School days, school days, oh those golden school days…Those are always the words in my head, through the voice of my mom, when I see the first day of school approaching. When I was a kid, I hated that song, or pretended that I did anyway. Actually, I always loved the start of school…the school supply isle at our local store, the new school clothes, and, for me many times, a new school. Ok, so maybe I didn’t love that part, but it added to the aroma of possibilities swirling in my head for the BEST year ever. Every year, I promised myself I’d be more organized; I’d get better grades; I’d be the best friend. I was an over-achiever and, let’s face it, a nerd.
As I trudged through my academic career, I fought hard against nerdiness, but it always managed to bubble to the surface anyway. I’m not sure what contributed more to my own personal nerd factor, being the “new girl” over and over and, therefore, never really grasping the cool trends flowing through the social fabric of the 1980s, or my own DNA, which pushed me toward the love of science, reading, and away from the mall and shopping. I look back on some of those first fashion choices, for example, and cringe as I see blue tights, blue eye shadow, blue mascara, and feathered hair. I also look back and smile at submersing myself in The Black Stallion and Nancy Drew books—loving the feeling of escape and adventure that reading gave me.
There were a few pivotal nerdy moments during my childhood adventures. Specifically, I remember a 5th grade assembly at Basics Plus Elementary when a local aquarium representative came to talk to us about Marine Biology and Wildlife Conservation. I was never quite the same again. From that day forward, I drank in Jacques Cousteau’s work, and idolized him as my hero. How much nerdier can you get? The next year (at a different elementary school) I was picked as a student helper for another science assembly. We talked about the scientific method, the different types of animals, and I put a boa constrictor the size of a large man around my neck. I watched as my classmates gasped in amazement, and I swelled with pride at having this chance to shine. The eighth grade class wasn’t as amazed when they came to the assembly; and their eye rolling and giggling tarnished my nerdy fun. But later that week, my teacher pulled me aside and built me back up with words of encouragement. He told me he picked me for that assignment because he knew it was perfect for me. I was shocked. I’d never been perfect for anything, but he told me to believe in myself, to smile, and to never stop dreaming. Maybe he was a nerd himself, and saw that in me. Maybe he was just one of those wonderful teachers that had magic abilities to say the right things at just the right times. Whatever his reason, he made a difference that day, and I began a journey to accept and embrace my inner nerd. That acceptance saw me through school, college, internships, student teaching, real teaching and parenthood. Through the ups and downs, I’ve tried always to remember that teacher’s encouraging advice: to believe, to smile, and to dream.
Today, as both mother and teacher, I see those struggles again through my own children and in the eyes of my students. I listen to stories of name-calling, and empathize with the social drama. I watch as some kids almost skip down the school supply isle, catch themselves, and slow to a walk. I try to slip in a wink and a smile when I see that subtle happiness. (Sometimes being “too cool for school” takes a little work.)
At our house, we do all things nerdy. We watch Animal Planet, and go to the Science Museum. My kids have been known to absolutely beg, to go to the library to check out books. We go on picnics and discuss igneous verses metamorphic rocks. In our house, we talk about dinosaurs by name…scientific name. My kids know they have a nerdy mom, and they seem to love me anyway. I tell my students about my nerdy experiences, and watch some of their eyes flicker in recognition. And, I remember to tell them about those experiences with a smile—to let them know that life-long learning is just as cool as the latest fashion fad. I hope they will believe in themselves and that nerds everywhere will continue to dream big, because there’s just nothing better than a fresh start, a new year, and an empty spiral notebook. The school year is almost upon us, and I say Bring It!