Category Archives: Education

Letter to my daughter on the eve of her fifth birthday

You were born on a Monday.

I was born on a Monday.

I can’t believe you’re five. It’s not possible.

You are so eager to grow up. You can’t wait for Kindergarten.

I can.

You can’t wait until you are bigger so you can sit in the front seat of the car.

I want you to stay in the back.

I want to reach back through time and space to hold you again when you could fit into one arm.

I remember the first time I heard you cry. You were three seconds old.  That sound is permanently in my brain. Dementia couldn’t take it away.

You see at one point the doctors told us that you could have special needs and would have difficulty growing up. I hope you never experience that fear.

When I heard you scream I knew your lungs were okay. The doctor wouldn’t let me see you at first.

For an eternity, I heard you cry, I was not allowed to see you. Then he called me over.

He turned to me and said, “Congratulations. She’s perfect.”

He was right.

You are so eager to enter school. But I am so afraid that school will stifle your individuality. And remember, your daddy is a teacher.

But I know you are an extrovert. You love people. School will provide you a wealth of people to meet.

You make friends as easily as fish swim. It’s amazing.

As you enter five, I am going to do my best to make sure you can be as creative as you want to be. I don’t want the world to end that. I am going to be that difficult parent as I defend you in school.

You won’t remember this, but we talked about rhyming words, you didn’t say cat-bat, you said, “You mean like light and white?”

I had to stop, think, and say, “Yes. That is correct.”

I’ve had first graders who couldn’t make that connection.

You memorized an entire Frozen book, and then you told me to read “the wrong word,” so that you could then read the correct word.

You once cut out a shape and sang about trapezoids. I looked at the shape you made. It was a trapezoid.

I didn’t know what a trapezoid was until middle school.

How do you do it?

I am selfish, you are the greatest thing to ever happen to me.

I am thankful to be your daddy.

(This post originally appeared on my Steemit blog.)

In defense of snowdays

It’s a snow day here.  Three inches of snow with an expected couple of inches of ice on top.

And yes, I am home today.  My daughter is with me and so are the neighbor’s children.  I am not child free on a snow day.

My dog loves the snow. Seriously, she's like a snow plow on paws.

My dog loves the snow. Seriously, she’s like a snow plow on paws.

But let’s talk about how teachers are paid.

I am contracted to work for 7 hours and 15 minutes a day.  That’s what my salary is based on.

Sounds great doesn’t it?

But if I only worked those 7 hours and 15 minutes I would show up only a few minutes before the first students arrive at my door, and then I would be leaving as soon as I dropped the last one off on the bus.

But that’s not how my job works. AT MINIMUM I work an eight hour day.  And on those days I leave with a feeling that I still have a ton of work to do.

Most days I work 9 hours.  And on those days I still leave with the dreaded feeling I have a ton to do.

Some days I am at school 10 hours.  On those days I leave exhausted, with the dreaded feeling I still have a ton to do.

So everyday, I work unpaid hours.

Everyday.

No overtime.  None.

IF I worked only eight hours a day, that would work out to three hours and 45 minutes of unpaid time every week.

Multiply 3.75 hours a week out to a school year of 38 weeks equals 142.5 hours of unpaid time.

Now I realize that a salary really means work as along as you have to in order to complete the job. 

But still.

Snow days I consider nature’s way of giving teacher’s comp time.

Now, I have to go enter more grades.

Visiting an elementary school as a visiting author and Idea-Mating to come up with more ideas.

I was invited to visit and share my writing at Potomac elementary in November.  Thank you to Beverly Blue for the invite.  I also got to share the day with AJ Cosmo and Verlyn Tariton.)

There I am at the top giving lessons in the gym. Thanks again to Potomac Elementary.

There I am at the top giving lessons in the gym. Thanks again to Potomac Elementary.

I met with students from Kindergarten to 6th grade.  I met with seven different groups.  If that’s sounds intimidating, just remember teachers do that everyday.

Everyday.

Instead of me just reading from Kevin and the Seven Lions, although I did that, I talked mostly about generating ideas for writing.

I shared a lesson that I do in my classes at the start of every year.  First, one side of the paper you write all the different things you love.  Be it football, baseball, ponies, pizza, cars, Disney, doesn’t matter just put it down.  Now you have a list of things things you can write about about.

But we’re not done yet.

On the other side of the paper write down things you hate, or don’t like.  The loathe side of the list.  Homework, brussel sprouts, tests, whatever, put it down.  Now you have more things you can write about.

This what I call my Love it-Loathe it List.  All of my students have one at the beginning of their writing journals.

