On the train ride home from the Bammy Awards in October 2014, I had time to reflect on my amazing weekend and how honored I was to be recognized for my work as a school librarian. Since I took the job as a Supervisor of Technology & Librarians in June 2014, I kept having this nagging feeling of longing and sadness. I could not seems to put my finger on what was not bring me joy. On that train ride home it hit me, I missed being with the students every day. They are what brought me joy. Teaching children is what I loved doing, what I was good at, what the world needed and what I could get paid for... so why was I do doing it? Being a School Librarian is truly my passion and my purpose. But wouldn't I be seen as a failure if I went back to it?
Everyone knows the "success" ladder in education. You start as a teacher, than become a supervisor, than a VP, than a Principal, than a Assistant Superintendent and than a Superintendent. You don't go down the ladder once you start the climb, that is not how is works. I soon realized that I did not really want to climb up the ladder anymore. While it would have been nice to be back with the students as a VP or Principal; the thought of all the other stuff like paperwork, SGOs, PDPs, etc... that went with the job did not excite me.
I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that it was just my first year, change is hard, things will get better but by June, I knew it was not the case. With age, experience, and some heartache, I have come to realize that you should never have to convince yourself to stay in something you don't love. It will never make you happy no matter how much you try to convince yourself it will.
I loved the educators and supervisors that I worked with in Parsippany, but my heart was not into it. I do not regret being a supervisor for a minute. When I asked a friend if I should become a supervisor he said "you would be crazy to not at least try it." I am happy I took his advice and did. I learned so much from my year as one. I got a totally different view on education and now have a much better understanding of how a district runs and why the administration makes the decisions that they do. It is not an easy job and I admire everyone who chooses to do it.
I am so thankful to Dr. Tim Purnell for welcoming me to the Somerville school district and allowing me to follow my passion. I can't wait to go back to spending every day doing what I truly love which is helping students learn, grow and find their purpose in life.
I also can not thank my a number dear friends enough (you all know who you are). The long Twitter DMs, Texts, Voxes and Talks I had with you, really help to reinforce my decision to go back to what I loved. I am so lucky to have such an amazing group of educators in my PLN.
On my last day in Parsippany, my dear friend Kim Field posted the picture above on my Facebook wall. It summed up everything I was feeling perfectly! In the end, I realized that the few extra dollars I made as an administrator were not worth the lost of passion & purpose in my life. My wallet might not like it but my heart is happy and that is all that matters.... right?
Only time will tell if I made the correct decision, for now I am happy, and that is all that matters.
I feel it is time for me to break my silence and share my story with depression and panic attacks. I need to start by thanking my friends Nicholas Provenzano and Dr. Joe Mazza for leading the way in publicizing this way too common but often stigmatized illness.
From the time I was young I have suffered from panic attacks. It was not until I was much older in my mid to late 20s, that I had a name for what I had been dealing with for long time. People would say things like "she has separation anxiety" and that is why she does not like to sleep away from home. She is just a "sensitive kid". She will "grow out of it". I knew it was something more, but as a child you don't easily have a way to describe it. I did know that at times I got really anxious about things and would get sick to my stomach. There were things that I wanted to do with friends and others but was too scared to do.
I was accepted into Loyola College in Maryland and when I went to visit the school I fell in love with it. Even though it was a number of hours from my house I thought it was time for me to "grow up" and go away to school. Well I made it a day, had a huge panic attack got myself on a train and came home and refused to go back to school there. That is when I realized I needed help. I started seeing my first of a number of therapists that I have been to over my life. I learned that I was not just a sensitive kid with separation anxiety but someone with a mental illness who suffered from depression and panic attacks.
Through the help of medication and therapy I started to find ways to manage my illness. But I am by no means cured. I have ended up in the emergency room with a panic attack. I have left concerts and sporting events because I was feeling panicky. I have not gone places because I was scared of having a panic attack. And for a long time I did not do things because I lived in fear of having one. I have spent days at a time in bed because I was depressed. I don't do well with affection and don't do well with compliments. I am more critical on myself than anyone can ever be of me.
I have realized that once I embraced, accepted, and told the truth of my illness to myself and others that I the illness does not control me anymore. I know that when my heart starts to race and when I start to feel like things are closing in on me to take a deep breath and focus on something specific. I have learned that in time the feeling will pass.
This is something that I will struggle with everyday for the rest of my life.
Feel free to DM me or contact me on Facebook if you want to talk. Stop me if you see me at a conference and want to talk. I don't want anyone to feel alone like I did for so long.
I have found that when I talk with others about it I feel better because I realize I am not alone and that others feel the same way I do.
How #semicolonedu works: (taken from Joe Mazza blog post)
In the words of Nick Provenzano… I want people to ask us about this punctuation mark on our wrists so we can share our story. The more people know about mental health issues, the more we can get rid of the stigma. The more we get rid of that stigma, the more people will feel comfortable sharing their stories. We need students to feel comfortable sharing these feelings with their teachers and we need teachers to better understand mental health so they can support these students and their colleagues. It is not a fun conversation, but it is one we need to have if we want to help people and possibly save lives. There is something all of you can do to show your support.
