Hey! Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alone! Confessions of a Wanna Be…

For years I’ve thought of myself as a master teacher (that right there is what we call foreshadowing, and it usually portends some bad juju). I’m always going around dispensing teaching advice and solving the world’s education problems in two hour conversations over coffee or five hour conversations with roommates on UIL trips or in blog posts here or all over the Internet on twitter and Facebook and the Diane Ravitch blog…

So when my principal and assistant principal asked if I would be willing to take over our new AD’s 7th period senior English class with nine weeks left of school I said, “Yeah! It’ll be fun!!!!” (No really, all those !!! belong there. No, really, I said fun. With a bubbly smile and perky personality. And all the hubris of a 20-year veteran teacher–with all the answers–who’s had a blast the last 15 years teaching classrooms filled with kids who apply to take her class for the most part.)

The last time I taught English I was in my 20s. I could wear high heels and did, often…weird, weird, weird. My daughter was in early elementary school. Obviously, I’d forgotten the realities of teaching a required core subject. I longed for the days of literature circles and vocab tests and essays over real life issues.

And that hubris…well, it came back to bite me in the backside big time.

Those kids…

The worst class I ever taught was my first year. I taught all juniors except one group of freshmen. There were around 30 kids in last period, six girls, the rest boys. I had no freaking idea what I was doing and discipline was just not even on my radar. But I was also 25. And by the end of the first semester I loved that class and most of them liked me and we had a lot of fun. I’m even Facebook friends with some of those kids, so if you’re reading this, “HEY!”

The second worse class I taught was a couple years later. I’d volunteered to take on the juniors in “regular” classes. Classes that were supposed to be smaller for more individual time with students who struggled. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Those classes were huge. And their real purpose was because Honors English was too tough and they wanted a second tier option so kids wouldn’t be held back by the others or bothered by discipline issues. That quickly became apparent. My friends saw my roll sheets before school started and said they’d pray for me.

I LOVED those kids (for the most part) from day one. We had fun. I was still in my 20s and discipline still wasn’t all that great. Once I sat on the floor with a poster that said I AM CRAZY on it and held it in front of me until they shut up and let me talk. One boy said, “Miss, why you got that poster?” And another answered, “Because she wants us to know she might go nuts in here.”

Actually, what I wanted was for them to think I might just throw someone out the window. Not really, but maybe if they thought it was a possibility….

A fellow teacher and I had a stalker from one of those classes that year. One of the kids ate pages from my personal copy of The Last Picture Show.

And I still had fun. I’m even Facebook friends with some of those kids (not the stalker or the book eater), so if you’re reading this, “HEY!”

Fun kind of drives my education car. If you were in the MSU education department in the early 90s, you understand that. If not, well, just accept it as a fact.

Flash forward to two weeks ago and that hubris I mentioned earlier.

Day one was awesome. I was a rockstar. (Again with the foreshadowing and bad juju)

Day two was a disaster. But they were still along for the ride.

Day three was OHMYGODYOU’VEGOTTOBEKIDDINGMEWHOARETHESEPEOPLE(SPAWNSOFSATAN)ANDWHYAMIHERESOMEONECALLWALMARTINEEDANEWJOB.

I. Cried. In. Front. Of. The. Class.

Oh, teacher with all the answers….ha! ha! ha!

Day four I looked in the mirror and told myself to get over my whiny self. Fun was not driving my car. And I was done going to them. They came to my class.

Day five one of the kids who’s in an earlier media class with me said, “Yesterday was good.” He was talking about English. I was a little surprised. And I almost got a little cocky about my awesomeness. But then day five happened. I didn’t cry, but yeah….There’s probably a youtube video out there. If there is, please don’t tell me. It won’t be the first time, though. The first time was when one of my students (one of my now Facebook friends) and his cohort in crime decided to do their project on how to get D-Hall in 60 seconds or less. It worked.

When I got home last Friday I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry and maybe eat some ice cream. And Cake. And Peeps…because, you know, they have all those new flavors.

I couldn’t have a margarita or 10 because I have a no drinking when you’re super stressed policy. Those kids were not only keeping me from fun and my dream of awesome English teaching and my self-actualized reality of awesomeness, they were keeping me from tequila. This was not okay.

Monday of this week something in me changed. When they walked into my room, I greeted every student the way Spanish teacher Lisa Williams taught us at inservice once. And as the kids walked in my room I saw them as people–who were stripped of a teacher they liked because he got an awesome promotion–getting ready to face the realities of a world that kind of sucks on a regular basis these days. I mean we’re on the brink of a new Cold War and there’s all this hate and it costs a freaking fortune to go to school and we’re 36+ inches behind on rain and the wealth gap is growing at astronomical rates. But these kids…they’re excited and probably a little afraid and it doesn’t really matter if they get satire or not but it does matter that they know they matter and who cares if fun drives my car and I thought teaching English would be fun?

