Thursday, September 30, 2010

Stop Seeing Red Cars

You know that kid I am about to write about.  That pencil swirling, head lay downing, always poking kid.  He always has en excuse for why he is doing whatever he is doing that is greatly annoying you at the time.  And I say "he" only because I have never had a "she" but that doesn't mean they don't exist.  So you try your most patient tone of voice, you conference one on one on your feelings and how they are hurt whenever he does that thing he does so well.  He promises sometimes to get better but remember it really wasn't his fault.  And you don't believe him but you give him the benefit of the doubt, after all, you love all children.  5 minutes later he is doing those things again; not listening, fiddling, goofing off.  You panic and think you must be boring, non-enigmatic, sleep inducing and yet a little voice tells you that he is the problem, not you.

So you try a different approach; a stern warning; we will call your parents.  And yet those parents where the ones that told you their son was a little strange, good luck with him.  He doesn't seem to care too much about that either, after all, they have had that same phone call many times before.  So you wish you had a punishment system, some sort of way you could take something away from him until he behaved.  Until he conformed.  Until he stopped doing those things.  And then you realize, hey wait, stop seeing red cars.

In my first teaching year, I had to take a mentor class, and although some times it was more a social gathering than educational, one video stands out.  In it the narrator speaks of the "red car syndrome" as in you buy a red car and all of a sudden when you drive it, all you ever see are all of the other red cars.  Well, inherently we as teachers see red cars in our classrooms too.  You hone in on that kid and instead of ever seeing all of the improvements, or the struggle to act the right way, you only see the problems, the slips, the slides, the just not acting the perfect way.  You see only the behavior you loathe, that upsets you.  So stop!  Be aware of it, speak to him about it, and then realize you are hyper-focused on him.  This kid did not wake up that morning and decide this is how he would act in school; you are after all the next teacher in a long line of teachers before you.  This may take years to help him with, or even better yet, find a way to make it work.  Don't let it overwhelm you, don't let it bring you down, but more importantly do not take your frustration out on the kid.  After all, he would probably rather be a perfect child too (which by the way, perfect children do not exist).  So stop seeing red cars, instead embrace, celebrate and realize that we are all human beings, quirks and all, even if that human being happens to be 9 years old.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What is a Paragraph?


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Anyone Can Learn - Aviva's Aha Moment

This week's Aha Moment is shared by Aviva Dunsiger, also known on Twitter as @grade1, and she is a a Grade 1 teacher in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada. She is an active member of my PLN who helps many teachers both new and old. She taught Kindergarten for eight years before making the move to Grade 1. Aviva loves using various Web 2.0 tools in her classroom to make learning more meaningful for students. As she says: Through my Grade 1 Website, Grade 1 Blog, Professional Blog, and Student Blogs, I share my own learning with others, and my students share their learning too. Many thanks to Pernille Ripp (@4thGrdTeach) for asking me to do the Guest Blog Post this week. I’m excited to share my Aha Moment with all of you!

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to teach. When I was in Kindergarten and Grade 1, I used to pretend to play school, and I even wrote my lessons on the wall. There’s a house somewhere in Thornhill, Ontario that still has my Process Writing Lesson on the wall underneath numerous coats of paint.:)
School never came easily for me though, and while I always worked hard, I never seemed to make the grade. In Grade 2, I had a Psych Assessment done, and I found out that I had a non-verbal learning disability. I will never forgot the feedback from that Psych Assessment: I was told that due to the severity of my learning disability, I would always struggle with school, and I would be lucky if I even made it to college. In other words, forget about university, and forget about my dreams of becoming a teacher. I was devastated!

Looking back now, I guess that I could have given up at that point. I never did though. Despite having a really significant learning disability, I also had some really significant strengths. I learned how to capitalize on those strengths. My mom and step-dad helped teach me strategies to be successful in the classroom and to advocate for myself so that I got the accommodations that I needed to be successful too. I always spent double the amount of time on the homework as my peers, and in certain subjects, like geography, the lessons would often lead to tears and frustration, but I never gave up. I wanted to teach!

Thanks to self-advocacy, amazing support from home, and strategies that really worked, I ended up graduating from high-school on the honour roll, and I even got a scholarship to university. It was when I got the phone call from the President of Nipissing University offering me a Presidential Scholarship and a place in the Bachelor of Arts and Introduction to Teaching Program, that I had my Aha Moment: anyone can learn! As teachers, we just need to find a way to ensure that all students do learn. I cannot thank my wonderful teachers enough: they didn’t give up on me, and as a result, I never gave up on myself.

