These magic moments

Everyone, even the big kids, loves the Santa press conference.

Everyone, even the big kids, loves the Santa press conference.

I’ve been to many, many yearbook workshops over the past 15 years. Often, a workshop will open with “what is a yearbook?” Sometimes, a workshop will close with a commitment ceremony or something similarly stirring that inspires students to go out there and create the best yearbook they can for their school.

A yearbook is… a record, a public relations tool, a photo book, an educational experience, a reference book…

Author Pat Conroy wrote, “A yearbook is a love letter a school writes to itself.” I carry a tattered and torn copy of these words with me everywhere I go.

There are two things that “a yearbook is” that give me my greatest enjoyment in high school yearbook journalism.

A yearbook is a history book.

When my students are trying to meet deadlines or get a meaningful quote from somebody who does not know what to say, they do not realize right then how important it is that they record a complete and accurate history of the school year. This is only affirmed later when the truck arrives and distribution begins. It makes my heart full when students, seniors especially, hold their new yearbook in their hands and say out loud, “This is the best yearbook I’ve ever seen!”

When my staff hears the first comments students have to say about their yearbooks and when faculty members come up and say to my staff members, “Wow, you have so many stories in here!” it makes me smile and tear up. I get a little lump in my throat. I love seeing my students puff up with pride.

We have captured the year, for better, for worse. To oversee a group of students led by a student editor make the decisions of how to tell these stories is a blessing to me.

A yearbook is magic.

That day when we open the boxes I watch as my staff members get all quiet checking out their pages at first. Then they start exclaiming, “I helped do that page!” and “I had forgotten about that story I wrote!” Those are magic moments.

My yearbook students not only report on things that happen at our school and in our community, they also help make magic happen.

Magic happened when my students arranged a press conference with Santa Claus last December. With the help of our local newspaper editor, they arranged for two kindergarten classes from the elementary school next door to come visit Santa and ask him questions.

To break the ice, my students prepared questions as well. It’s a good thing, because the kindergarteners were too awestruck to say very much! As Santa told us his favorite type of cookie (oatmeal), and how exactly he manages to get to all those houses in one night (magic, of course), there was not a single person in the room who wanted that magical day to end.

We have hundreds of photos from when the kindergarteners each received a toy truck or a doll from Santa, which had been provided by the local police department.  Santa read his favorite story, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, and every “kid” had an opportunity to sit on his lap. We were part of that magic, and we all felt it in our hearts.

In 2012, the Dunnellon Police Department was able to help us by providing a doll or truck for each child.

In 2012, the Dunnellon Police Department was able to help us by providing a doll or truck for each child.

The kindergarten students gazed at Santa in wide-eyed wonder.

The kindergarten students gazed at Santa in wide-eyed wonder.

My high school yearbook is magic to me. I know exactly where I am in it, even if the image is blurry or I am in the background. I remember the canned food drive that my club organized for Thanksgiving. I remember how stressed out I was when we discovered that one of the teachers had broken into another teacher’s room and stolen the cans! How were we going to decide which class won the breakfast? I remember all the back roads my friends and I drove as we delivered the boxes to needy families. There’s a story in the yearbook. Magic is made in every moment that is forever enshrined in the yearbook.

Last year, right before school ended, I sent a yearbook staff member to deliver a yearbook that had been purchased anonymously for a student. The student was so excited to receive it he came to me as soon as he could and asked to know who had given him the book. He said he wanted to thank that person. I told him if he wrote the note I would make sure it got to the right person. Later that day, he came back by to drop off his thank you note. The young man probably had an idea which teacher it was who made the yearbook magic for him, and that magic will remain in his heart forever.The kindergarten students gazed at Santa in wide-eyed wonder.

Sometimes when we are in the middle of deadlines we forget that we are making magic. Then, just when I start to wonder if it’s worth it, along comes another magical moment!

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Fairy dust in the classroom

My yearbook editor, Laura, has always been a great writer and designer. She is, however, a "non-photographer." Or at least, she was. The other day, she picked up a camera and just blew us away with photos such as this one, of the See You at the Pole event at our school.

My yearbook editor, Laura, has always been a great writer and designer. She is, however, a “non-photographer.” Or at least, she was. The other day, she picked up a camera and just blew us away with photos such as this one, of the See You at the Pole event at our school. Magic happens!

