How Nerd Camp Changed My Life

My sister @sralph31 recently blogged about her Nerd Camp heroes @pernilleripp,  @donalynbooks, @colbysharp, and @MrSchuReads. She also briefly talked about how Nerd Camp helped me. She asked me to share my story because it is mine to tell. So here goes:

Have you ever felt alone? I don’t mean personally, I mean professionally? That is how I felt before I went to Nerd Camp. When I graduated with my Masters in Library Science I could not find a position as a Media Coordinator so I became a Technology Facilitator at  a school I loved. After 2 1/2 years I was called to central office where our new superintendent told all the Tech Facilitators they would not have our jobs for the 2015-2016 school year. A media coordinator position came open so I took it. I spent the rest of the year feeling out of place, not respected, and frustrated about my job. I felt alone professionally because I was the only media coordinator at my school and I did not communicate with the other media coordinators in the district enough. I also seemed to be the only one who hated how reading worked at my school. A system where you are not awarded for how many books you read that you want to, but for how many RC points you get. A system where a student’s reading is labeled by a dot color and a lexile level. A system where all the kids are aware who can read and who can’t  because their dot color tells everyone how smart they are. I entered summer wanting to switch schools and thinking I couldn’t stay. I needed help. 

Sara had talked to me about going to Nerd Camp already but I was skeptical. I thought to myself “we are going a long way for another professional development”. I decided it would be fun to spend time with her and get free books so it could be worth the drive. Of course I did not know the magic of Nerd Camp until I got there.

The magic started our first night in Michigan. We went to have dinner at Olive Garden with a bunch of Sara’s Twitter friends. I did not talk much because I did not know anyone but I was amazed at how nice everyone was I also thought it was pretty cool to be having dinner with @joshfunkbooks, @Jess_Keating, and @debbieohi. They were creators of children’s books who were happy to talk to the rest of us non-writers. 

The magic continued our first day. We rolled up to Nerd Camp and Sara was a total celebrity. She knew tons of people and they knew her. She hugged Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller while I sat there with her. I remember saying something to Sara about how popular she was. I felt slightly alone so I planned to attend every session that Sara went too. I was also still worried that this might be just another conference. 

The opening session was when I started to realize that Nerd Camp was not just another conference. Authors and teachers were talking about how important it was for kids to read and to have reading choice. After hearing Donalyn Miller and Pernille Ripp speak I knew that I was going to get something more out of this. I had finally found some other professionals who felt the same way I did about reading. 

The day continued with great sessions where I heard authors telling me that if I wanted to write I could and I should. Many of them were just regular people who wrote about what they loved or what they knew and turned it into a book. I left those sessions thinking that maybe I could write a book in the future. Then I met Mr. Schu who wanted me to smell and undress books. I soon became aware of his contagious love of students, books, and children’s authors. I left day one thinking that I wanted to be as awesome a librarian as Mr. Schu and an author like the authors on the author’s panels. 

When day two came I was super excited to go back to Nerd Camp. I made Sara get there super early. I was excited not just for the Swag of Crenshaw but also to see what else I could learn. Even though I had a great first day I realized that I was still alone. I still needed help professionally and I did not know how to get it. Donalyn and Pernille decided to lead a session on “Breaking the Rules Gently”. I was determined to attend because I thought that the session would be small and I could finally get some answers. Boy was I wrong.

So many people wanted to be in the session that we had to go back to the auditorium to fit everyone. I was intimidated about saying anything but a voice inside said “you came for help so ask for it”. I stood up in front of everyone and asked for help. I told everyone in that room that we were killing the love of reading and that my student’s did not know how to pick books for choice. I cried too. I cried out of frustration and because of my passion for teaching and reading. What did I get in response? I got respect and I got support. My Twitter page blew up with people telling me that I was brave and that they supported me. I went from 6 followers to 60 before I left Michigan. I felt popular but what I needed most was to stop feeling alone professionally. I needed to feel supported and network with other people and that is just what I got. 

Have you figured out how Nerd Camp changed my life yet? I have. It has made me feel like I can do anything. I can write a book and get it published. I can become an awesome librarian who fights for her students and supports her teachers. I can do these things because I am not alone professionally anymore. I have the support of hundereds of Nerd Campers who told me on day 2 that I can do this. I have the support of authors, teachers, and librarians who make me feel supported on Twitter. I feel like I can ask questions and get answers. I have a network of wonderful educators who tell me we are all in this together and I believe them. I feel more confident and positive because I feel supported. 