This is my tenth year teaching, and every year, I get a new group of students and a new opportunity to make a difference. My own experience has taught me that we can never give up on our students, and that we need to find a way to ensure that all of them succeed. At the bottom of all of my e-mails, I have this signature: “If they don’t learn the way you teach, teach the way they learn.” I am thankful for the teachers that did just this for me, and I will always do this for my students too!

Friday, September 24, 2010

So Oprah Thinks I Care?

I got into education to be a teacher.  Think of that statement fore it may be simple but it is powerful.  I am here to teach.  Not to save, not to comfort, not to emphathise, but to teach.  Yet all of these other aspects of the job are things I do gladly, willingly, and often.  In fact, every day I look forward to coming to my job, every day, I know that my students will surprise me, amaze me, question me.  How many people have that intimate luxury of truly loving what they do.  I do, and no matter what Oprah says, or the people who follow her every word; I am making a difference.

Of course, I was as outraged as most after the infamous show on education.  Who wouldn't be when something that they work so hard at every day, that we shed tears over, comes under attack?  And then you distance yourself from it, remove yourself from the equation and think about what was truly said.  Yes, the educational system in America is in crisis, and yes, there are "bad" teachers, or ineffective ones as Michelle Rhee called them,.  And yes, the show forgot to highlight the incredible people that love what they do.  And why are we surprised?  It is not sensational to tell people that you love your job, or that you work 14 hour days, or you come in on the weekends to set up your room and get ready.  It is not shocking that you give students' rides so they can come to school functions.  It is not newsworthy that you spend your summers learning how to be better, smarter, more accountable.  And yet, that is what we do.   And we do it because we want to.

Teaching is a choice for me.  It was never a calling in the true sense of the word, but when I came to it, it was right, and I knew it.  I knew that here was a chance for me to reach out and make a difference.  Yes, it is a cliche to some but cliche can also mean that it is a universal truth that we all accept and repeat.  If you do not believe that you can change the world then you don't have any business being a teacher.  And so what if Oprah focused on the negatives.  That is the type of society we have become; negativity sells.  Negativity makes people do.  And doing is what we need!  So while some are waiting for Superman, I keep on going to my job, that I cannot even call a job because I love it that much.  And yes, I know I will never be rich and in this society that is a hard truth, but so what?  I breathe teaching.  I live for these kids.  They are my family as much as my husband and daughter are.  I am not worried about what Oprah says or anyone else for that matter as long as I know I am making a difference.  And no one can take that away from me.  So don't let it be taken away from you!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

We Are Not Role Models

The following is a guest post I wrote for @Mrmacnology's blog, I asked him if I could also post it here.  
I am not a role model, nor do I ever fool myself into thinking I am one. Of course, it would be a fabulous designation to have but when I look at my true self in the mirror, I know that I am flawed. Not flawed in a deep serious way, but in a human way. My path did not go straight to teaching but rather to ragtag jobs where I gained human experience, failed attempts, and people to celebrate it all with. And I am proud of that. These scars, bumps and bruises along my life path are what make me, well, me. If I were a role model I would never fail, never falter, always know the right course. If I were a role model, I would know which method lead to direct success rather than bumble along and discover knowledge with my students. The journey would be mapped out with no room for detours and the teaching would take care of itself.
Role models are up there with heroes. People like to proclaim teachers as everyday heroes, as role models, elite self-sacrificing angels that give up their whole lives to rescue the future of America. Yet, we are not self-sacrificing or perhaps even heroes and I think that is a good thing. We are every day people trying our hardest to reach every kid and to more importantly make every kid believe in themselves. If we were heroes or angels, no one could attain to reach our status, no one could want to be like us because we would be too perfect.
So perhaps we are role models in a bruised and battered kind of way. We are role models for the believers, for the thinkers, for the can doers. We are role models for the kids that we embrace, the kids that we cheer on, the kids that we believe in. We are role models for ourselves. But we are not heroes, just ordinary people and that is how I want to stay.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

You are Not Alone - Lisa's Aha Moment

This weeks aha moment is shared by Lisa Dabbs one of the most inspiring and essential members of my PLN.  She is an Educational Coach and Consultant and also a former Elementary School Principal and Fed Prog.administrator. Lisa has a B.A. in Child Development and a M.Ed in Educational Administration. but started  her career as a Kindergarten teacher. She has also worked as a Project Director of a Language and Literacy program. Lisa is also the creator of the new teacher chat on Twitter #ntchat, which is NOT just for new teachers and involved in many other projects.  More importantly, Lisa is a friend and mentor to many and I was honored to have her share her moment with us.  Her blog is a must add to your RSS and she is always a must follow to any new educators that stumbles upon Twitter.  