Now we take it a step further.  Take one thing from the love side of the paper and one from the loathe side of the paper and combine them.  Pizza and brussel sprouts, Football and spiders, now all of a sudden you have a third or more things to write about.

Idea mating, two ideas coming together and making more ideas.

With the sixth grade group we came up with football playing turtles.  (For some reason, someone hated turtles.  Turtles.)  We discussed that with turtles you combine turtles, ninjas, mutants, and your teenage years, and suddenly you have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Idea mating at it’s finest.

I taught the kids there should never be a day when you say I have nothing to write.

Never. Ever.

I don’t allow it my class.  When it happens I refer my students back to the Love-Loathe it list.

There is always something to write about.

Everyday.

(For more ideas on creating ideas.  Check out Claudia Azula-Altucher’s book Becoming an Idea Machine.  See my review of that book here.)

 

 

Getting Ready for my first school visit

Next week I am visiting Potomac Elementary School in Northern Virginia.  I got this picture below.  I will be also be visiting the school with AJ Cosmo as well.

I am looking forward to not only meeting the students, but also meeting teachers.  Having teachers support your work is amazing and as I have mentioned in the past a great way to develop an audience.  When teachers and librarians recommend books, they recommend them to dozens if not hundreds of students over time.

If you write children’s books, get yourself into the school libraries.

I am blessed to have this opportunity, I am looking forward to it!

Seriously, never in a million years would I have thought this would happen.

Seriously, never in a million years would I have thought this would happen.

So what happens when everyone can publish a book?

Today at school I had students ask me about Dolbin School for the Extraordinary.

publish a book

 

He asked “Who published you?”

I replied, “I did it.”

“You can’t do that.  Who did it regular?”

“I did it.”

“But you can’t do that.  If that is true than anyone can publish a book!”

“True.  But they don’t.”

I thought later, why in 5th grade, are students are already  in the “This is way it must be done!”

No children.  There are no more gatekeepers.  That is the lesson.

Idea Mating-How to make something new

I am a teacher.  I know that a lot of you that read this are also teachers.  I know that a few of you are writers, or want to be writers.

So let’s combine those.

First, teachers teach writing.

Second, I am a teacher, and I write books.

Third, I want more teachers to write.  I think a lot of people don’t write because they aren’t sure how to get ideas.

I’ve written about it before, but the best way to get ideas for writing is simply to write first.

I’ve said it before.  I will say it again:

Writing first.  Ideas second.

Now, once you get the ideas going, you don’t just generate a list of ideas.

As a teacher, for years, I always taught my class to generate a list of ideas they could write about.  They would keep this list in their journal, so if they were ever stuck for an idea, and they always were, they could refer to this list of ideas.  Invariably though students would grow bored with the list and consequently they would have nothing again to write about, in spite having a list of ideas.

But this I have begun to teach my students to combine ideas.  Take two things on their list, and create something new.

Combine your ideas with other people's ideas and get something new.

Combine your ideas with other people’s ideas and get something new.

My latest book, Baseball and Aliens, was born that way.  I took two things I really liked, playing baseball and watching alien movies, and made something completely new.

This year I my students made a Love it or Loathe it list.  They list things they LOVE and things they HATE, from there they can choose something to write.  This year I added another element.  They can combine something from the LOVE side with the LOATHE side.

For example, I love pizza.  I hate math.  (Not me, but what a student would write.)  Now I have an image of pizzas that multiply when you eat them.  I also imagine making pizza in the shapes of numbers.  Or math word problems with only pizza involved.

In that example I took two things, combined them and came up with three new things.  And if I spent more time I could have come up with more.

The best ideas come from the results of two or more ideas combined.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the combination of a fairy tale, animation, and the idea that cartoons could be feature length.  Star Wars is the combination of Flash Gordon serials, the work of Joseph Campbell, and Japanese Director Akira Kurosawa.  Facebook is the combination of stalking and an old Rolodex.  And the classic email is simply the combination of mail and electronics.  Great ideas are the combination of other ideas.

This is how you create new ideas.

Make a list.  Take two things on that list and combine.

BAM!  New idea.

A new creation!

 

By the way, if you like this, and you want free short stories, a free books before they are available on Amazon then I would love for you to join my Insider’s List.  I send out updates a few times a month.

 

 

 

 

Four reasons why teachers should write books

This is an updated post that I guest posted over at AJ Cosmo’s blog.  Check my interview I did with him a year ago.

I am a teacher.  I think more teachers should write books.  They just should.

Cats.  Internet.  I win.

Cats. Internet. I win.

