How the Nerdy Book Club Changed [Saved] My Life by Brian Wyzlic
For the first three years of my teaching career, I taught high school math. I loved it. I was (and am) well-versed in mathematics pedagogy. Escape from the Textbook and Be Less Helpful were cornerstones of my classroom. We explored, we discussed, we embraced the technology available to us, and my goodness did we learn. My students saw math in a different light than just skill and drill, plug and chug, and other rhyming pairs. They enjoyed it, and they succeeded. All this was possible because I had the resources I needed, I was connected to innovators in the math education world, and had resources in town that came from established connections built through my undergraduate years.
Then, for a variety of reasons, I switched jobs, towns, and subjects.
For the past almost three years (Holy cow, has it been nearly 6 years already?!), I have been teaching middle school literature, religion, and yes, still a class of math as well. But for the most part, I am now a literature teacher.
While I was trained in college in teaching both math and English, I was always more invested in the math side of things. I did research in math education. I joined the math honors fraternity. I had math study groups. On the English side of things…I went to class. Add that, upon taking this new job, it had been a few years since I did anything English-related (I mean, aside from have a classroom library; I don’t care if I was the math teacher – my students were going to have good books available to them!), and I was excited but unsure about the new venture.
So I taught. I looked at what had been done before, what I did in my student teaching, and I…figured it out. My students and I read novels together, worked on literary concepts together, and things went okay. But I was still heavily invested in the math world. My pre-algebra class was awesome, while my literature classes were okay. I didn’t have that support for my literature teaching like I did for my math teaching.
Then, towards the end of my first year, I became much more active on Twitter. I started following more bookish people (by the way, have we taken back “bookish” yet to mean all about books and not only smart and studious?). I found a kindred spirit in Jillian Heise. I reconnected with Sarah Andersen. I followed Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller. I found some support. I started a now-defunct blog, and I felt like I was on to something.
But the next school year came, and my class was largely the same. Read novels together, talk about them, explore literary concepts, and try not to fall asleep. Things still weren’t where I wanted them to be. More than that, I had no idea how to make them better. I did not know what I was doing (if my principal is reading this – I totally knew what I was doing. No need to worry.).
Then, just before Christmas break, there was something new buzzing on Twitter. Colby and Donalyn were being impressively secretive about something. I had learned to watch these two closely; when they’re working, there’s usually something great to follow. And then it happened.
The Nerdy Book Club.
Immediately, I was hooked. There were all these people, most of whom I had been following on Twitter, talking about their reading lives and these new books and they were giving awards out and making top ten lists and inviting authors to talk.
Two things hit me at that moment: 1) I need to start a book blog (which I did, and haven’t updated in a while, but I’ll get back to that, I promise), and B) this is it. This is that thing I was looking for. This is what is going to show me how to teach literature the way my students need it taught.
So I began reading. I read the daily posts, and then read the blogs of the posters. I commented and asked questions and found ways to adapt these things to my classroom. The Nerdy Book Club gives awards? We should give awards! The Nerdy Book Club makes top ten lists? We should make top ten lists!
But it doesn’t stop there. While in the math blogging world, there are a lot of good voices with good ideas, it felt like a lot of people generating content. In the Nerdy Book Club, it’s more than that. It truly is a community. Dan Meyer is one of my heroes as a math teacher. He doesn’t know who I am. Donalyn Miller will put down her drink, run up, and give me a hug when she sees me. Kate Nowak is a phenomenal calculus teacher with amazing ideas. But I would never be able to meet up with her while visiting a friend in her town (I’m looking at you, Jennifer Fountain).
This community has given me a home as a literature teacher. But, like all worthwhile communities, it hasn’t taken me in and swallowed me up. It’s taken me in, given me what I needed, and said “You’re ready. Go.”
So I’ve, with confidence (and research), worked on creating an UNprogram-style “program” for my school to use. I’ve found the right book for the right child based on recommendations from Nerdy members. I’ve written and won grants to go to amazing conferences. I’ve transformed my classroom from a place where we merely read books to a place where we talk about books and breathe books. And I know, when I’m not sure what to do, I can call Jillian. Or Colby. Or Sarah. Or Jennifer. Or Beth. Or. Or. Or.
I can now do what I know needs to be done because I now have the resources I need, and am connected to innovators in the English education world.
I wouldn’t be who I am without you guys. Let’s keep changing the world. One teacher, and one student, at a time.
You’d like to know more about Brian Wyzlic. You’ve heard it said that he is a big fan of the author bio portion of these posts, but you’re not sure if you believe it. You would think his favorite bios are those that give us an interesting tidbit about the author. For example, did you know that Brian marched on the drumline at Central Michigan University? Of course you did, you stalker, you. You also probably know that he loves dogs and Canada, despite not having a dog, and living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States. You wonder what else 2nd person narration can accomplish. You’re going to find out.