Teaching  and Mentoring are my Passions!
Sometimes though, good teaching is lost in the busyness of life or due to challenging times, struggling students, feisty kids or tragically; lack of support.

Today is the sharing of my Aha moment. I’m so honored to be asked by Pernille Ripp to guest post on this “moment”. The moment I truly knew that I needed to start a “blog to mentor”. This came in February of this year when I sent a response to a young, new, would be teacher who posted on an education website that she was “Losing hope”…

The teacher will remain anonymous, but the cry for help is so typical of many, creative, enthusiastic  teachers I’ve met over the years. Starting their careers passionate about teaching, only to be cut off at the knees by one simple fact: the lack of a mentor who is willing to support, guide and inspire.

The teacher started the post by saying that they had a dream. A dream to be the best teacher they could be. To be the kind of teacher that students would be inspired by. Unfortunately, there were no clear expectations set for this teacher, and worse, no support. This teacher’s perception was that they would be supported, as a first year teacher. Not an unfair expectation by any means. Instead they were placed in a “sink or swim” position. So this teacher sank. And so did my heart…This is absolutely not what you do to new teachers.

Here is a bit of the response that I posted to this young teacher who asked for “positive and encouraging words”:
When I read your words, “I believe I was under the illusion that I had support and help from all angles, when in reality, I hadn’t felt more alone and lost.” My heart went out to you. I was an elementary school principal for 14 years. During those years, I consistently spent time mentoring, supporting, guiding my teachers. If you read the research on why young people like yourself leave the teaching profession, it turns out that it is exactly for those reasons you describe. A school should work to foster a culture where its teachers collaborate and learn from one another. This is at the heart of how educators grow as professionals. However, some of my administrative colleagues still struggle with this piece. We need to do so much better.

I entered the teaching profession at 24 as a Kindergarten teacher. I was fortunate to have come from a long line of educators. However, even with this “DNA” I still encountered a great deal of frustration and anxiety in my first year. I too am a VERY creative person, and I had many ideas about how I wanted to teach my class. I quickly learned, by observing the culture of my school, and having to share a classroom, that I had to harness that creativity into focused, structured, well designed lesson plans. I did so by incorporating those creative ideas in such a way that measurable outcomes were clear and evident. This meant including, sadly, assessments of my Kinders, even “back in the day.” I used a few highly recommended teaching tools from my Child Development course work, as well as others that were recommended to me. I also asked to “observe” other teachers at my school to get a feel for, once again, the culture of the school and what was going to be expected of me. I lived and breathed “teaching” those first few years, and spent nights and weekends reading, creating, planning, all things “Kinder.”  The kicker is I too felt very alone, as I did not have a supportive principal, or mentor colleague. My kinder team member was a tenured teacher who believed in “kill and drill” for Kindergarten kids and I was mortified!
The bottom line is that my first few years were rough!

What made me stick it out? I held on to my dream, desire and passion. I held on to the knowledge that I knew the research about what was good for children. I didn’t give up, even when 6 of my 8 K teacher team talked about me behind my back. Did I have a mentor teacher? No. Was it hard? Extremely. But I kept pressing forward because I believed in myself and cared deeply for my students.

We know so much more now about how to retain and support new teachers. The research is very clear and you need a good mentor (or two). You don’t have to stick it out alone, nor should you.
So, in the meantime, I extend a hand to you, as a “creative” tenured educator, if you’d like an on-line mentor. This is my passion. I’m here to offer help and HOPE. Don’t let this one difficult experience defeat you. You are not alone in the “tunnel”. The light is just up ahead. It’s time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back in the game! I can hear them calling your name!

My Aha moment…my desire to “blog to mentor” and chronicle through photos, interviews and a few short words, what amazing teachers are doing to inspire is still evolving. The heartache this young woman felt, still resonates for me. It continues to motivate me to work to inspire, mentor, equip, teachers to “teach with soul.” I also hold fast to the belief that no educator should have to go through the challenges of the early years of teaching alone…ever. Through my blog and also on Twitter, I hope that I can come alongside and Mentor. The work ahead is challenging…but I’m excited to be on the journey!
When you reflect on your early years of teaching, how did you make it though the tough times? 
So grateful to you, Pernille for inviting me to share, my passion.