Here are four reasons why.

 

1)      Writing a book is hard

 good-writing-is-hard-work

 

Even in this new world of indie publishing, with the gatekeepers falling away, completing a book is still hard.  I have seen teachers tell me they have an idea for a book, but as time moves along-no book.

A colleague told me she always wanted to write a book, but she had no idea of what to write.  Another one apparently started, but never finished because the illustrator was an unpaid family friend who didn’t complete the work.  So the project was abandoned.

Finishing a book is hard.

Which is exactly why it needs to be done.  When you finish such a difficult task students will look at you differently as a teacher.  Your colleagues will look at you differently.  Your boss will look at you differently-with more respect.

 

2)      You will inspire your students

 

This past year I taught fifth grade.  After sharing illustrations and rough drafts with my students, they all were inspired to write their own books in class.  During literacy station time, a lot of students spent time creating illustrations and writing their own stories.

There was a whole series about Zompires in my classroom.  What is a Zompire?  Why the combination of a zombie and a vampire. Apparently zompires don’t eat your brains, they just suck your blood.  But you need garlic and to cut their heads off to stop them.  I liked reading about Zompires.  I would actually have to remind students to work on other projects outside of making books.  I had a whole chart up in my room about it.  Too much book writing, nice problem to have as a teacher.

As a side, I teach in a high poverty school with a lot of English language learners.  These aren’t students with lots of books in their house.

See my link about my first fan fiction.

 

3)      You will bring added value to your career

 

I taught first grade for several years.  In Virginia, the fifth graders are tested in writing.  I published a book.  Boom.  I got moved to fifth grade.

Moving from first to fifth was a challenge.  But I enjoyed the challenge.  Having experience at first and fifth brings me a lot of value.

Teachers teach read reading and writing.  With a book a teacher will bring credibility to their lessons, students and colleagues will respect you more.

When you write a book, BAM!, you’re an expert.

School administrators need experts in their buildings and their classrooms.  Write a fiction or a nonfiction book, doesn’t matter, put it out in Kindle and paperback format and you are now an expert.  You’re an author.  You’re officially different.  And different in a very good way.

4)      You will experience a tear in the space-time continuum

Space time continum

What! You say?  Stay with me.

Early in the year I ordered classroom copies of two of my books, Kevin and the Three-headed Alien, and Dolbin School for the Extraordinary, and put them in my class library.  The students competed on who would read each book first.

During one lesson, the students were to get out a book we were reading.  One student was reading one of my books.  He didn’t put my book away.  I instructed him again to put away other books and get the book we were working on.  He still didn’t comply.  He was more interested in reading my book.  I was so confused.  The writer in me jumped for joy.  The teacher in me was frustrated.  My body was split in two over the meta-physical problem that was occurring right in front of me.  Seriously.  Who has this problem?

Who has students who would rather read books written by their teacher, as opposed to books the school system tells them to read?  I do.  I have that problem.

I love having that problem.

I want you to have that problem as well.

 

P.S.
One of my books Dolbin School for the Extraordinary is free for a couple of more days.  Check it out.

P.P.S. Join my mailing list to be the first to know when my new picture book comes out.

Another reason why teachers should write books

I have written before about why teachers should write more books.  I had another experience today, that I wished I could share with others.

I presented to my class a couple of copies of Kevin and the Triple Creature today.  I had several students who were particularly asking me to be the first to read them when they would be ready.  I learned to predetermine who would get the books first.  I almost had a, let’s call it an “aggressive disagreement” between students, when I dropped off copies of Kevin and the Three-Headed Alien.  Lesson learned.

You could get picky and say that phrase didn't come from the above scene.  You could.

You could get picky and say that phrase didn’t come from the above scene. You could.

(Aggressive disagreements are similar to aggressive negotiations that Jedi’s have.  Just minus the lightsabers.)

How many other writers can say they had to stop an “aggressive disagreement” over being the first to read their books?

Today my two students brought their copies of the book with them to lunch.  They read them while walking to lunch.

Those copies came from this box.

Those copies came from this box.

I wish you could experience that.

This is why teachers need to write books.  I have so many teachers tell me they want to write a book.  If you could experience this, you would be motivated finish that book.  Students will be impressed that you wrote a book.  They will be motivated to write like you.  They will send you their books for you to review.

Teachers, write your books.

The math behind getting creative stuff done.

Looking at my posts I realize that I have been neglectful of this blog over the holidays.  Thanksgiving, Christmas and work responsibilities can get overwhelming.  But stuff still gets done.

