers of the future writers?  How do we bring back the passion into our writing curriculum, much like we aim for in our reading?  How do we show these kids that writing is not a chore, not something simply to get through to get to the next thing, but the way for them to have a voice.  The way for them to make a difference from where they are right now?

We start with blogging.  By providing them with a platform for putting their voice into the world where they can see their words are being read, and their words carry weight.  Where others can comment and start a conversation.  We then add choice, authentic purpose, and declare our own passion for writing.  We show how writing makes a difference to us in our lives.  How writing matters and should be held sacred, much like we hold our reading sacred.

But then what?  Where do we go from there?  How do we convince our students that writing does actually matter?  That being a good writer is actually something worth their time and not just something they have to do because their teacher told them to.  Or something forced to fit into an already pre-determined box of thought.   How do we help them un-hate writing again or is it too late?

 

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.

 

 

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Once Again I Am the Loser – But Not Really, Well Maybe

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Tonight I am the second time loser of an award.  It happened rather anticlimactically.  I paused to check my Twitter feed in between carrying a bucket of dirty water from the carpet cleaner to the sink.  Congrats rang out all around but not to me.  I shrugged, felt happy for the winner, and told my husband I was a loser once more.  He gave me a very strange look indeed.

I have never shied away from expressing my hatred toward awards in general.  It hasn’t always been like this, I used to hand out awards like I was trying to get a degree in it, and yet, I realized one day that it was mostly the same kids getting rewards through my own fault and that of the systems implemented.  I realized one day that I was not the kid that would have gotten any because I never did.  Funny, how a tradition like that follows you into adulthood.  And yet now, I am not as bothered, I have bigger things to do.  Bigger things to be proud of.  And besides, my daughter told me tonight that I am the world’s best mom.  That’s the award I want to win every night.

And yet.  I am loser but at least I was nominated.  I was recognized for something that is bigger than me, the Global Read Aloud, which I happened to create.  I was part of an elite five that somehow had been chosen to represent all of the millions of elementary teachers in the US (or the world, I am not sure).  I had been singled out.  The young me would have jumped for joy – finally someone to recognize this greatness- and yet the adult me just feels dirty.  I cannot help but think of all of the other teachers that should have been nominated, or all of the other people who make our jobs easier, better.  All of the others that we build our success upon.

So rather than blast awards more than I have, I would rather use this blog to nominate people who I think deserve some recognition.  You may know them, you may not, I could nominate many incredible people who have thousands of followers, people who know of them already, but to me it seems unnecessary.  Chances are the people you know who have changed my life are exactly that; people you know.  So instead I would like to recognize some quieter people.  Those who make me think.  Those who make a difference not just to me, but to many others, that don’t seem to fall into any award categories.

To the bus driver, Brad,  who for the last two days has made sure that my daughter got to her new school and back to me safely; thank you.  Her last school lost her twice on the busses so having her come off of your bus with a smile and you waving and calling her by name, that means the world to me.

To the para that comes to my room in 5th hour and laughs along with me at the crazy things the students do, and yet jumps in every time anyone has a need, thank you.  Lynn, you make me feel like I am a better teacher.

To Kelly, “my” special education teacher who sometimes reads this blog but has no idea how at home she has made me feel and how much she does not just for me, but for the school, thank you.  You should have thousands of people following you if you ever get on Twitter.

To Jen Wagner, who tirelessly creates global projects that others can do for free just to make the world smaller; thank you.  You got me started on global collaboration, just like so many others.  You make it safe and you make it fun.  I don’t think the world knows how much time it must take you to do it, but I do, and I appreciate it more than you know.

To Jessica Lifshits, your post this summer about coming out and embracing who you are in your classroom, has rocked my world.  The work you are doing to create a safe community for LGBTQ teachers may be slow and painful, but you are changing the world by making it better for all of us to find our tribe.