Friday, September 17, 2010


I wasn’t born a rule breaker. In my hometown of Bjerringbro, Denmark, population 7,390, I did not strive to be a rebel without a cause.  In fact I was your average tomboy, a middle of the roader, a child deemed living below their potential.  I followed the rules set forth because that is what I was told to do.  Not specifically by people, but as a child, you just know what the rules are and what the expectations were.  Of course, there were small rebellions such as coming home just a few minutes late, or perhaps “forgetting” to do my spelling words (I knew them already so why did I have to write them out 5 times?).  So my childhood was not an adventurous one and my adult life seemed to be kind of middle of the road as well.  That is until I met my husband, Brandon.

Oh, the tales of love can inspire excitement or convulsions in people.  Mine usually gets giggles and aw shucks.  You see it was the classic tale of bartender meets bouncer and the rest they say is history.  And yet something fundamentally changed for me when I met Brandon. He asked me what I planned to do with my life, and although many had asked that same question before, including my dear mother, with him, I really wanted to impress.  I became a teacher, knowing I wanted to reach children, change them, inspire them, listen to them.  And yet, I followed the rules.  Good teachers graded.  Good teachers rewarded.  Good teachers told students that if their homework was not done then there would be consequences.  

In my gut, I knew something was wrong and yet these were the rules and by signing up to teach, I had signed up for the rules.  Never did I stop to question those rules, why should I?  They obviously worked, until they didn’t.  Last year, my class was a mixed bag of emotions.  Various big personalities that needed a lot of love and a lot of patience at times.  I learned more in that year of what type of a person I am, than I think I could have in any other profession.  I started the year the same way, detailing how to get an A.  How to earn a class party, how to get on the awesome board.  Basically, how to be the best student they could possibly be.  Or did I?  Really all I did was tell them the rules and then tell the punishment there would be for breaking those rules.  How is that for inspiring the youth of America?

So this summer, after having accepted the fantastic challenge of a combination classroom and joining Twitter searching for others, searching like me, I came upon a tweet from Jeremy (@MrMacnology) to Joe (@Joe_Bower).  I stopped because I was surprised.  They tweeted about perhaps not grading, perhaps not rewarding, perhaps breaking the rules.  I lurked on their conversations, wondering if they would not mind another person asking questions.  Finally I held my breath and wrote to Jeremy asking if I could ask him questions.  We have collaborated since on a regular basis and I am proud of knowing him.

Grading degrades.  It tells a student that no matter how hard they worked, if it does not fit into our rubric, our vision, our plan for them, then they may not get the success they so hoped for.  Grades tell students that even though their parents are violently fighting and they can’t do their homework because they are scared, they lose 10% off their grade and get a zero if I don’t get it in a week.  Grades tell students that even though they devour books, when they leave the title and author off on a book report, they must not be A+ readers.  Grading tells students that have way too much responsibility at the young age of 10, that I don’t care that they had to watch their 4 younger brothers and sisters instead of doing their homework.

We know this as educators.  We see the defeat in students’ eyes when they get that grade they did not hope for.  We see it in parent/teacher conferences when parents’ zero in on the bad grades rather than all the plusses we so meticulously planted on the report card.  You cannot blame the parents; after all, they were part of this system too.  We all are.  Well, I am not anymore.  Or at least I strive to break the rules on this one.  I strive to follow my instinct and speak to students about their successes. Listen when they tell me answers that they didn’t know how to spell right.  Think when they give me an unexpected explanation.  I may not have been born a rule breaker but I have certainly become one.  It is in the best interest of my students and myself that I break these rules.  There is a better way to teach, we just must not be afraid to try it.  Will you break the rules with me?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

When Goodbye Comes too Soon

Yesterday, it was decided that my combination room would cease to exist in 3 weeks.  While we would all not be erased from the school but instead be placed into other rooms, it still felt as a virtual erasing.  4th grade has simply become too overcroweded and the shcool board agreed to get us another teacher.  I then had the hard choice to go back to 4th and keep those students or move onto 5th and keep those students.  I chose my old grade level and team and therefore had to face 13 confused 5th graders today that did not understand why I did not choose them.

You see, most of those students were my old kids from last year.  My school does not have a split class philosophy but tends to bring it out in an emergency situation.  Last year was deemed such an emergency and I therefore volunteered to take this strange experiment on bringing 8 of my old students with me.  And although I was terrified for the year to start, I was also strangely elated.  I said I wanted a challenge and I got one.  But now that challenge is being taken away and we face our goodbyes much too soon.  While we usually have a year worth of memories to look back upon, this time we are only afforded 6 weeks.  So how do you say goodbye when you have only just begun?