Since I do a lot of wedding photography, I have a few photographers whose work I follow on social media. One of them is Katelyn James, a young wedding photographer out of Virginia whose work I probably follow more than any other. I clicked on her blog yesterday to find a nice piece about vocalizing your dreams. See her blog here: http://katelynjamesblog.com/our-dreams/

Now I know that no matter how much I vocalize, I’m probably never going to run into Tom Petty in a smoky bar and sing a couple of songs with him. I don’t ever go into smoky bars! And I know most people find Nicolas Cage a little odd looking, but I think I could marry him if he asked.

I’m probably not going to hit the lottery either. But that does not stop me from dreaming about how many houses I would be buying, and in what exotic faraway places.

I have no musical skill, yet I still hope to learn to play the guitar; and I can barely walk half the time, but I still maybe someday could learn to balance on a surfboard.

What I do know is that it does not hurt to have dreams. They keep you going. Verbalizing them is very important!

I like think about the many things that people told me I could not do, and how many times I have proved others wrong. Yes, I did drive across the country in a very old car one year, breaking down three times along the way. Yet staying the course we were able to see nearly half of the States in 30 days, on a budget. The following year I drove to New England and broke down a few more times. Yet again, we got through it and saw what we wanted to see.

I sold the car to my father after that, though. Lucky him, I had already replaced everything so he never had a single issue with it! Nobody ever told that car what it could and couldn’t do either. It defies all odds and still runs today. My son drives it. That car is older than my son!

I don’t know many people who would not panic at the feats that somehow are achieved in my classroom. With two working computers and a lot of fundraising, we manage to produce a great yearbook every year for our school. I am sure you might have heard the expression “Raising teenagers is like nailing Jell-o to a tree.” This is a fairly adequate description, yet somehow I have a class full of teenagers who defy the odds and perform what is next to impossible every year. We are raising (and spending) about $35k.

So, the reason that I’m telling you all of this?

Because, guess what? Things really do work out. How this happens is, of course, a lot of planning. But there is no way that planning is everything. I believe that there is a little bit of fairy dust getting sprinkled in my classroom.

Success happens with tons of hard work…

And a little magic.

Keep that in mind when you start doubting yourself!

Nicolas Cage, I love you! Do you want to learn to surf together?

Passion

So, I decided I would start blogging. I do like to write, but I’ve never been sure people would care what I have to say. Lately, I’ve felt the urge more than I have in the past.

One would imagine that my focus would be on photography. I can’t guarantee that. I think I just need to write about whatever moves me at the time. I will tell you for certain that this will be about photography or something related at least half the time, but even though photography is my passion, I don’t ONLY get passionate about photography.

So I may go on about other things. And you may or may not care. My only hope is that each time I put something on my blog that it will serve some purpose.

So here’s a list of possible topics you might read about on my blog:

Photography

Writing

Yearbooks

Graphic design

Travel is just one of my passions. I believe that passion is absolutely necessary in life! In Summer 2012, my son and I traveled to Greece. As many of you have heard, the economy there is very shaky. If you were to judge only by what you have seen on the evening news, you probably would choose not to go. Fortunately, I was able to see for myself that it's not all what is on the news.

Travel is just one of my passions. I believe that passion is absolutely necessary in life! In Summer 2012, my son and I traveled to Greece. As many of you have heard, the economy there is very shaky. If you were to judge only by what you have seen on the evening news, you probably would choose not to go. Fortunately, I was able to see for myself that it’s not all what is on the news.

Travels

Food and diet

People, especially teens

Who knows what else?

Today, passion is the topic.

Maybe because I’m a little antisocial, I tend to look at other people as they live their lives. I sort of watch people, like an outsider, to see how they behave. Sometimes I am surprised by people’s behavior, but usually it is easy to conclude two things:

The first thing is that you never know a person until you’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes. This is a theme in the book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a favorite of mine. When somebody does something that I feel is just not right, I try to tell myself that I can’t understand him/her because I have not worn his or her shoes.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. People sometimes astound me. What comes to mind right now is a student who admitted to me in front of the class this year that he never learned the words to the Pledge of Allegiance because he just never cared to learn it. It’s hard for me to understand that somebody could literally stand up and mumble something every day for 13 years, but not care enough about what he was saying to make some effort to know the words.