To HappyCamperGirl, I know your name is Amy, but I realized tonight that I don’t know your last night.  We follow each other on Twitter, I have learned from on many occasions, how do I not know your last name?  Your post on finding your tribe and being there for each other as teachers completely changed the way I treat people that I work with.  You made me realize that we are not in competition, but that we are better together.  That we should not be tearing each other down, but building each other up.  You did that for me, I am sure those I work with thank you for it.

To Tony, how did you become like my annoying little brother so quickly even if you are older than me?  It’s crazy how close Voxer can make you feel to someone.  You guide me when I need it but you also make me think.  Checking in with you is a highlight for me, you make me a better teacher because I want to be more like you.

And finally, to my edu sisters; Leah, Kaye, Jena (and sometimes Sue), your words matter to me every day.  Your stories, your ideas, your dreams resonate.  I see you as those I come home to every day on my way to my home.  I love knowing you like this, I am not alone, because I have you.

How about we all took the time to nominate someone who makes our lives better?  How about for once we don’t recognze people like me who have a blog like this.  How about we recognize the people who don’t get recognized, those who may seem invisible?  I think it would be worth our time.

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.

Yes, I Am A Jealous Child

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I felt it creep in today.  That feeling that I pretend to not have because I am grown up and above it.  That feeling that eats away at me, making me doubt whether I am doing enough, trying enough, creating enough.  Jealousy, oh you bad habit, I thought I had gotten rid of you.

It’s not that I am jealous of other people’s lives.  I love my own, how can I not when I get to work with incredible people, teach amazing kids, and then come home to my family every night.  I have a  good life, I am fortunate, but still…  Sometimes even what I do doesn’t feel like enough.  I don’t have a  fancy title to add to my name, nor any awards.  My lessons aren’t always great, just ask my kids, and my plans sometimes don’t work.  I have yet to be able to reach every child or make a difference for every one I teach.  Jealousy can sometimes feel like a constant companion when you are on Twitter.

I realized a long time that jealousy is something that comes along with being a connected educator.  When you get to surround yourself with incredible people who seem to have incredible ideas any moment of the day, you are bound to feel inadequate.  You are bound to feel out of your league.  You are bound to feel like you are simply not as good as them, no matter what your brain tells you.  It is really easy to think you are bad when you are surrounded by greatness.   So we can wallow in self-pity or we can accept and move on.

A few years back, I chose to accept it.  I chose to allow myself to feel jealous, and then I chose to use that as a way to drive myself further.  I realized that it was not the attention others got that made me jealous but the incredible things they got to do.  Things that I didn’t get to do.  Opportunities I didn’t have.  So rather than be envious, I decided to to try to pursue the things that I was too scared to do before.  So I wrote a book, then another.  I submitted proposals to speak.  I said yes to things that I before would have felt I was inadequate for.  And yes, I wrote blog posts that I was too scared to write before.  Has this changed my life?  Yes.  But am I perfect now?  No.  I still see people do incredible things and jealousy sneaks in again.  But this time I don’t kick myself, nor do I tell myself that I will never reach that level.  I instead ask myself; does this matter to you?  And if yes, then how are you going to do that too?  If no, then I simply tell those I am jealous of that I am happy they have the opportunity.

We can allow jealousy to eat us up or we can allow it to move us forward.  We choose what to do with it, not the other way around.  I know what I will always choose, even if I forget sometimes.  I am only human after all.

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.

To My Daughter On the Eve Before Kindergarten

Dear Thea,

I remember when you first found out there was such a thing as school, the questions you had, the dreams you came up with for that place that mommy would go to every day.  When you came the first time to my classroom and you stood there looking around declaring that you couldn’t wait to come here yourself one day, I was so happy.  That if school meant books, toys, and markers, you were ready and could you start now?  Then I had to hold you back, explain that your day would come, faster than you ever thought.

And now it’s time.  Tomorrow, daddy will follow your bus as you get ready to enter kindergarten.  I can’t be there because it is my first day of school too, 130 7th graders will be greeting me, but know that while I am not there to send you off, I know you are ready, even if I am having a hard time letting go of my little girl.  But before tomorrow, a few thoughts from me, you know how I always talk too much.