I have to keep teaching.  As much as I want to revert to end of year celebrations and events; I cannot.  These students will have to keep going as if nothing happened, but the truth is they already know we have changed.  As one student said today, "But Mrs. Ripp, nobody asked us" and that's exactly it; they were not asked because we think we know best.  And although classroom size does definitely make a huge difference in student academic success, sometimes we as adults need to relax a little bit and realize that although size matters; connection matters more.

Those 27 students of mine that kind of knew each other from before and then maybe not really, have become a class.  And not out of sheer luck or because they are that nice (they are that nice, by the way) but because we have worked hard on it.  We have discussed what type of community we wanted to be, we created our Animoto on our hopes and wishes for the year that now have been viewed more than 900 times.  We dreamed about the Global Read Aloud project and how we would be the home base for it.  All of these things pushed us tighter together.  We were different from the rest of the school, we knew it, and we celebrated it.

And now it is almost over.  I cried when the principal told me the decision even though I knew that the kids would get a better experience in social studies and science when their teacher only had to teach one grade level at a time.  I could have made it work, and more importantly, I would have made it work because we would have done it together.  And now I must pick up the pieces, those sad faces, and try to sell my classroom one more time to a new group of kids that will fill out our roster.  To a new group of parents that wished for smaller class sizes but not necessarily that their kids would be moved.  I must sell it to myself; once again build up the excitement, the anticipation, the urgency to teach and teach well.  To reach these students and to connect, knowing that those original 14 may be a little more wary this time connecting to others.

So what can we learn from these events?  The way of the future is bigger class sizes but fundamentally we must not change our determination to connect with our students. We must not be afraid to let each other in even if the future in uncertain.   I make the time every day to reach out to every one, and already I had somehow managed to help them create a home in our room.  I know I will cry on our last day together, I am by nature a softie, and yet I will pass them on to their new teacher with one simple message: believe in them, because they are truly the changers of the future, the movers of the world.  Do not be afraid to believe.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Embrace All Your Opportunities - Joan's Aha Moment

This week's Aha Moment is shared by Joan Young, one of the first people to reach out to me on Twitter; I am thrilled and honored that she said yes to do this knowing how busy she is.  Joan writes that she is a teacher who feels like a "new teacher" again this year after changing grade levels and schools. She is passionate about viewing students from a "strengths perspective" and hopes to give her students a positive classroom experience where they will not only learn the "required curriculum" but also learn about themselves as learners. Joan teaches 4th grade in a wonderful small school in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow her  @flourishingkids on Twitter and also check out her book and CD, 25 Super Sight Word Songs here:  http://www.amazon.com/Super-Sight-Word-Songs-Mini-Books/dp/054510582X 

Aha moments: I’ve had my share. When Pernille asked me to write and share about one of them, I initially thought, “Wait, I’m way too busy to take on something else!” And then I realized:  I need to be writing, even during this busy beginning of school time. Writing helps me clarify, categorize and sort my endless rambling of ideas and creative ramblings. I wrote back a few hours later, still a bit shaky about my “Sure, why not?”  Now, nearly a week later, deadline looming on the horizon, I am in a panic, indecisively scanning the archives of this busy mind, trying to figure out which aha moment will be most entertaining, most inspiring or helpful for other educators out there.

This ramble leads me to the biggest “aha” of all. We never stop learning and growing when we embrace opportunities that cross our paths.  Each challenge that falls before us on this incredible journey of life presents us with the opportunity to stretch, grow and be molded into another higher version of ourselves.  We must remain open to the daily “aha” moment and somehow take the time to reflect on it, process it and act on it, so that we can grow. And on that theme I will share my top 5 aha moments that have led me to courageously move ahead on my own path of discovery.

1)      My “aha” moment that led me to be a teacher is one that always stands out in my memory.  I was sitting around that dreaded IEP meeting table, not as a teacher, but as a social worker, an advocate for a foster child on my caseload. As I listened to the condescending talk of the school psychologist, teacher, principal to the overwrought foster parent, who was hanging on by a shred of sanity, I realized something important. Teachers, though trained to “teach” often have not been trained to understand the psychological needs that impact learning. I realized that if I had 20-30 students each year who I could spend 6 hours a day with, and if I could work with teachers, and help them understand their 20-30 kids they spend their days with, then my desire to help could be achieved in a greater way than working with the kids on my caseload, visiting them once a week. Even though I had spent a great sum of money earning a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, I decided that going back to school for a teaching credential was the best way for me to help kids, my ultimate goal.

2)     Kids are eager to take on challenges and are not “lazy” as I’ve heard teachers call them. When we lower the stress and risk that comes with fear of failing, kids thrive and reach higher than we can even imagine. My post here describes a day when in kindergarten when I was feeling a bit helpless about working with my lowest reading group.

