Past, Present, and Future (Our Eighth Nerdversary) by Donalyn Miller
This Thanksgiving, we were blessed with fifteen dinner guests—spanning four generations of family and friends. Although my mother and aunts have passed the bulk of holiday meal preparation to younger family members, they still hold sway over details like meal times, dress codes, and the menu. It’s tricky to please and honor everyone at the table. Slowly, the old ways make room for the new. Some traditions remain and others disappear or change.
My mother, the family matriarch, hosted every family celebration in her home for decades. A few years ago, when we moved to a larger house, Don and I took over most of the hosting. We love that we can give back to my mom the hospitality she showed us over the years. My mom and stepmom, Tammy, can show up with a side dish or dessert, then sit directing traffic and hugging grandkids. They can relax while their adult descendants cook and clean. It’s a beautiful thing.
When our house became the family party house, it was a hard transition for my mom. She felt we didn’t need her any more, that we hated her cooking, or thought she was too old. She felt obsolete. It took a few years, but she found other roles. She’s the keeper and spinner of our family stories now. She’s the dispenser of wisdom, sarcastic wisecracks, political opinions, and unsolicited advice. She’s the thread connecting every person at our table. She’s our Queen Bee. We all adore and fear her in equal measure.
Looking at our family during board games and pie time, I tried to determine where Don and I fit these days. As our parents, siblings, and children age, and new people join our family, our names shift on the roster. We are the Gen-X bridge between the boomers and the millennials in our family. We are surrounded on both sides. Middle-aged. The middle child in the family pecking order. Ancestors and descendants both. We still haven’t learned what it means to be good humans, but another generation is looking to us for counsel and safety. What do we know? We have our experiences to share, our rearview evaluations of past choices, but that’s it. Truth is, we still wing it. Truth is, kids, you know more about some things than we do.
My professional life sits in this middle space, too. A second-career teacher who walked into my first classroom in my thirties, I felt driven, early on, to catch up with a knowledge base I presumed my same-age colleagues possessed. I am still learning how to be a better teacher and advocate. There’s so much I do not know. I realize now that I will never understand everything I want or need to learn. It’s both liberating and defeating in turn. Providing engaging and inclusive reading communities for all children will remain important long after I am gone—even as we expand and change what reading and literacy mean. I will contribute to the conversation and move on—adding my voice to the voices of many others before, beside, and after me.
I feel the continuity of this work—past, present, and future. The folks who mentored me early in my career are retiring, ill, or just moving on. Their work will endure in my pedagogical bones. I can respect what they’ve taught me and seek other ways of thinking, too. Younger, newer people bring more equitable, relevant solutions to old problems and fresh perspectives about literacy and its role in young people’s lives today. I need to learn from them, too.
What do I still need to learn? What is the best use of my time, expertise, and opportunities? How may I be useful to others? These are the questions I am asking. What is the next right thing? (Thank you Frozen 2.)
I am responsible as a white woman with some power, access, and opportunities in certain spaces for opening doors for other educators (especially BIPOC educators), support and amplify other educators’ projects and ideas, cite the people I learn from, pay to attend conferences featuring new or underrepresented folks and buy their work, insist on equitable representation at conferences, and connect people with opportunities and resources when I can. I read and follow online a lot of people with different experiences and backgrounds than me and try to learn from their stories and scholarship, too. Sometimes, the best thing I can do is show up, sit down, and listen.
For me, winter is a time for self-reflection as I move from one year into the next. What have I accomplished? What work is left undone? What will happen next year? How will I grow? Who will I meet? Where will I travel? What will I read?
The beginning of December marks the anniversary of this blog—another opportunity for self-reflection. Colby and I hatched the idea for the Nerdy Book Club blog at the 2011 NCTE conference in Chicago. Discussing the books our students loved to read that never won literary awards, we decided to start a people’s choice award, the Nerdies, inviting educators, caregivers, and kids to nominate their favorite books published that year. My first post appeared on December 1, 2011, and today marks our eighth nerdversary. Giving folks several weeks to nominate books for the inaugural awards, we invited friends and colleagues to write posts for the new blog. Less than six weeks later, the blog had thousands of subscribers. We asked readers to tell us what content and format they wanted and we built our post schedule around what people told us.
It seemed lots of folks were looking for a place to share ideas for engaging young readers and celebrating children’s and young adult literature. While Nerdy exists as a home for readers, it’s a home for writers, too. Since the blog started, over a thousand individual posters—teachers, librarians, administrators, college professors, publishers, booksellers, authors, illustrators, school and community volunteers, parents, caregivers, and kids have written posts for Nerdy. For many of our posters, Nerdy was the first place they publicly shared their writing. Thank you all for adding your voices and thoughts here.
These days, we are reflecting on Nerdy Book Club and how it can remain useful to its readers. Nerdy doesn’t generate income for anyone here and doesn’t have any sponsors. Everyone who runs it and writes for it volunteers to do so. It is a work of love and commitment. Although our readership continues to grow, fewer educators and community members write for us each year. Readers still read the blog, but we struggle to find contributors sometimes.
Talking with people during my travels, they often do not realize they can just sign up and write a post. Some find it intimidating. Others are overwhelmed with their own responsibilities. Many folks have outlets for publishing their thoughts and ideas that didn’t exist in 2011 and don’t need the platform. Times change. We still believe every reader has value and a voice in this community. If this space is useful to you, please consider adding your voice to it when you can.
If you’re interested in providing feedback about the blog’s future content or format, drop us a comment or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re interested in sharing your ideas or stories here, you can learn more about our posting guidelines or sign up here.
I am grateful to be your colleague in work that endures and evolves. I look forward to learning alongside all of you in the upcoming year.