I hope you stay you.  That you continue to find the magic in small things.  That you continue to be proud of what you accomplish and not because someone told you too, but because you believe that what you did was worth pride.  I hope your skin gets tougher, that every perceived slight will not make scars, that you will figure out when something is worth your tears and when it is not.  That you will find your place with friends, not toss your heart so overwhelmingly at every new person you meet, and yet don’t forget to keep putting it out there, giving everybody a chance.

I hope you continue to create.  That the world will still seem full of things to make, ideas to have, and dreams to dream.  That you will sing as loud as you can when there is a chance, and listen to the words being said when needed.  That you will keep your chin up and start to look people in the eyes more when you speak.  Where you look matters sometimes as much as what you say.

I hope school is what you dreamed it to be; a place for exploration, for growing, for learning.  That you will not have to sit still all hours of the day, or be silent for such long periods of time that you forget your own voice.  I hope that school becomes a place where you feel you belong.  Where others see how big your heart is.  Where others see that your wild spirit is not a defiant one but one that wants to explore, to create, to question.  I hope your teacher has time to listen to the big stories you tell, that she gets you, that she becomes your favorite teacher.  I hope school nurtures who you are, not tries to stifle it to make you conform, but rather lets you express yourself in your unique ways.

I hope tomorrow starts an incredible part of your life.  That tomorrow is truly the beginning of an adventure that you cannot wait to go on every day.  That school becomes your favorite place to go away from home.  That you cannot wait to get there.  And if isn’t, then I hope you have the courage to speak up too.  The courage to tell your dad and me so that we can help.  You are too important to us and to the world, and your time is too precious to be wasted.    But most of all, I hope you love it.  I hope you remember why you wanted to go all of those years ago.  I hope you think of how amazing school is when the day has been tough and you would rather stay home.  I hope you stay you, but even better.

Love,

Mama

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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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Some Ideas for Book Club Books – Upper Elementary

I thought I had been doing book clubs well my first few years of teaching, but it wasn’t until I went to Teachers College and really learned how to do book clubs that I started loving them.  No longer something we had to get through but instead something we were working toward and that students wanted to do.  Yet, when I first started with them I didn’t feel I had the right books to get kids engaged.  So that became my mission last year; find better book clubs to use with kids that mind you may be in 5th grade but had reading abilities ranging from beginning to advanced.  Here are a few of our favorites.

Books I have Used Already:

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

This haunting book has become a favorite of every students who has read it.  Within a simple story lies a lot of thought provoking questions that will lead to deeper discussions.  This can be used with your typical 5th grade reader and up.

From Goodreads:

Caitlin has Asperger’s. The world according to her is black and white; anything in between is confusing. Before, when things got confusing, Caitlin went to her older brother, Devon, for help. But Devon was killed in a school shooting, and Caitlin’s dad is so distraught that he is just not helpful. Caitlin wants everything to go back to the way things were, but she doesn’t know how to do that. Then she comes across the word closure–and she realizes this is what she needs. And in her search for it, Caitlin discovers that the world may not be so black and white after all.

Firegirl by Tony Abbot

I have loved how many students have been surprised by this book, particularly my boy readers.  Often they would not pick this up by themselves but they end up with great discussions on what it means to be a friend.

From Goodreads:

From this moment on, life is never quite the same for Tom and his seventh-grade classmates. They learn that Jessica has been in a fire and was badly burned, and will be attending St. Catherine’s while getting medical treatments. Despite her horrifying appearance and the fear she evokes in him and most of the class, Tom slowly develops a tentative friendship with Jessica that changes his life.

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine.

This book has been a contender for a few years for the Global Read Aloud because of how accessible it makes this historical topic of integration and racial tensions.  Students cannot believe this really happened and still happens to this day.

From Goodreads:

Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958

Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn’t have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear – speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.