3)   Don’t predict a kid’s future. I am not that “shy” kid I once was and I am happiest when I am creating, sharing and putting this passion for learning into practice.  I always find it amusing to think about the reaction I would have had if someone had told me, that painfully shy 16 year old girl, that my future would involve standing in front of a group of people each day, captivating their attention. If someone had told me that I would one day stand in front of 150 teachers, singing with them and sharing ideas of classroom strategies, I would have said they were crazy! We must not categorize kids as being weak or strong in a certain skill or even a personality trait. Some children have not yet been in the optimal setting to bring about the manifestation of his/her strengths. Each child has his own time frame; the best gift we can give is to provide opportunities for kids to discover, develop and express their passions.

4)    Work does not burn you out when you do what you love! Although I am well aware that I need balance in my life, I must not heed others’ advice to “not think about teaching” on the weekend. When I am engaged in other “non-related” activities, like exercising, driving, talking with my husband,or cleaning I am often brainstorming how I can develop an idea into a lesson.  Do I really need to tell myself that there are only certain hours and days of the week when I am allowed to be creative?

5)    Reach out to others! Teachers are amazingly giving and willing to help out when you have a need. Check out all of the amazing advice when I was setting up my classroom. 

When you reflect on your years in the classroom, what are your most significant moments of self-discovery? Thanks so much Pernille for inviting me to share in this wonderful exploration. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

No, I Didn't Survive the First Week of School

This week, I saw a few posts on blogs talking about how they survived the first week of school.  As some of you may know, this bothers me greatly.  I did not survive my first week, I thrived in it.  Some may call me relentlessly optimistic or just plain annoying but the truth is that I love my job.  I have been planning all summer for this first "real" week of school and it did not let me down.  So here is what I "survived" this week:
  • A student with autism who mostly speaks repetitive sentences telling me he loved me.
  • A student, who was in my 4th grade class last year, returning to be in my combination room this year after having been in 2 other school already this year.
  • A 5th grader in my room who last year asked for help every 5 minutes, not asking for help, but instead trying it himself and lighting up at his success.
  • 27 students who didn't really know each other create their own Animoto for their parents to see their hopes and wishes for my room.
  • 25 hands in the air all wanting to model the incorrect way of how to read to self.
  • A shy boy with little math success last year, raising his hand 3 times during math class and getting it right.
  • A 4th grade girl, who moved to our school after a person got shot on her block, subtracting 35 from 71 in her head.
  • 3 students telling me that so far I was not a disappointment and that I was their favorite teacher ever.
  • 2 parents emailing me that they do not care that I have 27 students in my room, they are not part of the petition to get another teacher added to my school to alleviate our high classroom sizes, since they believe in what I am doing.
  • Another student with autism letting me in a little by cracking his first joke to me.
  • Students letting down their guard and reaching out to new people even if they are not the same age.
  • Students asking me to please not tell their parents that Double Bubble Gum's flavor only lasts 4 minutes, thus making it the worst investment when buying bubble gum.
  • The students getting so excited about the Global Read Aloud project and studying the maps that we will mark when we connect with someone.
So no I did not survive the first week of school, I lived it to the fullest, eagerly anticipating many more days with these incredible kids.  Did you?


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why the Internet is like the Mall

Today,  in anticipation of the Global Read Aloud Project, I started  my first lesson on internet safety.  And yes, students have been taught about internet safety before by my fabulous technology teacher, yet I wanted to cover all bases one more time.  So last night, when I was pondering my lesson, it came to me: compare the internet to the mall.

Today, I therefore told the students that going on the internet is like going to the mall without your parents' supervision.  So what would they do to stay safe at the mall?  Some of the students answers were that they would not talk to strangers, give anyone their information, and they would also go straight to the place they were supposed to go without stopping at other stores.  Those lessons can be applied directly to the internet and the students got it!  I had so many light bulbs go off, I could barely contain myself.