My patriotism makes me literally stand at attention for the pledge every day, whether I am alone in my classroom, in the hallway, or in the front of the class. So strong is my desire to set an example and teach young people to appreciate what our country provides them, that I would have it no other way. And I do understand that these students have stood up and mumbled the Pledge every weekday of their lives, but could they not just every once in awhile pause to reflect on what the words really say, as they eye the remnants of their free or reduced breakfast that they picked up on the way to first period, and ready themselves to do as little as possible to take advantage of the free education that is provided them?

The second conclusion is that there are not enough people today who have passion.

After seeing these "Fish Doctor" places all over Greece, we decided to try our own fish pedicure in Heraklion. Yes, it's kind of gross when you think about it, but the little fish eat the dead skin off of your feet.

After seeing these “Fish Doctor” places all over Greece, we decided to try our own fish pedicure in Heraklion. Yes, it’s kind of gross when you think about it, but the little fish eat the dead skin off of your feet.

To me, passion is a strong feeling in your heart towards something. I easily have one main passion that anyone who knows me knows about. That is photography. I am also passionate about other aspects of what I do, basically the list of topics I might blog about. I LOVE PHOTOGRAPHY! I LOVE to TRAVEL! I LOVE EVERYTHING about YEARBOOK! I LOVE to COOK! I LOVE a well-designed magazine! I could literally shout these things from the rooftops. While skipping and singing.

When we go on our adventures, we often take tours. These students posing with my son (far left) in Mykonos were all part of an EF Tour to Greece (by land and by sea). Greece was my son's high school graduation trip in the summer of 2012.

When we go on our adventures, we often take tours. These students posing with my son (far left) in Mykonos were all part of an EF Tour to Greece (by land and by sea). Greece was my son’s high school graduation trip in the summer of 2012.

Reflecting on my life as it is today, I could not imagine my life without these things, even though sometimes these things drive me crazy. (Again, looking at the list, some of the things drive me crazier than others, teens being one of them).

I feel very strongly, passionately, that every person needs to have a passion. What is life without passion?

A few years ago, a colleague and I taught the same subject across the hall from each other. Often, a student would fail her class and then, due to the way the schedule was set up, end up in my class for a second go at earning the credit. While we ate lunch, we often discussed these students. They were simply not passionate about school or English class, but almost all of them were passionate about something. We determined that if we were able to connect with these students through their passion, then they were more likely to pass our classes, hopefully the first time. I remember so many students who had a passion for music, and quite a few, boys especially, who were passionate about cars and fishing.

It was always toughest when there was a challenging student who seemed to have no passion. I remember one of these, a young man. He just seemed so slimy. He was in my class after failing across the hall due to turning in a plagiarized research paper. Instead of learning his lesson, he turned in a plagiarized paper in my class as well. From what I could understand, there was no underlying issue at home to cause this young man to behave in such a sneaky way. In fact, I think his mother might have been a teacher. It was impossible for us to wear his shoes and understand his behavior towards our class and subject.

It was down the hall in a different classroom that I saw this student in a new light. Somehow our principal was able to get Bo Diddley (the REAL Bo Diddley) to come visit our school. As scores of band students assembled in the bandroom to listen to him talk, Diddley first explained what he felt “real music” was as he showed off his handmade guitars. Then Diddley began to jam, and my student, who would not show an inch of personality or passion in my class, got up and joined in! Now granted, there were two who started jammin’ with Diddley, so I don’t know if he would have had the courage to get up there alone. Still, to join such a legend in an impromptu jam session is something that takes a lot of nerve.

I’m sure that student did not earn a point more than was needed to pass my class, but I had a new respect for him once I understood his passion. Years later I ran into him on the Ocala Square on a Friday night. Turns out he was playing at one of the clubs and he invited me to see him. I went in and watched a set. I have long forgotten what instruments he played, but I hope that music is still a part of his life.

And I sincerely hope that any of you out there who have not found or lost your passion in life, please go find it and pursue it. Passion is a requirement in order to lead a happy life.

This is the Greek island of Santorini, which was created by a volcano. We did a hike on the other side of the island on black volcanic rock. Very cool. See the shadow on the rocks? We were actually on that ride at the time, on our way back down to the tender boats.

This is the Greek island of Santorini, which was created by a volcano. We did a hike on the other side of the island on black volcanic rock. Very cool. See the shadow on the rocks? We were actually on that ride at the time, on our way back down to the tender boats.

Greek pottery, very detailed and gorgeous!

Greek pottery, very detailed and gorgeous!