But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn’t matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

What I love about this book is that it is such a gateway book to all of his amazing stories.  Students never pick this book up by themselves but they always get sucked into it and then cannot wait to convince other students to read it as well.

From Goodreads:

A wonderful middle-grade novel narrated by Kenny, 9, about his middle-class black family, the Weird  Watsons of Flint, Michigan. When Kenny’s  13-year-old brother, Byron, gets to be too much trouble,  they head South to Birmingham to visit Grandma, the  one person who can shape him up. And they happen to  be in Birmingham when Grandma’s church is blown  up.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

This was the official Global Read Aloud book of 2013.  Phenomenal conversations abounded globally as well as students spurred to action.  Melody and her story sat with us for the whole year as we thought about our own actions.

From Goodreads:

Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there’s no delete button. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school;but no one knows it. Most people;her teachers and doctors included, don’t think she’s capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows . . . but she can’t, because Melody can’t talk. She can’t walk. She can’t write.

Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind—that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice . . . but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

The students that picked this book had some of the deepest book club discussions I have yet to see.  The questions and reflections they had only intensified when they connected with the author via Twitter.

From Goodreads:

On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city that was saved by the magic woven into its walls from a devastating plague that swept through the world over a hundred years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow. Oscar spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master’s shop, grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar’s world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.

But it’s been a long time since anyone who could call himself a wizard walked the world, and now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill, and something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room in the cellar, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the trees will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Once the students had gotten past the “whodunnit” part of their discussions they started to dig for clues, analyze actions, and really pondered why the author wrote this or that in a certain way.  A mystery is a great way for students to consider author purpose and this text was loved by many.

From Goodreads:

Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone’s business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she’s been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her “upstream mother,” she’s found a home with the Colonel–a café owner with a forgotten past of his own–and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

Books I Want to Use:

All of these books are ones that i have read and thought of using for The Global Read Aloud, some of them became the chosen books.  All of these books have something to discuss for kids at varying reading stages, some of them are more mature so as with anything I would suggest reading them beforehand to see if they fit with your student group.

The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya by Jane Kelley

From Goodreads:

An orphaned African grey parrot who can speak 127 words. A girl so sick, she has forgotten what it means to try. Fate––and a banana nut muffin––bring them together. Will their shared encounter help them journey through storms inside and out? Will they lose their way, or will they find what really matters?

One For the Murphy’s by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Official GRA book 2014)

From Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Carley Connors can take a lot. Growing up in Las Vegas with her fun-loving mother, she’s learned to be tough. But she never expected a betrayal that would land her in a foster care. When she’s placed with the Murphys, a lively family with three boys, she’s blindsided. Do happy families really exist? Carley knows she could never belong in their world, so she keeps her distance.

It’s easy to stay suspicious of Daniel, the brother who is almost her age and is resentful she’s there. But Mrs. Murphy makes her feel heard and seen for the first time, and the two younger boys seem determinded to work their way into her heart. Before she knows it, Carley is protected the boys from a neighbourhood bullly and even teaching Daniel how to play basketball. Then just when she’s feeling like she could truly be one of the Murphys, news from her mother shakes her world.

Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner

From Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Circa Monroe has a knack for restoring old photographs. It’s a skill she learned from her dad, who loves old pictures and putting fun digital twists on them. His altered “Shopt” photos look so real that they could fool nearly anybody, and Circa treasures the fun stories he makes up to explain each creation.

One day, her father receives a strange phone call requesting an urgent delivery, and he heads out into a storm. The unimaginable happens: a tornado, then a terrible accident. Just as Circa and her mom begin to pick up the pieces, a mysterious boy shows up on their doorstep, a boy called Miles who remembers nothing about his past. The only thing he has with him is the photograph that Circa’s dad intended to deliver on the day he died.

As Circa tries to help Miles recover his identity, she begins to notice something strange about the photos she and her father retouched-the digital flourishes added to the old photos seem to exist in real life. The mysteries of the Shopt photos and Miles’s past are intertwined, and in order to solve both, Circa will have to figure out what’s real and what’s an illusion.

