Monday, April 29, 2013

When the Stomach Betrays a Student

*from a chapter on bodily functions* 
The other caveat to Thou Shalt Stay In Thy Seat is if you are about to be sick. Any kind of sick, I don’t care what end it is about to come spraying out of, get out of my room. Go, run RUN to the bathroom. Even if you don’t make it all the way there it is still better than doing it in the classroom.
Mostly, I’m talking about puke. Vomit. Spew. Throw up. Sick. Some children throw up more than frat boys determined to convince themselves they are having a good time. The trick is getting that moment of warning before it happens. They know it is about to happen. But how much time to do you have? How far are they from the door? Some students feel it coming far enough in advance. “Mr. Robertson...I don’t feel good...” A child about to lose it has a look. A pale, sickly pallor. An experienced teacher has seen it before.
“Go. Go to the bathroom. Go!”
This might seem harsh. Maybe you think I should ask very nicely what is wrong and what they had to eat. Nope, now is not the time for that. Vesuvius is bubbling and you don’t know when it is going to blow. Urgency prevents a fare-thee-well. Yes, throwing up will probably ruin that student’s day. But throwing up in the classroom will ruin the entire class’s day. That is a smell that does not come out. Sympathetic puking becomes a real concern. Not just for the students either. I’m ok around a lot of fluids, but those smells...I struggle to keep it together. I’m not above taking a class outside for the day. You, of course, do your best not to embarrass the sick child. I remind the class that this happens, sometimes people get sick, and I praise the ill one for getting out of the classroom in time. Even if they only make it to the grass outside the room that is still better than doing it in class. May you never experience a bus sick child. Trapped in a warm, enclosed can... *bjork*

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Second Draft Done- Plans for Forward Motion

I've finished the second draft of He's The Weird Teacher- and other things students whisper about me. Somehow during the edit I added around 8,000 words, bringing the current total to about 73, 500 words. I added at least one chapter, maybe two between drafts because I remembered stories that I wanted to tell. I also found places where I wasn't clear and I needed to extrapolate more. Every writing class I've ever had tells me when you edit you're supposed to lose text, and I tried. I really did. I cut a bunch of things. I'm trying not to be precious with my words. But right now, at this moment, I've very happy with the product I have. I think it says everything that I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it. I feel like it conveys my voice rather nicely. I've got the file shared with a couple of readers, who are in various places through the book. So far I'm getting good feedback. Lots of positive comments, and helpful edits. I'm asking my readers to to double duty as line editors and content checkers. They are asked to both make sure the words are spelled correctly and punctuation isn't bad, and also be sure the ideas therein aren't insane. It's been very helpful.
I don't have a completion timeline yet. I think I need to put the text to the side for a few days, let the readers read, and let the words cook before I go back in for another pass. I have decided to go the self publishing route. The company who helped my friend Vanessa get her excellent ultrarunning book, The Summit Seeker, published and for sale looks like the place for me. The price is right, they do all the work from converting the file into an e-pub to getting it on amazon to getting paperbacks out, leaving me with little to do but promote promote promote.
That's where you come in, dear readers. I'm going to be asking for lots of help when the book is finally real. Please share it with your teacher friends, your student-teachers friends, your friends who like teachers. Post in on Twitter and Facebook and Google+. All I'm going to have for promotion is word of mouth. I don't expect to make a ton of money on this, that's not why I wrote it. But it would be nice to sell a couple to people who don't know me personally. I'd be lying if I didn't secretly hope that somehow Jon Stewart's booking people got copies of it and they decided Jon would love to talk to me. That isn't a fake interview I've conducted in my head on long bike rides as far as you know. But Jon would really like the book. That's all I'm saying.
Anyway, that's where I'm at right now. I'd appreciate anyone who likes what they've read so far linking to this blog on their stuff, especially if your circles mix with circles of people who would probably enjoy the book. Every new person is a potential ripple. If you're on the twitters I'm hashtagging tweets about the book with #HesTheWeirdTeacher.
Thanks for reading. Monday I'll post another excerpt.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Flip Them the Bird!