By having the students provide the safety rules, taken from their own memory of rules drilled into their heads by their formidable parents, they connected real life danger with things that can happen on the internet.  Sometimes students think they are safe on the net, as we all know, and this brought the responsibility home for them.  So as we continue learning proper safety and etiquette, we will keep referring back to the mall analogy, for example, would you walk up to a friend and tell them their outfit was ugly when talking about how to comment?  Today was one of those moments where I was able to make students understand something they have to learn in this day and age.  A lesson not just meant for 4th graders or 5th graders but hopefully something they will keep in the back of their minds when they go on the internet themselves, or maybe even next time they go to the mall.  Once again today I realized how huge my responsibility is for these kids and how glad I am to be their teacher.  We are now one step closer to the global connections!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

26 Kids and Counting...

Sometimes I feel like the Duggars.  You know, that super huge family on TLC that keeps having children, just happy with whatever they get.  I am kind of like that except these are not my natural children, but "my kids," those students I adopt every year since they are part of my classroom.  And just like a proud parent, I welcome them all, ever searching for their strengths, acknowledging their weaknesses and going through life together; one day at a time.

You see, that is what teachers do.  Those kids become our kids, or at least they do for me.  And so today when I got wind that an old student of mine was coming back and was being placed in the other 5th grade room, I asked for him in my room.  I am in a position this year where I teach a 4/5 combination class and therefore have quite a few of my old students.  He therefore belongs with me, someone who already knows his strengths and also what he needs help with the most.  More importantly in this situation, stability will aslo be a great benefit.  So although my class keeps expanding, so does my hopes for it.  Yes, one more student means more work, but it also means more learning opportunities, more friendships, more successes, and more happiness.  So when I waddle my kids down the hallway and I look back at them, we look like the never ending line of students and that is alright with me.

And yet, I wouldn't trade my kids for anything, not even a smaller class size or an "easier" day.  As our class sizes grow (I may be getting another student as well), I hope that my kids are not taken away from me.  Even though we have only spent a week together, I am connecting and connected.  I want these students to trust me, trust each other, and trust themselves.  I want them to know that we are on a journey together and that none of them are expandable.

So while some teachers may joke that they are going to retire as class sizes increase or lament the prep time they just lost because they had to help with a student, me; I don't mind it.  It means that I am with my students, helping them learn, which is, after all, my job.  The joke in my family is that I am like the Statue of Liberty sometimes, always beckoning lost souls to enter and find a home.  And perhaps it is true, maybe I do connect well with students, maybe I just happen to catch them at just the right time in their life.  Whatever the reason or circumstance; something clicks and more often than not, we become a family.  I believe in all of the kids I am trusted with and I believe more importantly theat they have tremendous potential, whether they want to believe it or not.  So go ahead, send me another student or two.  I promise to work hard to make them feel like one of my kids, to make them learn, to make them grow.  Because that is what teachers do.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Don't React in Anger - Shelly's Aha Moment

This week's Aha Moment is shared by one of my favorite inspirational teachers; Shelly Sanchez Terrell is an English teacher living in Germany who began teaching inner city kids and homeless children in Texas. She is also the co-organizer and co-creator of the educational projects, Edchat and The Reform Symposium Conference. Find more of her challenges on her education blog, Teacher Reboot Camp or in her free e-book, The 30 Goals Challenge. Find her on Twitter, @ShellTerrell.

Teaching in Rough Schools

Teaching in Texas I chose to teach the kids who many have labeled as trouble makers and stupid. Too often in my teaching career, I heard teachers, counselors, and administrators tell me, "Glad I don't have to teach that kid," "he/she is trouble," "he/she won't amount to anything," and much worse. I worked as a high school English as a Second Language teacher and did creative writing and poetry programs for many inner city schools, homeless shelters, alternative schools, and juvenile detention centers. I will admit some of these schools were rough and if the teacher did not have a great relationship with the students it could be hell. I knew some teachers who had their tires slashed on a weekly basis and others who had purses, cell phones, and more stolen.

I don't tell you this to scare you, but to prepare you. At a point in any educator's career I believe the educator will have an encounter with a student that could escalate to violence. How an educator chooses to handle the situation makes a lasting impact on the future of that student. Ironically, this happened to me at one of the most prestigious schools I taught at and I learned a lot about the situation.

Let me premise this by saying I grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in one of the largest cities in the US. I knew what it was like to have difficult home situations. When I was in the first grade I would often come home from school with black eyes because I would pick fights with the boys and play rough sports. At the time I lived with a relative who was an alcoholic and the violence had a heavy impact on my behavior inspite of the fact I made straight A's in elementary. My situation was quite tame to what my friends encountered and what later the kids I taught experienced. This is where my empathy for teaching students comes from and why I am so passionate about reaching them. Some day the kids I reach will become adults who can either contribute to their society or be locked in prisons, etc. How I choose to treat them can influence either situation. I take teaching very seriously.