So please do yourself a favor. If you have not attended Nerd Camp please go especially if you are feeling lost or alone like I was. If you open yourself up to the experience then Nerd Camp will change your life too. 

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Loving all Students is Difficult.

When I was a kid I was that kid. What kid you ask? The kid that all the teachers talked about. The kid that no one wanted in their class. Why? I was a child with ADHD who was not medicated. I bounced off the walls and had extreme difficulty focusing. 

I still remember the worst year of my life. I was a 4th grader in elementary school. My teacher’s ideas of controlling my behavior included a secluded cubby and deep knee bends.  My teacher thought I was too crazy to be with the rest of the class so she put my desk behind a partican. I could only hear the class but I could not see them. Whenever she thought I had to much energy she made me do deep knee bends. Up to 100 a day. Needless to say I hated school and I felt unloved by my teachers and sometimes my classmates. 

How does this translate to my teaching? As a media coordinator I teach all of the students in the building. I do not want any of my students to feel the way that I did in elementary school. I try to love all of my students regardless of how they behave. I do this by starting over. Every time I see the students I start over. I forget that last time I had them they were distruptive and did not do what I asked. If I don’t assume that they will act up then they start over too and I often see improvement. 

Don’t get me wrong when a student consistently acts up it is difficult for the teacher. Just remember to be patient and let all students know that you love them. Eventually, they will understand that you are trying to help them not hurt them. I had one of my toughest students this year. His solution to a problem was to run away if he did not get his way. I told him that running away did not hurt anyone but him because he is a smart kid and when he runs he is missing instruction that can make him smarter. He ran away less and less by the end of the year. Granted his behavior needs to improve more but I celebrate small improvements. 

Remember to try to love all your students. Even the tough ones because they are often the ones who need the most love. 

My Light at the End of the Tunnel

My career as a teacher has been a bit of a struggle. All I ever wanted was to stay at one school for my 30 years of service. The universe has determined otherwise. I have been teaching for 6 years now at 5 different schools. I have  been a high school history teacher and now I am a librarian. I thought this made me a bad teacher. Only bad teachers have to switch schools all the time right? 

Wrong! My husband describes me as the Mary Poppins of teachers. A person who goes from school to school helping students and then moving on to help someone else. I remembered this as  I faced another school change but I struggled to just make it to summer vacation. 

I entered summer looking for a way out and searching for a light at the end of the tunnel. That light came in July. Recently, I attended my first Nerd Camp. I went to a session on unconference day called “How to Break the Rules Gently.” During the session I spoke out about my school killing the love of reading and how frustrated I am with my job overall. I was amazed by the support I received from the people in that room and felt better after the session was over. I realized that even if I am alone in my district, I had all the nerd campers to help me. 

At the end of the day it is the words of a former student that affirmed for me my greatness as a teacher.  Before I switched schools again I worked as a Technology Facilitator. A former student friended me on Facebook. He recently posted a new picture so I asked how he was and if he was looking forward to middle school. He told me that I was one of his favorite teachers. This meant a lot since I only saw him every 12 days of school due to our specials rotation. Of course this led to more reflection of all the students I have helped. This is the short list of ones I know:

School 1: First year teacher: I had a student named Tameka. She was a Senior and had to complete all her history classes that year. She was missing a lot of school and always came in late. I assured her that if she came to school and completed her assignments she would pass her classes. She also never thought of going to college because she said she wasn’t smart enough. I encouraged her to consider college because I knew she could do it. She passed everything and went to college. She found me on myspace and thanked me for making her come to school and telling her to apply for college.

School 2: I had a Autistic student named Jacob. He hated lunch because being around all those other kids made him nervous. I opened my classroom to him so he could have a stress free lunch everyday. At the end of the year he thanked me for being nice to him.

School 3: I had a student named Eric who wanted to play for the NFL. He was a smart kid but got himself mixed up in the wrong crowd. I told him to make it to the NFL he could hangout with his friends in the hall but he had to work in the classroom. He received a scholarship to UNC and is currently playing  in the NFL.

What’s the point? Even if you are struggling as a teacher. If there are days where you feel like you should not be a teacher. Remember that you are helping a student somewhere. Teach your kids and love your kids. If you do that then you are doing your job.