I would love to see pictures across the Internet from all of my PLN on Tuesday July 14th with a
Semicolon drawn (or tattooed if you are up to it) on your body to show support for all of the educators dealing with mental health issues. Use the tag #semicolonEDU to show your support on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Let’s show the world that we can come together and fight mental health stigmas by showing our support for one another. I know we can do it. Read Nick’s full #semicolonEDU post here.
Five years ago today, I was at the lowest point in my career. I was being transferred from the High School I was teaching at to the one of the Middle School in my district. People including my supervisor was telling others that I was hard to work with, did not know what I was doing, and was not a great librarian. In my heart I knew that they were all wrong but when you hear it long enough you start to believe it.
I was at my lowest point and seriously considered giving up my job and finding something else. I was broken, I was done.
I stopped fighting the transfer and decided to move to the Middle School on the advice of another teacher. Even though she had just met me she saw something in me that I did not see in myself. She knew that I was being held back at the High School. She thought that by having my own library, I could do all the things I had been dreaming of doing but was being met with resistance at the High School. She and a few others, believed in me when the rest of the education world did not.
Looking back five years later, it was the best move I ever made. I was able to rebuild myself all over again. I was able to try new and crazy things with my students. I had an administration, minus my direct supervisor who supported me in my endeavors. I became a stronger person than I ever was before.
I look back on that day now and can't believe how far I have come. I never in my life would have thought I would be a Bammy Award Winning Librarian who is featured in a documentary on using technology in education. Or an ISTE MakingIT Happen award winner, and the 2014 winner of School Library Program of the year in the state of NJ. I also never thought I would be a published author or have a book contract. Never in a million years did I think I would be PD Chairperson for ISTE Librarians Network, a Technology Presenter, or a consultant ( ironically for the district I left) and so much more.
I also never thought I would be in the position I am today. Where my knowledge and expertise and being put to use to help shape the technology in the biggest school district in Morris County.
Five years ago today, I was broken and almost listened to all those people who told me I was not good enough and did not know what I was doing. I am so happy I did not listen!
I am living proof that being broken is really is a chance to rebuild yourself again! Take that chance it is worth it in the end!
Last week I was reading my dear friend Tony's post on #positivepostitnoteday and I knew I needed to be part of it! I sent the post along to my teachers with hopes that they would also embrace the idea & a number did.
Alison Franz one of my technology teachers went so far as to make a positive post it note station in her room where other see students could come and write notes for their friends. You can see the picture in the gallery above. She is also going to take it high tech (if the 3D printer will cooperate) and make you matter sayings to give out to students!
I spent the morning writing post it note to all the staff in my office building and it was tons of fun to do. It was nice to see everyone's reactions and even nicer when I came back from lunch to find that the idea has caught on.
I also made virtual ones using using Sticky-Notes Generator and sent those to all of my teachers. It was a nice way to let each of them know just how much I value and appreciate everything they do on a daily basis.It really was a nice way to spend the morning . To often we forget to give thanks and say nice things to people. A simple post it means alot!
Yesterday I had the pleasure of going to Troy Hills Elementary School in the Parsippany - Troy Hill School district to see Travel Day in action. I can not even begin to describe to you how engaged, and excited all of the student were. I tweeted out a few pictures of the event and got some questions about how it works from fellow teachers who might want to do something like this in their schools. I asked Christine Lupia - Fugere the amazing librarian there to share a little about how the day works. Here is here write up!
" Every year, a committee of Troy Hills staff members works with their principal to reach out to the parent community, looking for volunteers to come into school to present about their cultural heritage or country of origin. Students and staff are invited to dress in clothing that represents their cultural heritage, country of origin or a place that they traveled. Or they can represent our school colors (blue and white) or red, white and blue for the USA. Students create flags to carry for our Parade of Nations. Teachers work with students to create maps and flags to represent the various countries. Presenters teach about music, art, culture, clothing, education and the history of the various cultures and countries. Today we learned about Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Spain, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, South Korea, Cameroon (Africa) India Korea, Scotland, Ireland, Brazil and Spain. Our Character Trait of the month is "Acceptance," which fits in with our theme of multicultural diversity and tolerance. Students will have opportunities to engage in follow-up writing activities in the classroom and in the media center, as well."
My son needed to do a density science lab for his science class. In it he needed to experiment with different labs liquids to figure out how dense they were. They were required to make a 5 layer density tower. He had to document his experiments in his lab by writing down what happened. We decided to Augment his lab so his teacher had a better idea just how the experiments went. We took videos of him doing the experiments using the time laps feature on phone and then but those on trigger images of the finished experiments. When scanned using the Layar app you can watch him doing the experiments. This is a great way to take a science lab and show the lab in action!