Tuesday of this week was ok. Sort of.

Wednesday of this week was ok.

Today was ok.

Tomorrow’s going to be ok.

Will it be awesome, amazing, wonderful, terrific? Probably not. They’re seniors in their last six weeks of school with a new teacher they didn’t want.

Is that okay?

Yeah.

Will I show up in that classroom ready to teach to the very best of my ability?

Yeah.

Have I learned a bajillion and twelve lessons in the last nine days?

Oh yeah.

And all those answers….it’s easy to have them when you live in a glass house.

The newsroom is a glass house in a lot of ways. I mean we have deadlines, but we also have people who WANT TO BE THERE and usually love us.

Confession: for years my friends have said, “You have no idea,” and I’ve said “I know,” but on the inside I’ve smugly thought they were wrong. I totally knew.

Well, I didn’t know. I still don’t know.

And the truth is I will never really know and that’s okay because the not knowing is what makes us seek answers and seeking answers is what really makes us grow as teachers and for years I thought I knew, which means in a lot of ways I was stagnant, and that’s a scary bad place to be as a teacher. Whatever else happens, I’m no longer stagnant. And that’s something I can’t thank these kids for enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Yer Whining….

Okay, I KNEW this revision was going to be tough. I’d done a quick pass once. Sent the work to some friends (even though I know better than to do that in the throes of I finished a book! adrenaline.

My friends who read the work were sweet. They said things like “I really like Sam and Patty but…” and “It seems like you could use a little more something….” and “you know, I can’t really see anything in the story. It needs some fleshing out maybe.” and…. “Your end conflict…completely unbelievable.”

So I put Sam and Patty’s story aside to look at later. And I drafted another book. And I came back to Sam and Patty and I loved the story still. I mean so what that it’s just a bunch of dialogue with some paint swatches thrown in for color every once in a while. I agreed totally with the end conflict cliche I’d written, so I fixed that. But something wasn’t right.

So I put Sam and Patty’s story aside to look at later. And I drafted another book. And I came back to Sam and Patty and OH DEAR GOD. I’ve written some awesome dialogue. For paper dolls. This poor story couldn’t be more flat. It isn’t a real story at all!!! It’s a detailed outline. A beginning. But nowhere near done.

And so the revision work…the real revision work not editing work…starts.

That’s my self-publishing word of warning. It’s easy to hit publish on a book that’s not ready. Find people you trust to give you feedback on whether the story is ready. And read a ton. I know the books I’ve read the last three months helped me see the gaping holes in this story. I mean the whole time I was reading and making notes tonight I was thinking What Would Jill Shalvis Do? AND Where is the Karen Templeton Emotion? And write a ton. Those other two drafts I’ve written are drafts…I know that. The second one is better than this one, but it’s still a draft. The third one is waaaayyyyy better than this one and the next, but it’s still a draft.

I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Friends who so kindly let me know this book wasn’t ready without totally killing my writer soul…thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

 

 

I’m Voting Yes

I just left the community town hall meeting the board and superintendent did to give facts about the bond and to allow community comments. The meeting cemented my choice to vote yes in May.

ImageThis year for the first time I’m worried about my students’ competitive chances after they leave Rider. My students are not receiving a 21st century education. Their peers across the state have access to technology that should be common but isn’t in WFISD. It can’t be without spending a ton of money to improve our infrastructure. That ton of money doesn’t exist. The district has spent money trying to update our old buildings to work with the increasing technological needs of students and teachers, but we haven’t been able to keep up with the demand. Computers alone won’t fix this problem. Our techs work tirelessly trying to update an already antiquated system. We’ve reached the point where we can keep pouring money into the old buildings and still have the old buildings that can’t keep up or we can invest in new. In Texas investing in new means passing a bond.

I keep hearing people say we could pass a “different” bond at a later date, but the bond I’ve heard floated is one that the majority of voters have said they would in no way support. It’s too expensive. Saying no now only delays the process. It takes three years to open a school and this proposal has already been in the works for two. We can’t afford to wait.

The May 10 bond isn’t perfect, but it’s the right direction for students and teachers in WFISD. If we don’t do something, we’re going to lose students to surrounding area schools (we already do; that trend will grow), and we’re going to lose amazing younger teachers to districts that can offer higher pay and 21st century facilities.

I love the tradition in Wichita Falls schools. We can bring those traditions with us to the new campus if the bond passes. This bond is right for Wichita Falls. Change is never easy, but it is essential for growth. If we don’t pass the bond, students and teachers lose. The city loses.  I’m voting yes to bond and build.

 

 

 

Another rough draft done….

…and now the real work starts.

I started writing for publication the fall of 1997. Back then I wrote religiously.

