“This is the biggest mistake of my life,” I said to myself as I boarded the Alaska Airlines flight as an Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Finalist last February. To be fair that isn’t the first time I’d uttered this phrase. In fact, it is my “go-to” response whenever I am overwhelmed by fear and worry of the unknown. Of course, once the plane landed in Anchorage, there was no going back; I was all-in.
Since receiving the news that I was selected as the 2023 Teacher on the Trail I’ve started to embrace this new role. This opportunity is the pinnacle of years of out-of-the-box decision making: a personal and professional epic adventure. I’m excited, but also nervous about stepping into the very big shoes of extremely talented educators who’ve held this role before me. As reality sinks in, I’m reframing the uncertainty – no “mistakes” here, just amazing opportunities.
How did I get here? I began my career as a Museum Educator, working in a variety of institutions developing and implementing programming for all ages. I’ve taught lessons about George Washington’s dentures, interviewed Navy veterans, danced like Degas’ dancer across the National Mall, held a six-foot-long boa constrictor in an evening gown (I was in the evening gown not the snake – don’t be ridiculous!), been a historical reenactor, and taught at a museum preschool for almost a decade. My background focuses on using objects and inquiry to reach students; objects have stories to tell, and educators can use them to guide learning.
“What kind of dog is this?” As you can imagine my museum background greatly influenced the way I answered this question when my then 2½ year old daughter asked about her new stuffed animal. Following the road of inquiry we began our Iditarod journey. Ruffy the dog is a Siberian Husky, and that means a sled-dog, which led us down a years-
long rabbit hole of all things Iditarod, culminating in a phone call to the very confused proprietor of Peace on Earth Pizza in Unalakleet asking if he could ship a T-shirt to Rochester, NY for my daughter’s birthday. Guess where I am most excited about stopping on the Trail in 2023?
Pull it together! Take all of that information – my desire to try unusual adventures, my museum background, my family, my love of literature – and you get me: a dogsled loving librarian who thinks the Iditarod is the best way to get students excited about learning content in creative ways. I love when students connect classroom curriculum to real world experiences and objects. They get curious. They get motivated. They learn. The Iditarod is the hook and the through-line that pulls students along the educational journey.
Make a plan. This year as the Teacher on the Trail I want to share great lessons, and honor the fact that I am a school librarian, not a classroom teacher. I see 40 classes, nearly 900 students every 6 days, for just 30 minutes at a time. This dynamic, paired with the real need for more intentional teaching around Social-Emotional skills (a huge deficit due to the Covid years), is going to guide some of what I share this year. I plan to give SEL “bites”: shorter lessons that can be used by all teachers for morning meetings or community circles to encourage positive class dynamics and behaviors. Look for these at the start of each month.
As the librarian, I work with teachers to support their content and curriculum. Collaborating with classroom teachers, we will create lesson plans that support math, science, ELA, and social studies. My intention is to post these around the 10th of each month.
My museum background informs my teaching in a unique way. I hope to share this perspective by connecting the Iditarod to themes in the New York State Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework. The Iditarod provides examples of inclusion, appreciation of diversity, and support of high expectations in the classroom. Expect to see these posts go up on the 20th of the month.
That seems like a lot. Overwhelmed, I might be tempted to fall back on “this is the biggest mistake….” But no! This “mistake” is a great adventure, an opportunity to elevate my teaching, share my best lessons, and embrace learning as a life-long journey. I get to be the real-life example for my students, showing them that learning doesn’t stop outside of school, you are never too old to try something new, and the risk is worth the reward. I am ready to get out of my comfort zone….and up to Alaska?
Yes, I am heading to AK for a fabulous family vacation, which is sure to inform my posts this year. My next entry will highlight some of our adventures discovering the 49th state.
Librarian Learnings: In many libraries, Picture Books sections are marked with a capital letter E. That E means the book is for EVERYONE, not just young readers. Check with your school librarian and ask about a Picture Book that can help facilitate discussions around Social Emotional Learning at any grade level! Worried about the “biggest mistake of your life?” I suggest reading What If, Pig? by Linzie Hunter to validate and then release those fears!