Saturday, November 16, 2013

Teacher is Proud to be Weird- Mail Tribune 11/13/13

In preparation for my Bloomsbury Books reading I contacted the local newspaper, the Medford Mail Tribune. I was hoping they would run and ad at the least about the reading and maybe do a small story since local author/local teacher seems like a pretty good human interest topic.
Well, last Friday was a Teacher Work Day at school, and I was working away on report cards in a t-shirt and jeans when the phone rings. It's our secretary calling to let me know a reporter from the Tribune is on the line wanting to talk to me. Good thing there are no kids. She gets transfered over and we have a nice 20 talk. By, "nice 20 minute talk"  I mean she asked one question, "Tell me a little about the book and what weird things you do," and I talked for fifteen minutes. When I stopped to ask if she had other questions she said no, if she had anything else she would have stopped me and I was doing fine. Oh no, I thought. I'm not sure exactly what I said though.
She wanted to come take pictures and I said that's fine today because there are no kids. She replied that kids make the pictures more interesting. "I've never worked at a school that was ok with the news taking photos or video of students," I told her. "I'll call the superintendent and see what I can do," she replied.
Of course. Call Cynda, the superintendent, to talk about the story you're doing on the teacher she hired three months ago. I am Low Profile Man.
It turns out Cynda was very excited by the idea of the story and photos, gave the ok for the paper to come to school Tuesday, the next day we had students. Schools have been getting a lot fo negative press recently and Cynda figured any positive press was a good thing.
So Tuesday during language arts the reporter and a photographer came in and did their thing. I warned my kids ahead of time and they were as no distracted as a group of students could be by the giant camera and guy walking around taking pictures.
The story ran the next day, too late to help bring people to the reading, but hopefully will still lead to book sales. My only complaint about the article is that she doesn't mention where to find the book or the book very much at all. A few mentions would have been nicer. Oh well, can't really complain.
I've included the links below and the full text of the article as well. Many thanks to Sanne and the Mail Tribune for their support.


Teacher is Proud to be Weird
White City Elementary School's self-admitted "weird teacher" flourishes his short yellow wand, using the tip of its little, white-gloved hand to emphasize the syllables in the day's vocabulary lesson.
"Cau-tious-ly," Doug Robertson says, flailing his arms. "You don't just hold scissors and wave them around. You handle them cau-tious-ly."
Next word — Ap-pre-ci-ate.
"Use it in a sentence," Robertson challenges his charges, in a booming voice.
Robertson's theater arts minor stands him in good stead as he deftly trades his wand for a mustachioed yardstick and wanders between aisles in his third-grade class.
"I appreciate your smile," says 8-year-old Katheryne Galea.
Robertson cracks a faux scowl and immediately denies smiling. Ever.
"I never smile," he says, with a twinkle in his eye. "I don't know what you guys are talking about."
Indeed, several scowling images of Robertson are plastered high on the classroom walls, staring down on the 20 students.
"Children are ridiculous and fantastic," Robertson says. "I tell them I'm mean and that I never smile. And, of course, I do, so it cracks them up."
Robertson's teaching philosophy for keeping students engaged in a carefully controlled-yet-chaotic classroom is laid out in his self-published book, "He's the Weird Teacher ... and other things students whisper about me."
"You need to be kind of an actor. You need to make it better, make it interesting. Fractions are not necessarily fun," he says.
In his 259-page primer, Robertson, now in his eighth year in education, mixes schoolhouse stories, positive teaching methods, thoughts on handling parents and administrators, and taking responsibility for student learning.
"I feel I have something to say to the profession as a whole," Robertson says. "Children are in a classroom 180 days a year. That shouldn't suck. It should be fun and interesting. This book is an inside view of what my classroom is like from an inside perspective."
Robertson says it's a rare week that doesn't find him climbing up on a desk and waving his yardstick around.
I don't believe you should just 'park and bark,' " he says. "Everyone knows emotions are contagious. I want my kids to feel this is an exciting place to be."
He's also known to mix things up in the schoolyard in hopes of getting younger students intrigued with the goings-on in the "weird teacher's classroom," he says.
He randomly disrupts orderly lines of kindergartners by offering up high-fives.
"Everyone knows if you put your hand out, it shall be fived," Robertson says. "And the kindergarten teacher is too nice to yell at me. But I'm building that culture. 'He's the weird teacher.' Kids who are in kindergarten are excited to be in my class. When I finally get them, that (playground high-five) has already done part of my job for me."
Robertson says becoming a weird teacher was in the stars.
"I was the weird kid, too," Robertson says.
But it's not all "laughing and rainbows every day," he says.
"I need to be able to take them from silly to serious in two seconds," Robertson says. "The goal, after all, is education."
Standardized teaching is "where the pendulum of education is right now," he says. But that doesn't mean kids shouldn't learn how to be critical thinkers. Keeping students on their toes with seemingly silly nonsense is a good way to create "thinking, productive members of society," he says.
Robertson knows some of his high-energy teaching methods are not for every teacher — and perhaps not for every student. Empathy is important, too, he says.
"Empathy is one of the themes that runs through the book that I hope people take away from it," Robertson says. "A lot of these kids have things going on in their homes I don't want to think about."
Lowering his energy, Robertson slips onto a tall stool in the front of the class. The students snack quietly on grapefruit slices as Robertson cracks open a well-worn copy of "Charlotte's Web" and reads to them the last word the wise spider will spin above Wilber's pen at the fair.
"The word 'humble' was neatly woven in the center ..."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or