He Threw A Chair At Me

We all get stressed and burdened by our schools. I remember one particularly stressful time when I slept 3 hours a day due to some extra work given to me by the school. Sound familiar? I let the stress impact my mood and this impacted the atmosphere of my classes. Xavier (Not his real name) was fooling around with another student as usual. Xavier had a boisterous personality so I was used to his behavior but that day I didn't handle it well. I angrily told him to behave, that he was being disrespectful. Saying this in the tone I did in front of all the students made Xavier explode. He threw his desk over and threw a chair towards me. I don't think he meant to hit me because really he would have hit me. The chair landed at my feet and with a red face I told him to go into the hallway. I played a movie for the rest of the class while I calmed down. I was red faced and angry at being disrespected.

I could have sent Xavier to the principal's office immediately. He would have been expelled and possibly sent to alternative school. Throwing a chair at a teacher is a serious offense. However, I have worked at alternative schools and found that many of the prison like facilities and the strict discipline usually doesn't reform the student. Instead, I believe that alternative schools get students used to jail cells. After calming down, I was able to reflect on the situation and realized what I did wrong. I started the events that lead to the escalation of Xavier's explosion with my mood and also by getting angry with him. Anger is no way to deal with students prone to violent behavior and I was aware of Xavier's behavior. I chose not to tell my principal and instead went outside and said something along the following lines, "I'm sorry for my behavior. I was stressed and I took it out on you and I apologize. I care about you and know you didn't mean to react that way. I'm not saying what you did is right at all. You should never throw anything at an adult. What's going on?"

Xavier then began to tell me about the situation with his father and the pressures he was receiving to either do well in this school or be sent to another one. His father was getting fed up with him. Here I was another adult getting fed up with Xavier as well. After I listened, I recommended Xavier talk with his father and told him I would talk with his dad and put in a good word about the work he was doing. Xavier had been doing well in some projects and I had not let his father know. From this point on, Xavier and I didn't have anymore incidents. Later, I recieved a thank you e-mail from Xavier who was doing very well at a university. He could have very well sent me an e-mail from prison.

When dealing with student outbursts, what do you choose to do? Do you immediately send them to the principal's office or do you try to find out what is bothering the student? I hope you try the last alternative, because this is what building relationships take. I believe that when we treat students like adults and talk with them they begin to respect us as adults. We can use these "teachable moments" to show them how to properly react. I think we are taught as educators to jump the gun on punishing students when the ones with the worst behavior problems are suffering with the most intolerable living situations.


Try not to send your students immediately to the principal or write them up. Instead, find a way to turn the situation into a teachable moment. Then blog about the outcome as an example for others.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dear New Mrs. Ripp Student

Tomorrow is our first day together and even though we teachers benefit from our vacation almost as much as you do, we also spend a lot of time preparing and waiting anxiously for you to come back to us.  This year was no different for me, except if at all possible, I was even more excited to have you come back.  You see, we are a combination classroom.  A bunch of 4th and 5th graders thrown together, it is now us against the world no matter our age or our grade; we belong.  And while others may look at us differently or ask you a lot of questions, know that I like that we are different.  I like that we have different ages in our room.  I like that we cannot be classified as just a regular classroom.  I like that I have to think about what I teach and not just say one grade level.  I really like that we have kids with a lot of different abilities and talents that will learn form each other. 

Just like you, I have to learn too and so this summer that is what I did.  I learned that Thea loves it when you read the same book over and over, especially the one about Fergus the dog.  I learned that my husband really likes it when I just sit and read next to him or when I recommend books for him.  I learned that my 95 year old grandfather in Denmark thinks that my daughter is just about the best thing that has ever happened to this family (I agree).  I learned that my little brother will be shipped to Afghanistan in January and that I worry about him now already.  I learned that a dog's heavy breathing will indeed keep you up at night, especially when that dog is 100 pounds and tries to snuggle with you next to your bed.  I learned that books are not always good just because a  lot of people have read them.  Did you know it is okay to not finish a book - crazy, right?  I learned that thousands of educators are on Twitter just waiting for you to ask them a question.  I learned that blogging and writing about your thoughts can be a great way to inspire and learn from others.  I learned that Chinese food doesn't have to taste bad.  I also learned that Madison is one of the best cities for little kids; oh the adventures we have had.   I learned that no elementary student should be given an F because as long as they are learning they are not failing.  I learned that technology can both give you time and steal it away.  I learned that no matter how many times you do an orientation day you will always have jitters, nerves and never feel prepared enough.  I also learned that the excitement for the first day of school only builds, never diminishes.  I learned that i have many more things to learn.

So whether you have had me before or have no idea who this crazy teacher is; welcome, I am so excited you are here.  I hope we will learn together.

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