And after five years of rejections, I started fiddling around. I pretended to write. I wrote in spurts. I played at being a writer. But those rejections slayed my writing spirit. Another five years of rejections killed that spirit.

Honestly, even though I’d write a book a year–usually–, that book wasn’t heartfelt. It was almost fearful. I tried to write to the rules and to what I thought Harlequin would want because Harlequin was my dream.

Two and a half years ago (or maybe three) I put my thesis online. Honor and Lies was my heart. My professors loved it…which isn’t always a good thing. I mean, you don’t want an audience of professors to be your only fans.

But what did I have to lose? The book was sitting on my computer and in the MSU library. It was a tribute to my grandma, and I wanted to give it a chance to be shared by others.

A couple months later I published a couple romances and that was that. I figured I had a backlist of written works, I’d go through them and post them and whatever happened, happened.

Only I started The Artist’s Way with colleague Scotty Coppage and I started working again. It was bits and spurts at first.

The first book I wrote to self-publish was Dead Girl Walking, the first of the Sharlene Gallagher guardian angel mysteries. And since then I’ve written everything to self-publish.

Last summer I came up with a business plan and a publishing schedule. And my arm quit working.

If you know me in real life or kept up with the blog, you know I mean it quit working completely.

For a month I cried because all my plans were flowing away with every day the arm got worse. Not only that, but with each non-writing day I saw myself growing closer to the “writer” Mary Beth. The girl who wrote some, when the muse hit, when she wanted to, instead of the committed writer, working on her craft.

Right before NANO one of my former students Emma found out about my arm and suggested the Dragon software.

In two weeks I wrote an novella using spiral notebooks and dictating to Dragon. The arm wasn’t an excuse. Since then I’ve worked on novels and novellas. I haven’t worried about the business side. I embraced the creative side and the excitement of creating characters and worlds and conflicts.

I’m not writing for anyone but me.

And I’m loving every minute of it.

Suddenly I’m not okay publishing the books I’ve got lined up on my computer as possibilities just because they’re done. I’ll go over them later. I want them to be the very best they can be. Sexy, scary, heartfelt…whatever it is they’re supposed to be, I want them to be that times a ten million.

Self-publishing gave me this even though I haven’t published a word since August 25.

I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words since then. I re-discovered my voice, my art.

And I’ve learned to trust in my creative soul. To pray first then write and let the words work.

I’m not ready to publish the books I’ve written since August 25. They’re all in different stages of the revision or editing process, but I will be soon.

For now, I’m happy that I’m writing and creating and loving it and hating it and working the craft.

It’s so funny to think that because of self-publishing I’m writing more–and better, I think–even though I’m not publishing a word.

<3

 

 

 

The World Turns…

When I started this blog, I didn’t have Facebook or twitter or Pinterest. My daughter was in junior high. I’d lost a lot of weight on WW (and then gained and lost and gained and lost…). It was super bowl time and I talked about strawberries a lot. I wrote a lot. I read a lot. I posted crazy photos. I dreamed about traveling. I was a cat mom and never thought about owning a dog. I ate carbs all the time (thus the weight gain and loss, gain and loss). My grandparents were alive and I went to stay with them every once in a while, usually with my daughter. My grandma sang all the time. She and her best friend my Aunt Helen let me take their photo at family reunion, I belonged to a yahoo group called catarom and spent a god-awful amount of time reading emails. I hadn’t ever heard of education reform or the WFISD Leadership Cohort.

It’s crazy how much has changed.

Those changes are why I love this blog. It’s so amazing to walk back through life and see how I’ve grown. It’s also awesome to connect with readers and writers and just say hey.

Today I wrote 7k words. I still write a lot.

I’m up to chapter 7 in a Karen Templeton book. I still read a lot.

I deleted twenty emails and kept about 50 I need to read. I might get to 10 of them. I rarely read email now.

I checked in on facebook and twitter for what was supposed to be a second but that turned into an hour. Facebook and twitter consume time if I let them.

I was grumpy about some things and then a friend posted asking for prayers for a family member and it was like God smacked me with some perspective. I still learn a lot.

Happy reading and writing.

Hopefully I finish a book draft tomorrow before lesson plans.

 

Mid-book Freak Out #writerzen

Mid-book freak out time.

That moment I sit staring at the computer screen thinking any of the following in any order or maybe even all at once:

Sucks.

This is awful.

Sucks…sucks…sucks

What was I thinking when I sat down to write tonight?

Wait…what is this character’s name…oh dear GOD I’ve called her the wrong name the last twenty pages…

Conflict?! Who needs conflict.

blah-blah-blah-blah

Hey, this sentence starts with a capital and there’s a period at the end. That’s good for something, right?

Oh wait…nvr mind.

Dear God, is that even in English?!

ThisIsARomanceButThere’sNoRomance. How did I forget the romance?!?!?!?!?!?