*from a chapter on distractions*
Schools are placed where the unpredictable happens all the time. That is the result of having a large number of children of various levels and backgrounds collected in one place. A place where nature also exists. Nothing ruins a lesson like nature.
I have had birds fly through my classroom and perch on a stack of books. You could be Jaime Escalante, you are not getting anyone to focus on fractions with a bird in the room. That bird will be the center of attention until you can get it to fly away. How does one get a bird to fly out of a room? This wasn’t a class in college. It wasn’t a lesson. I took no Avian Distractions 101. I don’t want to chase it around the room with a yardstick. What if I hit it on accident? Do you want to murder or cripple a bird in front of your class? I don’t want to run at it wildly waving my arms and making hooting noises. What do birds, and most other animals, do when they are startled? Yeah, I don’t need to be cleaning that up, adding to the already ruined lesson. The best thing to do, it turns out, it to shut all the windows, turn off the lights, and open one door. The bird should fly to the light. Should. Otherwise I’m taking my class outside. I’m giving up the room to the bird. He wins. We yield.

Monday, April 15, 2013

First Draft Complete & Now Thinking On Next Steps

I finished the first draft of the book over the weekend. It came out to just over 65,000 words as it stands right now, which is perfectly fine for me. The whole idea going into it was that the book would be as long as the book would take. Most novels are suggested to be between 50-75k words minimum. Once I broke the 50k mark I was fine.
Now comes the hard part- editing. I've never been a great editor of my own work. I'm lucky in that I have a bunch of friends who are reading the book for me and who will hopefully help me find all the stupid mistakes. I'm going to have to read it too and fix all the words and sentences that got gobbeldy-gooked up going from my brain to my fingers to the page.
There's also the matter of publishing. I didn't write the book so that it sits on my computer, never to be seen by human eyes. I'm investigating different ways of getting it out there into the world. I've got a friend who self-published her own book and it seems to be doing very well. I'm looking into literary agents too. Right now I'm leaning towards the self-publishing route. I don't know. I'm torn between wanting to get it out there as soon as possible and wanting to feel like a real author, with an agent and an actual publisher and all that jazz. The punk rock DIY side of me is strongly pulled towards self-publishing.
Much like getting into teaching, I didn't write the book for the money. I wrote it to get my ideas into the world. I wrote it because I believe I've got things to say about teaching that can help people. I say it in the book, I don't think my way is The Best Way, but I do think it's a Damn Good Way. So I want to get it out there in a way that gets to the most people possible.
The thing is, I get the feeling book publishing is going to go the way of music distribution soon. It's getting very easy to release something as an e-book, market it yourself, put it on amazon, and sell that thing. I don't want He's the Weird Teacher to exist solely as an e-book, I want pages to hold and smell and sign and mail, but there's way to do that too. Kindle, Nook, and the like are going to revolutionize book sales much like mp3 players destroyed/are destroying the music industry.
I'll probably end up polishing a few chapters up real nice and emailing them out to an agent or two with a query letter. Couldn't hurt, right? What will actually end up happening is still up in the air.
As it stands, the editing is going to be the hard, painful part. I'm not great at it, but also not willing to pay a bunch of money to an editor. Counting on my skills and the skills of the wonderful readers I've enlisted. On the plus side, I've thought of cover art. No, you can't know about it yet. That's gotta have a big reveal! Drama!
Anyone know an agent or a publisher looking for a non-fiction book about teaching?

