Kid's Books, Special Guests

Teacher Appreciation Week feat. Special Guest Danielle Diamond Nepstad

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

As the week comes to a close, think back to your own teachers. Who inspired you to be who you are today? Many of us have at least one teacher that we remember fondly and know they deserve some credit for how we turned out.

There are a few teachers from my k-12, undergrad, and now graduate program that I can say with full confidence have helped me to be the best version of myself. What better way to thank them than by paying it forward?

Today’s Q+A features Danielle Diamond Nepstad. I have known Danielle since elementary school and have loved seeing her live her passions – first as a musician and now also as an educator.

Read on to learn what you can find on Ms. Danielle’s bookshelf and why she decided to join the field of education!

Q. How did reading help shape who you are today?
As a child, I was fortunate to have two loving, bookworm-parents! They instilled their love for reading within my older sister and me from the very start. Nightly bedtime stories, weekly trips to the public library, and Reading Rainbow all came together to foster my love for literature. Some of my earliest memories are of reading to my stuffed animals and invisible students!

Q. What were your favorite books when you were a kid?
It’s so hard to narrow down my favorite books as a kid, but I do remember especially loving books by Robert Munsch; The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein; Louis Sachar’s Wayside School series, as well as Holes; and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. In elementary school, I loved reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, as well as a book on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement (I can’t remember its title, but I hope to stumble upon it someday!). 

Q. Your job title is 1st Year Reading Interventionist. Could you explain what that is and what motivated you to pursue this career?
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher at some point in life, so in May 2020, I received my Elementary/Middle School teaching license in the state of Wisconsin. With that, I am able to teach all content areas between Grades 1-8. When it came to applying for jobs last year, I knew I wanted to work in my hometown district as a way of giving back to the community that helped raise me. The district didn’t have any classroom positions open, but they were hiring for reading interventionists. I jumped at the opportunity, and luckily, was given a position! It has been a fun experience (despite the crazy pandemic year), and I’ve learned so much.

Before obtaining my teaching license, I was a Special Education paraprofessional in both elementary and high school settings. I truly love working with students of all ages! Someday, I’d like to earn my secondary licensure, but I pursued elementary/middle school because I was able to complete the program faster (and get to work faster)! Ultimately, I would love to teach middle school or high school English Language Arts. Still, there’s something special about working in an elementary school. They are so darn cute and full of curiosity. I love their enthusiasm.

My position is mostly working with students who have reading goals within their IEPs [Individualized Education Plans], so it’s almost like I’m part Reading Specialist, part Special Education teacher. I work with students on their phonological and phonemic awareness skills, as well as strategies to help them strengthen their fluency and comprehension. Most of my caseload consists of students in Grades 4-6. I pull some students for small group sessions, but other times, I am pushing into classrooms to support during their literacy blocks. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure!

“I want my book shelves to be representative of our global society, and I want to make sure all students can see themselves in the books available to them.”

Q. What kinds of books can we find on Ms. Danielle’s bookshelf? Are students allowed to check them out and bring them home to read?
My classroom library is full of texts from authors and illustrators of all ethnicities, races, religions, and gender identities. I want my book shelves to be representative of our global society, and I want to make sure all students can see themselves in the books available to them. I have everything from picture books, middle grade chapter books, and YA novels, even though I currently work in a K-6 building.

I have a weekly video series I share with the district called “First Chapter Fridays” in which I read a picture book and the first chapters of a novel in hopes of exciting students to read. If a book interests them, they can contact me to borrow it. I’ve had a lot of teachers reach out and use my library, too! I haven’t figured out a reliable system for checking out books to students, especially with COVID protocols. But hopefully next year, I’ll have a better system going!

Q. With your passion for creating art, have you ever written a children’s story or another kind of book? If not, do you have any aspirations to do so?
I have always wanted to write a children’s book! It is definitely a life goal. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been naturally drawn to the art of children’s literature. (If you ever get to take a course in that subject matter, do it!) With my experiences in music, creative writing, and education, I think I have all the ingredients to begin the process. Taking the leap is the scariest part, but I have a lot of ideas just waiting to be put on paper. I better go re-read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I highly recommend it for anyone, no matter what your goals may be!

Q. What are some of your favorite educational resources?
I really love PBS, Learning for Justice, Newsela, Flocabulary, ReadWorks, BrainPop, and Khan Academy. For the past several years, I have followed the gigantic teaching community on Instagram, and I learn a lot through other educators around the country (and world!). Some of my favorite educators to follow are @toocoolformiddleschool, @thetownieteacher, @littlebookbigideas, @msemilyalt, @elementaryedventure, and @itsmoniquesworld. Many of these educators offer their resources for free or at a small price on the website Teachers Pay Teachers.

Q. What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, as well as The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole.

Q. Are there any mottos you live by?
I try to read Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist once a year. There are so many incredible passages from the book, and I suppose I consider them mottos. Two of my favorites are: 

  • “You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.”  
  • “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

***

As Teach Appreciation Week comes to end, remember you can thank a teacher (current or former) all year round!

Not everyone has to be a teacher in order to share their knowledge and experience. There are countless ways to provide wisdom to others: volunteering, mentoring, coaching, etc. There are probably times you’ve taught someone a thing or two and didn’t even realize it!

Thanks so much to Danielle for being today’s special guest! I know she will have a great influence on all who are blessed to learn with her.

You can follow Danielle’s journey on Instagram: @learningonthebiglake

Happy learning, friends!

All photos are the property of Danielle Diamond Nepstad and are used with her permission.

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