Kill someone. That always makes things interesting.

You could just write down the Big Fat Man story. Everyone loves that. Drank a barrel of water, ate a barrel of mush, gobble, gobble, gobble…

Hmmmm. I have a new Karen Templeton to read. Maybe I should take a reading break and study the craft.

It’s Friday. I need a drink.

Or 10.

Sucks, sucks. sucks.

Coffee, coffee, coffee.

Genius.

Just joking.

I’m blogging first instead of writing first. That’s almost as bad as stopping to wash dishes but not as bad as stopping to sweep the floors.

Twitter. Twitter has the answers. Twitter is like writer zen. Writer zen…what is this I speak of? #twitterzen It could trend.

The end. I could just slap the end on it now and call it done.

Even though it’s not done.

But that’s the whole point of crappy first draft, right?

Sucks, sucks, sucks.

Not getting better if I don’t go write.

Ok.

The kill someone idea sounds good. Who cares that it’s not suspense…at all…not even a little.

Wait. The Stars are on. Their magic number is 2. What am I doing writing?

Choices. Decisions. So many directions to go.

Wah. Wah. Wah. All the way home.

See you on the flip side.

#writerzen Yeah, that’s awesome. And an oxymoron.

Dang it.

 

 

Finding Flaws

Sometimes you need a lesson. I’m getting one now.

Thank God for lessons.

A long time ago author Helen Myers, told my (now disbanded :( )romance writing group if you’re going to write, you have to be willing to bleed on the page. I’m trying to channel the emotions into the story I’m working on. I think I might need to take up kickboxing and channel some emotion in that direction, too. (Okay, not really. If you know me at all, you know there is zero percent chance of me kick boxing. I would hurt myself.)

It’s funny because in critiques I’m always telling my friends they’re committing the nice-nice sin. Making things too easy on the characters. I see it in their work because it’s a huge flaw in mine. I like the people I create. I don’t want to put them through hell. But those struggles make the book so much better!

 

 

 

 

The Secret #amwriting #mywana

I spoke to a group of students tonight about interviewing. I told them a secret: I’m a super shy extrovert. I know, weird. But that’s me. I want to talk once I get started, but until then, I’m terrified.

I ended up talking about way more than interviewing. The whole “write a crappy first draft, don’t wait for the muse” thing, the whole “no butt-reporting” (trying to write a story while sitting on your butt in the newsroom-ahahahahaha) thing, the whole “have a conversation, don’t interview” thing. But the most important thing I said–even bigger than read a lot and write a lot–is to just do it. Just do it and keep doing it and fail a million times but just keep doing it and then one day, you wake up and you’ve figured it–whatever it is–out.

You can’t be afraid of failing, of falling on your face, of doing life wrong if you’re ever going to find success.

That little gem applies to everything in life.

Ira Glass says it better than me. (Click the link for an awesome Ira Glass video. It’s only a minute. You want to click the link–promise)

You’re welcome.

 

District UIL

Spent this weekend in Denton where we won third and fifth in features, which earns us a trip to Regionals. Whew! I always want to make it to the next level. For a while I was used to dominating district. I have all these team champ plaques. That kind of gets in your brain and makes you think you’re all that.

Two years without that team championship…not even close to that made me sad at first.

But then I changed my mindset.

How amazing and awesome is it that I teach in a state with such strong scholastic journalism?!?!

I’m a big believer in scholastic J. I teach classes on the first amendment that begin with this:

Student Journalists, you are the final stand for the student voice. You are protectors of the constitution. Without you, the first amendment falls, and if it fails, democracy fails.

I want student journalists to understand how important what they do is.

It’s easy to lose sight of that in this world where celebrities and missing planes take priority over soldiers dying and the destruction of the public school. So much of the news has become something else, but not in schools. In schools, our papers are strong.

And that is awesome.

I’m thankful we’re going to Regionals. I’m thankful Regionals is in Abilene instead of San Angelo. And I can’t wait to see my friends, fellow advisers who understand the importance of scholastic J.

***

Yes, I’m still working on the next Sharlene Gallagher book. It’s with beta readers now, so it won’t be long! Her next adventure is great fun. :)

 

 

Headlines, Hashtags and Memes

This morning I woke up and reached for my glasses. That’s always first.

Before I do anything else I check my news apps and then twitter and then facebook. It’s a serious problem.

I didn’t realize how serious of a problem until today.

I am losing at least 30 minutes every morning on headlines, hashtags and memes.

A long time ago I read (and loved) the Mary Kay autobiography. In it she said to wake up early every day and it would add whole days to your productivity at the end of the month. I don’t think there’s a headlines, hashtags, meme section in 7 Habits.

Me thinks I’ve got an issue that needs a little fixin’ up.

Probably more of an addiction.

Maybe worse than my coffee addiction.

Ack.