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff 

From Goodreads:

Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he’s not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

From Goodreads:

An 11-year-old boy living in Memphis in 1959 throws the meanest fastball in town, but talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering, not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend’s paper route for the month of July, he knows he’ll be forced to communicate with the different customers, including a housewife who drinks too much and a retired merchant marine who seems to know just about everything.

The paper route poses challenges, but it’s a run-in with the neighborhood junkman, a bully and thief, that stirs up real trouble–and puts the boy’s life, as well as that of his family’s devoted housekeeper, in danger.

The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going

From Goodreads:

Gabriel King was a born chicken. He’s afraid of spiders, corpses, loose cows, and just about everything related to the fifth grade. Gabe’s best friend, Frita Wilson, thinks Gabe needs some liberating from his fears. Frita knows something about being brave— she’s the only black kid in school in a town with an active Ku Klux Klan. Together Gabe and Frita are going to spend the summer of 1976 facing down the fears on Gabe’s list. But it turns out that Frita has her own list, and while she’s helping Gabe confront his fears, she’s avoiding the thing that scares her the most.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

From Goodreads:

Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.

But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck’s about to change. A “word collector,” Felicity sees words everywhere—shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog’s floppy ears—but Midnight Gulch is the first place she’s ever seen the word “home.” And then there’s Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity’s never seen before, words that make Felicity’s heart beat a little faster.

Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she’ll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that’s been cast over the town . . . and her mother’s broken heart

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

From Goodreads:

Unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn’t believe in anything that can’t be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia’s help.

As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy’s own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world.

A story within a story, this a modern day fairytale is about the power of friendship, courage and love, and never ever giving up.

Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewitz

From Goodreads:

When eleven-year-old Annie first started lying to her social worker, she had been taught by an expert: Gran. “If you’re going to do something, make sure you do it with excellence,” Gran would say. That was when Gran was feeling talkative, and not brooding for days in her room — like she did after telling Annie and her little brother, Rew, the one thing they know about their father: that he was killed in a fight with an angry man who was sent away. Annie tells stories, too, as she and Rew laze under the birches and oaks of Zebra Forest — stories about their father the pirate, or pilot, or secret agent. But then something shocking happens to unravel all their stories: a rattling at the back door, an escapee from the prison holding them hostage in their own home, four lives that will never be the same. Driven by suspense and psychological intrigue, Zebra Forest deftly portrays an unfolding standoff of truth against family secrets — and offers an affecting look at two resourceful, imaginative kids as they react and adapt to the hand they’ve been dealt.

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

From Goodreads:

Hollis Woods has been in so many foster homes she can hardly remember them all. When Hollis is sent to Josie, she’ll do everything in her power to make sure they stay together.

And the list could go on and on.  Let’s help each other out – what books have you used successfully for book clubs, please leave them in the comments!

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson (Non-fiction)

From Goodreads:

Even in the darkest of times—especially in the darkest of times—there is room for strength and bravery. A remarkable memoir from Leon Leyson, one of the youngest children to survive the Holocaust on Oskar Schindler’s list.Leon Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family was forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. With incredible luck, perseverance, and grit, Leyson was able to survive the sadism of the Nazis, including that of the demonic Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, the concentration camp outside Krakow. Ultimately, it was the generosity and cunning of one man, a man named Oskar Schindler, who saved Leon Leyson’s life, and the lives of his mother, his father, and two of his four siblings, by adding their names to his list of workers in his factory—a list that became world renowned: Schindler’s List.

Those are just some of my favorites to help anyone get started with book clubs.  I would love more suggestions in the comments section!

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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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When Teachers Bully Teachers

image from icanread

Three years ago, I wrote an anonymous post and asked a friend to post it for me.  The story was burning up inside of me, but at the time I was too scared to publish it because I was in the middle of the situation, and terrified that it would only get worse.  Yet I knew that there had to be others out there like me, who were going through the same situation, who felt so all alone just like I did.  