This is my favorite picture from the online gallery:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bloomsbury Books Reading

My first reading! So exciting.
I did as much promotion as I could leading up to the event. I contacted the local paper, which didn't pay off for the reading but might pay off in the long run (see upcoming post). I tweeted and Facebooked. I mass emailed everyone in my school district.
And in the end eight people came. A few got the flyer Bloomsbury sent out. A few saw the flyer in the window. One saw it advertised in the paper. And one awesome person from my school came out to support. Needless to say, the turn out was not as massive as I hoped. But, considering my secret fear was a room empty save for the wife and boy, eight isn't bad.
And they were a great audience. They participated and laughed in all the right places and a few bought books.
My view
 I've never been to a book reading. I've watched a few online, Chuck Klosterman and Sarah Vowell, but those were at universities. Big crowds of people familiar with the writer. I knew I would have few-to-no one who knew who I was. Some people would probably be nervous about that. My ego is such that I'm not. Public speaking, while a fear for many, is not a fear for me. I had the text and my personality, so I was confident.
I decided the format for the reading would be an introduction, followed by a funny chapter, a question/conversation stemming from that, a more serious chapter, and another question/conversation. I wasn't really sure how well the questions would go so I planned a third chapter just in case.
Turns out I needed all three, but I did get some good questions in between.
The reading took place on the second floor of the store. There was a lectern, a mic, a table, and rows of folding chairs. I set up some books on the table, stood at the lectern, and turned off the mic. The crowd was small and close and I've got the teacher voice. I don't need no stinking microphone. Some readers probably do, but not I. Down below the store was pretty dead, with one very friendly, helpful guy working the register.
 I introduced myself and let everyone know the plan for the hour, then read the first of my three selections- Peanut Butter and Jelly. I'd never thought about reading that chapter until I asked Facebook and many suggested it, calling it one of the funnier chapters. I knew it was funny, but I had never really thought about it. Turns out the masses were right. PB&J went over like gangbusters. It's a nice chapter for reading, dramatic and funny, with lots of chances for expression and voices and pausing for laughs. And laughs there were. The guy working the counter told me afterwards he'd never laughed that hard during a reading and he bought a copy of the book because of it. So good call, Facebook. Thanks!
We chatted after and I found out a couple of the people in the audience were educators, former educators, or people who worked with children in some way. Then I went on to the one I thought would kill, Bodily Functions. I maintain that's one of the funniest things I've ever written. It cracks me up. And it went well, but not as well and the first. I think maybe it's too gross to be read aloud unless the audience is very specific. Better to be in your head.
We chatted more then I went on to my last choice- Sympathy for the Weird Kid. I think this will be in any reading I get a chance to do. It contains one of the big themes of the book, empathy, it's personal, and most everyone can relate. It's one of the most about me chapters, but it can be about pretty much anyone attracted to what I have to say. It's a chapter that gets silent nodding and soft noises from a good audience, which I had.
The hour struck as I was finishing the final chapter, but no one left so we hung out for another fifteen minutes, talking and sharing teaching stories. An 80 year old woman told a story about subbing in a music class that ended with, "Why don't you shove it in your ass?" Yeah, at my reading an 80 year old woman said, "shove it in your ass." That makes it a success right there, I think. One guy bought a book for his teacher son in inner-city Chicago. A kindly older couple bought one for themselves. And the guy who worked the counter. The 80 year old had published two of her own books, which she promised to (and did) send to me.
The tiny human had to get involved because he's adorable and loves to be the center of attention. Hmmm, wonder where that came from?

 I had a ton of fun. I love being in front of an audience, it feels natural and comfortable and if I could make a living giving speeches I'd probably do it. I guess I kind of do, though a good teacher doesn't talk as much as he listens. I'm hustling hard to find more places to do readings and I hope more come through. I want to thank Bloomsbury for having me. They had only been taking one copy of the book at a time but both copies sold quickly so Monday they took two instead. Guess it's popular. I'm sure the fantastic cover helps.
Thanks for your support. Please, again, leave a review on amazon, Barnes and Noble, and goodreads if you've read and enjoyed He's the Weird Teacher. And tell your friends. And remember Christmas is coming and who doesn't love a book in their stocking?