Ann Camacho is the editor of her students’ essays in Bookmarked. Ann has been an English teacher for more than 20 years. She currently teaches American literature at John W. North High School in Riverside, California. Many of her students are in the school’s International Baccalaureate program and/or AP classes. Ann also participates in the AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) college preparation program for students who have college aspirations but are falling short of their potential or who don’t believe college is within reach.
“We Read to Know We Are Not Alone”
Ann loves to read, have philosophical conversations, watch great dramas and romantic comedies, and find treasures in antique stores. Teaching has been her life’s passion and has been surpassed only by the time she spends raising her two girls. Though Ann loves traveling to faraway lands and learning about other people and customs, she is also content being a homebody, spending time with family and friends. She hopes to make a difference in the world through teaching literature, one book at a time. She lives in Riverside, California.
Q: What prompted you to collect the essays in Bookmarked?
A: I was reading This I Believe for my book club, and as I read the essays it occurred to me that my students had great wisdom and stories that they, too, could share. Because I root everything I do in the classroom in the literature we read, I asked myself, What if my students took a quote from any piece of literature they had read and anchored their own life philosophy around that quote? I gave out the assignment and the essays that started coming in were absolutely amazing! I knew at that point I had hit on a good idea.
Q: What was the most rewarding part of developing your book?
A: The entire process was actually wonderful, from the conception of the idea to the process of watching the essays come in and come together, to working with the staff at Free Spirit, who were all so amazingly considerate of my creative feelings toward the book. There is one cool thing that stands out. When my original title was reconsidered, I asked if I could come up with an alternate to the one the team had suggested. I went to Borders and sat at a computer for four hours, looking through the essays and plugging in possible book titles, pretty much to no avail. I noted that I should bookmark the ones that I liked, and then I thought, wow, bookmark, that’s kind of cool—old-fashioned, but current in its usage and the book was about how books had marked these kids’ lives—and when Gayle Brandeis, an accomplished writer and friend, suggested I make it a verb, the title Bookmarked was born.
Q: What book inspired you the most as a child?
A: Anne of Green Gables was an influential book for me as a young reader in so many ways. I really connected to the protagonist’s feelings of isolation as an orphan, of not having a family because I was adopted. Like Anne, I have created an extended family in my life, through close friendships and lifetime relationships. I also commiserated with Anne about not fitting in but loved how she refused to become anyone but herself and how she remained true to her character. Like Anne with an “e” I am not always adored or understood by the mainstream, but I have a few very close friends who accept and love me for who I am and feel very fortunate for this.
Q: What do you like best about working with your students?
A: I love teaching literature and sharing with young minds how books are a blueprint for living, a roadmap for our lives. I love sharing stories of my own experiences, and weaving them into the literature, knowing that I might be helping or making connections with a young person who is desperately in need of guidance. I love how my students teach me as much as I teach them . . . about life, myself, and others. Mostly, I love that I don’t ever watch the clock (except when adhering to a bell schedule). After 22 years of teaching, I am always amazed at how fast the day goes by—and how lucky I am to be a teacher.
Q: What makes you a “Free Spirit”?
A: I tend to create some pretty out-of-the-box projects for my students. I have them emulate situations from the books we read in their lives. For example, I have my students live in “poverty” for a week, like the farmers did in The Grapes of Wrath.
I also love Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and often take my girls for ice cream before dinner. My kids just think I’m weird, but you should see the look on their friends’ faces when they come with us!
Q: What do you think are the most important qualities about being a great teacher?
A: It is clear that authentic teaching is really the only way to have true success with your students. I think a great teacher is willing to be consistent, strong, and fair, but also vulnerable. A great teacher is willing to set and honor boundaries, but is also compassionate and connected with her students enough to understand the inconsistencies of life. A great teacher loves her subject matter and cares about sharing that wisdom, but is also open to insights and analyses her students can bring into the discussion. It is important to be a team player as a teacher, willing to support the unity of the school and the programs, but also willing to speak up when something isn’t in the best interest of education or the students. I think watching a great teacher in her classroom is like observing an artist at work, creating a tapestry of wisdom, stories, and connections, reminding us that “we are not alone.”
Read more about Bookmarked: Teen Essays on Life and Literature from Tolkien to Twilight.