My Class is Strange

*from a chapter on talking about your class*
The teacher influences the classroom in every possible way. I know teachers who, according to them, always have a room full of pains. A room full of children who just won’t sit and learn like they should. Me? I always have a room full of weird kids. Every year I have 25 of the goofiest children I’ve ever seen. The teacher influences the class. If you have a room full of kids, the entire class or nearly entire class, who are giving you trouble, guess who the trouble actually is. I know exactly why I always have a strange group. I tell my students, “You are some of the weirdest children I’ve ever met. Why are you so weird?” They all know the answer without being told. “Our teacher is weird! We learn from the best!” Then I remind them that normal people are boring. Weird people make the more interesting friends. If every year your class feels off, then it isn’t the fault of the students in your class. This is a lesson in personal responsibility I drill into my student teachers. The buck stops with you. Thou Art The Teacher. Everything about your room, from the condition of the desks to the stuff on the walls to the test results to the overall class behavior reflects on you.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Tiny Humans

*From a chapter about the having fun with students*

Tiny humans populate my school. Tiny humans of various levels of tininess. And it is the smallest of the small ones, to steal a phrase from Skippy Jon Jones, who are the most fun to mess with.
You wouldn’t think so. You would think kindergarteners would be the children you must be nicest to. That a person would have to treat them with kid gloves, as it were. *Side Note- What are kid gloves? Gloves you use when handling children? That seems rude. Are they gloves made out of kids? Obviously not human kids, don’t be ridiculous. Baby goats are called kids. I bet goat kid gloves would be quite soft. And with those goat kid gloves a person could work with a human kid without damaging them in any way. I’m glad we got this figured out. Anyway-*Kindergarteners are the youngest members of your school community, unless you’re lucky enough to also have pre-k, but they really are too small to mess with. Common knowledge states that adults must be always kind to small children. This ignored two simple facts- small children are human and small children are often much brighter than adults give them credit for.
In my class I refer to most kindergarteners as munchkins. When I need a go-to example of poor behavior I often talk about picking on, torturing, teasing, or otherwise bothering munchkins. The key to this not being bullying is to make it so ridiculous, so out of your mind nuts, that the children know you are playing around. Think about the Trunchbull and how she gets away with things. I steal from her all the time. I tell my students about the time I dangled a munchkin by his ears until they stretched three feet. I make mention of tossing one by her pigtails for distance. I am not a horrible teacher. I’ve read my class Matilda, it’s the very first book I read them. This fits in with the character I play in my classroom. Mr. Robertson, who says he doesn’t like children, especially (insert grade I’m currently teaching). In fact the only thing worse than (grade I’m currently teaching) is kindergarteners. I will occasionally substitute sixth graders for that, but sixth graders aren’t as good at taking a joke. Kindergarteners are very bright.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Performing in Class

When I teach I explore what performers call levels. Levels are best described as high, middle, and low. Those denote where your body is in space. I am a moving teacher, I don’t like to park and bark. So I’m constantly walking the room, making student eyes track me. Easier to see who isn’t paying attention when you’re moving. Whose head isn’t moving along? I’ll get low, kneel down right by a child. I’ll get high, I have been known to stand on desks. Someday my principal will walk in on me standing on a desk, waving a yardstick around like a sword, reading from the book. I hope he doesn’t mind. I also constantly adjust volume. The best advice I ever got, and advice that I’m terrible at remembering, is lowering my volume to keep their attention. Make the students lean in to you. Make them try harder to listen. I’m a loud teacher, so I forget this. Until I remember and suddenly I’m Nic Cage. Nic Cage, for those of you who don’t know (and for shame), has two acting gears. There is quiet, softly crazy Nic Cage. And there is LOUD SCREAMINGLY CRAZY NIC CAGE. Keeps the kids on their toes.
The last point on teaching as performance art I want to make is on reading aloud. Reading aloud is one of my most favorite things about teaching. There are so many fantastic books out there. If you view teaching as performance art, and you view reading aloud as part of teaching, then your read alouds become chapter-long daily plays. I do voices, I do expression, I get into it. Sitting and listening to someone read from a book can be torture. Acting when you read brings the book to life. When you bring a book to life the students see that reading is more than words on a page. Reading is an adventure. I expect my students to read with expression and I model that every day. I go for it so that they feel safe about going for it. I act silly and shout and whisper and do an awful accent because I want them to take risks in class.