Scan the image to see for yourself (you have 60 days until it goes away)
It is getting around that time of year when your district puts out its list of courses that they are offering for next year. Parents and students then sit together and work with the guidance department to figure out what students want to take. Every year in my district we would updated our word document and put it on the website for the parents to see. I worked fine but was not interactive at all. This year I decided to do something different. I took the traditional document and made it into an iBook using iBook Author.What lead me to what to do this is that our amazing TV production teacher Jeff Covello made 30 second videos highlighting most of the courses currently being offered in the district. We made these videos as a way for students and parents to have a better understand of just what happens in a certain class. I wanted to feature these videos and a great way to do that was to make an interactive course selection booklet. iBooks allows you to embed the videos into the books and to be played right in the book. It also allows you to link to outside websites. The course selection booklet came out much better then I could even imagine. It looks so professional. Since it is also just a click of the button to turn the ebook into a PDF (without the ability to play the videos, but the website links work) I was able to also make a really nice looking PDF version of the book for people who don't have MACs.. I highly recommend doing something like this with yours. Here is a link to see the entire book.
Yesterday for the 3rd year in a row I got to experience a incredible day of FREE learning with a group of over 400 educators from around NJ and surrounding states. My friend Paula Nagel even came from Louisiana to attend!
I love that it is participant driven learning. I love that it is parents, teachers, administrators, and superintendents all learning together. I love that it is conversation driven not "sage on the stage" learning. I love that one session can be on Google apps and the next on body language. I love that I get to connect in person with the people I learn from everyday on social media. There is so much I love about the EdCamp experience but what struck me most this year was how there are not many educators of color at it.
Let me be clear, I am not at all critizing the organizers of this great event. They spend a year of their time planning and putting this together all while working countless other jobs. Why I write this post is to start a conversation about this topic. . How do we get more educators of color to join us in this educational movement?
I don't know the answers but I believe it is a conversation that needs to be had.
When I started becoming a connected educator I found it so cool that I was able to connect with the people I admired and learned from. It was so amazing that I was able to tweet and connect with my librarian heroes like Shannon Miller, Gwyneth Jones, Joyce Valenza, Nikki Robertson, Jennifer LaGarde, Tiffany Whitehead and many more. Then I started to get to know them as friends and learned that they were no different than me. They struggled at times and doubted if they were doing the right thing. It made me realize that I was no different then them.
All too often we idolize people and think their lives are perfect and that is not the case at all.
Here is my story - A little over 13 years ago I started out my career as a librarian. I had yet to finish my schooling and had no one to mentor me. I totally learned on the job. This was way before Twitter or social media and because of that it was much harder. I was also the only librarian in my school, so I had no one to turn to. After two years I left the job to have my son and then after a few years I started back as a part time librarian at the high school in my town. I worked with two other people and I found it difficult.
One of the people I worked with was a total old school librarian who never wanted to change anything. We were supposed to do things like we did 20 years ago and if you tried to change anything it was met with tons of resistance. The librarian was also not very nice to the students and it was hard to watch. No matter what I did it seemed to be wrong and I was not treated very well. There was also no consistency in the services we provided and teachers would avoid having that person teach their classes. There were even times when I was yelled at in front of the students and I really considered quitting. Luckily that person retired, and I thought I would now be able to do things I wanted to do. Well, that was not the case.
As much as I tried, the other librarians and I could not get along. There were numerous reasons for this some of them because of me. It became clear that it would not work out for all of us to work together. After much soul searching and help from a dear friend I made the decision to move to the middle school.
At the time I thought it was a demotion. I thought I was a failure and was labeled by many as uncooperative and hard to work with among other things. It was one of the hardest times in my life because I started to believe what others were saying about me. I gave up believing in myself. I lost all confidence in myself. I was lucky to have the support of a few friends and family members who did believe in me and helped me through this time.
It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I was able to run the library liked I wanted to. I was able to try new things and experiment. I did not have to answer to anyone but myself and it was great! It was also around this time I started to become a connected librarian and that opened up another world for me. I started to learn from and connect with other librarians and teachers from around the world. I started to share with others what I was doing. All of that made me into the librarian I became.
At the end of the last year I made to choice to move to administration. I now supervisor librarians and multimedia teachers. I could not pass up this opportunity. I like what I am doing now, but I really miss being with the students... I am not sure I made the right move. I still have my doubts that I made the right decision but I am going to give it a try. We have to be able to try something new and be willing to take a risk. I am in the process of doing that right now. Who know how things are going to turn out but realize I am far from perfect.
Last night , I was so honored to be chosen by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences as the 2014 winner of the Bammy Award in the school librarian category. I am in total shock because I honestly did not feel worthy to be mentioned as a finalist. Shannon Miller, Jennifer Lagarde, Laura Fleming, and Jonathan Werner are all librarians that I learn from on a daily basis.
Pernille Ripp, who I greatly admire, wrote this outstanding blog post on the Bammy Awards today. I love her sentiment that we should recognize all the amazing educators out there who do the hardest job in the world. They shape the minds of the young people in their charge every day.
So today I am going to recognize some the amazing educators and friends who have helped me to become the person I am today. I can not name them all but will honor just a few here.
To all of the other amazing educators out there every day. You are the true rockstars. You deserve this award as much if not more then I do.
Thank you to everyone who voted for me, who helped me on my journey and who will be there for me for years to come. I have such an amazing PLN and I am so thankful to have you all as a part of my life.
Elissa Malespina is the Middle School Teacher Librarian in Somerville and a Presenter, Author and much more. Find my full resume above.