Today I choose to reclaim my past as I leave my old district and school and venture forward, it is time to take back the power that this situation had over me.  It is time to move on and away from the past.  It is time to tell the story of what can happen when teachers bully teachers.

The year I got hired at my school my mentor moved away.  I was eager, ready to learn, and most of all ready to form a team.  Unfortunately I was the third wheel to a two-some that had been together for some years and had gone through some pretty heavy-duty stuff.  They switched classes, they knew each other like the back of their hand, and I was the puppy always trailing behind, hoping they would throw me a bone.  It wasn’t that they excluded me, I just don’t think I knew how to fit.   After a while, I decided to go on my own, after all, my students were waiting for me to teach them and not having a team was not going to be a good enough excuse to fail my kids.  So I forged on, challenging myself and hoping that one day my team would find space for me.  That year I was by myself through difficult parent situations and difficult student situations.  I ate lunch in my classroom because no one sat with me in the staff lounge.  It wasn’t that they didn’t like me, they just didn’t have time for me.  Instead other teachers were busy pointing out how I was a favorite since the principal spent so much time in my room.  They didn’t realize that the reason he was in there was because I invited him just so I had someone to help me that first year.  I didn’t realize how I was viewed until later in the year I was pulled into my principal’s office to be reprimanded for having said “Have a nice weekend” in the hallways.  I was told that someone had complained about me since I should be thankful I had a job and not look forward to the weekend so much.  In fact, it was later included in my formal observation that I should know my place more.  Stunned, I asked who it was, but was refused an answer.  I left that conversation wondering who would want to get me into trouble over something so trivial well knowing that it could have been many people.  I felt so alone.

I heard the rumors about why I was hired (because of my looks), I heard how I was the favorite and was therefore given easy classes, extra things for my room, and basically had a free pass.  I cried about it, got angry, tried to discourage the principal from coming into my room.  It didn’t help.  He stopped coming but the rumors continued.  The whispers as I walked by in the hallway, the icy stares, the unreturned hello’s.  The social isolation would have made any mean girl proud. So I got really quiet and tried to keep to myself, finding a couple of people I could trust, continuously trying to reach out to my team, hoping that someone would take pity on me.   Few did, after all, I had done it to myself.

Once more I ended up in the principal’s office; this time a teacher had turned me in for disagreeing with a veteran teacher in a small meeting.  I was written up for being disrespectful and not knowing my place.  Again I asked who had come to the principal and was given no answer.  It was not in my best interest to know and I should be happy that there were not more severe consequences.  It was even put in my formal observation for the year, my permanent record, and I had to submit an apology to the teacher, who by the way, was not the one who had complained about me.  Instead I was told to keep my mouth shut, know my place, and try to get people to like me. The ignorance of my principal that he, in fact, had anything to do with the fact that people despised me was more than I could take.  I started to contemplate moving but decided that I wanted to stay to try to make a difference, to change the attitude, rather than to let them run me out.

This year I knew was going to be a challenge.  One powerful teacher, in particular, had become the ring leader of my hate group.  She complained about me to anyone that would listen, including my fledgling team, parents, and, of course, the principal.  For some reason she had power and people listened. I knew that some of my more unorthodox ideas such as limiting grades and homework were really going to upset people, particularly some veteran teachers who already disliked me, she being one of them.   And yet, I knew I had to keep growing as a teacher whether people hated me or not because after all how bad could it get?  I would always have my principal or so I thought, instead I didn’t.  He left me alone because he was told by senior teachers that they knew I was his favorite and how hurtful it was to them.  So instead I became isolated, fending for myself.  Thank goodness for a couple of good friends, my husband,  and Twitter or I would have lost it.