In 2013 I put out three books for children.  I have a lot of teachers ask how I was able to put out three books in the past year, while also teaching.  First, let me say that there are other writers that are able to get more work out than I have this year.  I try not to compare myself to others in how much work gets down or how successful it is.  But I fail at that.  I am human.  I compare.

Maybe that is why teachers ask me how I have done it, they’re comparing themselves to me.  So here goes my plan.  And it is very simple.

Maybe I am stealing from Tim Ferris here.  I don’t know.  He advocates a 4 hour work week.  I am not even suggesting that much for a side project.

15 minutes a day.

That’s it.  That’s my goal.

15 minutes a day equals 250 words.

Just 15 minutes a day.

Just 15 minutes a day.

During a normal day I teach 5th grade.  That alone is enough.  Lesson plans, meetings, parent conferences, grading.  You know, teaching.

Then there is family time.  I have a two year old in the house.  I want to spend as much time as possible with her during this time.  So I do.

But if I set a goal of 15 minutes a day I can get stuff done.  Not blazing fast.  But stuff gets done.  And that’s the goal.  Get stuff done.

Here is the math.

For my writing speed, 15 minutes is about 250 words. 250 words is about half a regular sized paper.

With 250 words a day you can have the text to a picture book in 4 days.

With 250 words a day you can have a rough draft of a 10,000 word early chapter book in 40 days.  (At that rate you can have 9 rough drafts done a year.)

With 250 words a day you can have a rough draft done for a 50,000 word novel in 200 days.

But 15 minutes is the minimum.  Most of the time I go over that 15 minutes.  You get in the flow of writing and you can’t leave.  Before you know it, you have 500-1000 words in front of you.  But aim for 15 minutes or 250 words.  Set yourself up to win.

If you set yourself up, to say, I am going to write 1,000 words a day.  Well.  You write only 750 words.  You’ve failed.  Set a goal of 15 minutes a day and you can easily surpass your goal daily.

What happens when you set a goal and you consistently fail at it?

You stop trying.  You’re human.

What if you set a goal and consistently surpass it?

You keep going.  Before you know it you find that you are creating on a regular basis.

In order to help me with my goal, I am writing this on the first laptop I have ever owned.  It is my hope that the laptop will help me get more writing done.  I won’t be stuck to the desktop to get work done.  So far it seems to be working.

But ultimately we are busy.  We have work, family, friends.  But small chunks of time really begin to add up.  Before you know it you have a work of art that you can be proud of.  All while holding a day job, with family responsibilities.

The math examples are directed at writing, but the concept can be used for any sort of creative side project, photography, illustration, design.

And what happens when you finally publish that first picture, chapter book, or novel?

Well, your life changes.

And it changes for the better.

Teachers Should Write More Books

I know that several of you that follow this blog are teachers.  I also know from talking with you online and in person several of you are trying to write your own books.  And several of you have just thought about writing books.  If you have just thought about making a book but can’t think of an idea.  Get over it, start writing ,and make a book.  It will make you a better teacher.

Write a book just to see it here.  Trust me.  (P.S. image not from  my school library)

Write a book just to see it here. Trust me. (P.S. image not from my school library)

After years of teaching first grade, I was moved this year to teach fifth grade.  I was surprised that several of my students did not know about my Kevin books, because the first one is in our school library and it was mentioned on the school announcements.  I know.  How do they not know!
So recently I brought in a copy of Kevin and the Three-headed Alien, and I wrote the book with third graders in mind, but these 5th graders were competing to read one of the copies I brought to class.  A lesson learned is that in can be very hard to narrow a children’s book to a very specific age group.

Three-Headed Alien Paperback-1
My class asked if everyone could get a copy.  What a wonderful request.  A request that I cannot afford.  (Some how people seem to think I get the books for free.  Cheaper? Yes.  Free? No.) But with two copies in the class students have a waiting list to read the book.  You are missing out if you never experience that as a teacher.

To alleviate stress in the class I changed my lesson plan, (don’t tell my admin) and did a shared reading lesson on my own book.  I read the first chapters and the students made connections with the text.  They made personal connections with the text and made connections with other texts.
As a writer this is unbelievable access to how your market is connecting with your work. As a teacher I have engaged my students more. Now they are creating their own books in class. One student told me they were going to upload their book to Amazon. Engaging your students and inspiring them to create their own work is why more teachers should be writing.

P.S. I have another book out soon.  It would be great if you joined my mailing list.  If you are on the list you will get news of the new book first.  Don’t worry I don’t spam, I am too busy.  Click here to join the list.  Thanks!

P.P.S.

Seriously, people go write those books.