The seeds for Heidi Campbell’s teaching career were sown on an island in Maine, where there was “no electricity, no phones, no cars, nothing.”
“I grew up in Maine and all my relatives were teachers. I spent summers, and continue to this day, on this island… surrounded by more teachers who were there with their kids for the summer.” She wrote a lot of letters, she says, and became a “book fanatic.”
Campbell, who teaches language arts at Parkview High School, is Gwinnett County Public Schools’ 2019 Teacher of the Year. Shaped by those summers and a firsthand knowledge of the transformative power of the written word, she starts each academic year with a clear vision.
“Every year, I have two goals. I tell my students — it’s very simple. I want to make you better readers, and I want to make you better writers. And, to do that, I’m going to do all kinds of different things,” says Campbell.
That’s where things get interesting. In Campbell’s classroom, students read everything – modern novels, best sellers, memoirs, short stories, biographies, magazines, newspapers, poetry, the classics and, of course, Shakespeare. There are book clubs within the class, independent reading, discussion groups and if you have a yen to be a published author, Campbell also teaches the classes that produce the school newspaper and literary magazine. (Fun fact – her students prefer print over online platforms for the publications. “They want to be able to hold what they’ve produced.”)
And then they start writing… and revising and editing and revamping and polishing. Repeatedly – which can be painful. “I preface my first hand-back of the year with, okay, I don’t want anybody to panic. I’m going to hand these back. I’m smiling. I still love you.”
Her commitment to honing those reading and writing skills in her students is to prepare them for everything that is to come… whether it is college or the workplace. “I remind them that if you’re a runner, that’s a lifelong sport,” she says. “You’re a reader – that’s a lifelong sport.”
“I tell my students all the time that reading is the crux of everything. Reading makes you smart, it informs you, it can relax you, and it can give you a getaway.”
Campbell, who has been teaching for almost 25 years, has taught in Gwinnett since 2000. In addition to being a department chair at Parkview, she’s involved in a host of curriculum development activities, club sponsor roles, and is active in the school community, consistently recognized for her leadership and enthusiasm. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Oglethorpe University and a master’s in education administration and policy from the University of Georgia.
While she’s admittedly focused on the mechanics of reading and writing, the bond Campbell develops with her students is the most rewarding aspect of her job. “The most important thing we do as educators is to connect with our students,” she says.
Not that all the teaching is one-sided. “I’ve learned so much from my students,” says Campbell. “They inspire me as writers and they inspire me with their creativity.” She also celebrates the diversity of her students. “I absolutely love the fact that in any one room, I could have students who are from 15 different places. I’ve met kids from all over the world. They’ve taught me so much about their cultures and their world.”
“Learning from experiences outside of the classroom” is essential for Campbell and she eagerly shares that philosophy with her students. Her mother, a travel agent, instilled her wanderlust in Campbell. In addition to family trips with her husband and three children, she leads a student trip each summer and was off to China in June. Next summer, it’s Italy and Greece, and the year after that, the bucket list trip to Australia and New Zealand.
With her trademark high energy and a ready smile, Campbell also delivers some wise counsel.
“What’s the best advice you give your students?”
“You mean besides, ‘Wear comfortable shoes.’”
“I tell them books will make you smart.”