Throughout this process I have been forced to look in the mirror again and again.  Am I those things that people claim?  Am I a person not to be trusted because the principal is my confidante, because I am his favorite?  Will my students fail because of me?  Will they not be prepared for the rest of their school years because of what I did to them?  I have had to reflect and tear myself apart as I wonder; did I do this to myself?  Sure, there have been days I have not been proud of, days where I should have kept my opinion to myself, or tread more lightly.  Yet there has also been so many days where I did not deserve the treatment I was given, where even after extra effort, people just did not care, did not believe, did not want their minds changed.  I also question myself; is this all in my head?  Have I created the awkwardness, the silence, the people passing by my door rather than coming in?  Then I realize that it did happen, that the rumors were spread, those hushed conversations, those scoldings really did happen.  Perhaps I could have done more but I guess I will never know if it would have changed anything.  I know I have not been a perfect team member, I know I have made mistakes, but I have also tried to do my best.  I have been open, eager, welcoming, and ready to share.  And yet somehow all of this was not enough,

So what has this year been like?  Like the worst high school experience, the only thing missing has been being locked in a locker or having my car keyed.  All year I have fought comments about how awful I am as a teacher and how dare I challenge what veteran teachers are doing.  I have been told that other teachers worry about my students since I am not teaching right or even preparing them well.  I have been told that I need to know my place over and over and that no one likes me.  I have been told that no one wants to be on my team and that I am giving the school a bad name.  I have been called selfish, delusional, and ineffective.  I have been called a bad teacher.  So this year I have cried, vented to close friends and just tried to rise above it.  I know what is best for my kids.  I know that I am good teacher.  And yet, I am worn down.

It is funny; I have lied so many times about how supportive my school is of me, that I sometimes start to believe it.  My principal was supportive, in secret, my special ed teacher, ELL teacher, and a few friends were, but that is really it.  Some teachers have not cared, which was a welcome relief or just outright told me how they feel.  The powerful teacher told me that she is genuinely worried for my students since she does not feel they will be successful next year and that I shouldn’t be allowed to teach.  At least this time she said it to my face rather than behind my back.

So a couple of weeks ago, I did the unthinkable, I applied for a transfer to another school.  After a secret meeting was called to discuss how the principal cannot be trusted and the powerful teacher cried about how she was the victim at our school, I thought; enough.  I don’t want to be the scapegoat anymore.  I don’t want to be in a place where success is not celebrated.  Where challenges are not desired. This is not me.  I love teaching and I want to teach for many years to come, but I cannot go to work in a place where I am not welcomed.  Where I am blamed for things I have nothing to do with, where people feel they have a free pass to tell me how they really feel about me and my teaching style without even knowing anything.  So I am leaving, and my heart is lighter, and yet I feel like a coward.

I feel like I should stay and fight for change like I have been the last 3 years.  Like I shouldn’t rock the boat.  But I can’t stay, it will devour me if I do.  When I pressed send on that email letting my employee coordinator know that I wanted to transfer, I felt the biggest weight lift.  And then I felt tears.  These years of being hated, of not knowing who to trust or who to confide in has taken their toll.  It will be a long time before I try to have a close relationship with my principal, in fear of being labeled, I will have a hard time trusting team mates.  Too many times the accusations came from the team I was supposed to have and the protection did not come from my leader.

Postscript – I didn’t leave.  I never got any of the transfers but instead received a phone call late one night.  It was the ring leader calling to apologize.  I still remember her words telling me that she knew she had done me wrong, that she had been a bully, that she had prayed about it, and she was sorry.  In fact, she was so sorry that she had decided to leave the school (not just because of me).  She asked me if I could forgive her and although I should have said yes, I told her I didn’t know.  The damage she had done to me was so raw that I couldn’t think of forgiveness at this moment, I still don’t know if I could.  So I stayed and I became a 5th grade teacher and found a team, one that might have thought I was a bit crazy, but still supported me.  One that taught me that we can all get along, that there is room for all sorts of teaching, and that there are ways to discuss our differences.  I stayed three more years until my heart called for a new challenge and a new district.  Which is where I stand today, poised at the edge of a new adventure, hoping that this never happens to another teacher.

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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.