Texas on the Trail


From Austin City Limits to the Iditarod Trail

Without further ado, my 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ patch is here!  The tradition for designing and wearing a patch on the trail has always been a special part of the Teacher on the Trail™ program.  The teacher creates a personal logo on an embroidered patch to commemorate his or her year, and it is placed on the parka and the sleeping bag that we all use on the trail.

Each patch shares something unique about that teacher: what state they are from, their school mascot, their passion for what they do, and special artwork that shows their personality and creativity.  

11659469_10200660430068722_4522956406147748977_nEach summer, the official sleeping bag with all the patches is handed over to the next teacher at the musher sign-up picnic at Iditarod Headquarters.  I remember when my friend, Erin Montgomery, the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, handed me the bag and I officially took over to begin my year.  I must admit I had already started thinking about the patch, and I felt the pressure to come up with a design that would show the world a little bit about me, my personality,  and my passion for teaching.  This was going to be a challenge!

Like most teachers, I turned to my students for help.  We brainstormed many ideas until we decided that an electric guitar design would be a brilliant choice to represent us.  Austin, Texas is called “The Live Music Capital of the World” for good reason after all!  IMG_3090

My niece, Taylor Volek, an incredible first-year art student in Austin, came to my home to help sketch out our idea.  She was not at all impressed with our musical reference because although a guitar would be a great patch design for a musician, it really didn’t reflect me as a person.  That is what a great brand does!  Of course she was right, so we started over and brainstormed other shapes and designs.

It was Taylor who convinced me to go big and embrace the Lone Star State.  I am the first Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ from Texas, so it seemed fitting  that my patch should have that unique and well-known shape as the background.  This also worked well for a brand, which was an interesting conversation I had with my students as we researched ideas in the classroom.

She did a wonderful job asking me questions about myself, my hobbies, how I taught in the classroom, as well as getting background information about Eanes Elementary School, my teaching home for nearly 20 years now.

She came up with a lovely design with a sweeping banner around the state.  The Texas flag would be on one side and the flag of Alaska on the the other.  Most teachers have a husky on their patches, and I wanted one as well.  In the end, the sketch brought together these two special places in my life and I loved its unique qualities.  I like being different, and my patch reflected that.

At this point, I turned to another family member, my step-brother Richard Wezensky, a veteran graphic designer in Dallas, Texas.  He took my niece’s design, and came up with 3 different versions of her original sketch, changing it a little with his own personal touches.

It was now my turn to finalize the design and have it made.  I must admit, I found this step to be a bit daunting.  I wanted to get it right.  I took my favorite design choice and sent it to a patch making company in Los Angeles.  They tweaked it a little and added and changed some wording, but I wanted a personal touch hidden in the patch, just for me.  Austin is not only known for its music, but it is also home to the largest urban bat colony in the world.  We love our Mexican free-tails that live under the Congress Avenue Bridge.  I support bat conservation efforts, and I have taught my students about Austin’s official “flying mammal” for nearly 20 years.  So, the patch company added a little bat on my patch, just for me.  Can you find it?

When my patches arrived in the mail this last week, my mother came in from out of town to sew them on.  This was the last, and most special piece of the process.  

Sharing this experience with my students has been great fun, and we learned a lot, too.  In the next post, I will present our lesson about designing and creating musher brands for pretend husky kennels in Writer’s Workshop.


The Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ sleeping bag


Follow my journey this year as 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. We have partnered with Skype as a virtual field trip experience, and I will be sending recorded video messages daily along the trail to classrooms around the world.  Sign up for a free Skype account first, and then join the “Iditarod Classroom Club” to follow along.  Remember, you must have a Skype account first, or you only be in my club for 24 hours as a guest!  Click the link below:

Iditarod Classroom Club