Saturday, August 20, 2016

Teachers Who Helped: Challenge Your Students

Hi, folks, my senior year in college was a fun one for me. I switched my minor to English and took a full load of English courses.  I picked classes that I thought would be a snap.  My favorite was Children's Literature.  My professor was Dorothy Van Riper. This class changed the course of my life.

I took this class specifically because I believed it would be an easy A. I mean, I had read every book required for it more than once, and some I almost had memorized.  I loved the childhood classics. How hard could this be?  I've mentioned before that I was a poor student. In college, I was always the struggling one.  I had a hard time with the pace of the classes.  They were always too fast. I could keep up the pace for a month but then I would stumble fall behind and then choke on the dust.  I was a sub-par chemistry major trying to find my way.

My experience in Dr. Van Riper's class was trans-formative. For once, I was the racehorse. It turned out , the only thing I was really well prepared for was children's literature.  I didn't know this when I took this class. I was surprised when Dr. Van Riper would ask me questions (even when I didn't raise my hand.)  Her class was my first and perhaps only experience in college that wasn't like school. We would argue about the meaning layered in books, we'd marvel at the marriage between text and art, and we'd discuss the future of children's books. It felt like a conversation between professionals. I couldn't wait to go to the next class. I felt like parched land that finally had received a renewing rain.

About halfway through the class Dr. Van Riper invited me to her office hours.  When I got there, she handed me a stack of books on children's writing: Lee Wyndham's book Writing for Children and Teenagers and several others. I had no idea why she was giving these books to me but I read them dutifully. It was like someone raised the curtain on the Wizard, and I was getting a look at the secret workings.

I continued with class. I'd write notes before I got there. Dr. Van Riper would argue with me. I would argue back. We picked apart  Katherine Paterson's OF NIGHTINGALE'S WHO WEEP and THE BRIDGE OVER TERABITHIA. We reveled in A WRINKLE IN TIME.  She introduced me to the wonder of picture books again. I got a big crush on Peter Spier's work.  We reveled in the magical realism of THE SECRET GARDEN. These are stand-outs of  probably over a hundred books.

I'm afraid all the education majors were lost in the dust of our arguments.  Dr. Van Riper would read my papers to the class. I think she read them all.  She gave me stacks of extra books. It was awesome, beyond awesome. I excelled on every test.  You know, excelling does things to you. GOOD THINGS.

When the semester came to a close, I was freaked out when Dr. Van Riper gave me an F in her class.  I stormed the gates of her office and she laughed at me.  She'd given me an F because she wanted to encourage me to become a children's writer. Wow. Her insistence changed the direction of my life.

It took me a few years to get my head around the idea, but I did. And here I am at 30+ books and counting.

So, teachers, you may have to give an F to get your message across.  You are awesome! Teachers can see things that no test can.  I celebrate their magic! I will be back next week with the last in this series.

Here is a doodle for you.

A quote for your pocket.
You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself. Galileo Galilei

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Teachers Who Helped: A Writer's Perspective

Hi, folks! School is about to start in Texas, and that makes me think of all the wonderful teachers who have transformed my life.  I had several standout college professors. Pat Flynn was one of my favorites. He taught me freshman calculus. I was the clueless one when it came to math, but Pat was a teacher within infinite patience.

I remember my first day in class, and Pat wrote something on the board in a foreign math script. He began throwing out words like integral, derivative, differential, infinitesimals, and convergence. My poor brain.  I dutifully wrote down the words and definitions, but inside I knew I was in real trouble. Pat had listed office hours on his syllabus, and I headed over the very first day.

I sat down in front of him with tears in my eyes and told him I didn't understand anything that he said. Pat slid a box of tissue to me and began to explain the problems he discussed in class.  He asked me to work on a problem.  I tried to do it. When I was totally flustered, he asked me if I even knew how to add and subtract.  I remember blushing and answering honestly, "Not really."

His eyes widened and soon he knew the terrible truth. I did not know arithmetic, algebra, geometry, or trig. When I left my rather stunned teacher, I began practicing adding and multiplying. I was in a jazzed mood. All I had to do was learn a bunch of basic math and I would be on my way to understanding calculus.

I showed up for every class. I went to every office hour. Pat found an algebra, geometry and a trig book for me. I work problems sets in each one everyday. After a while, Pat cleared off a desk in his office so I would have a place to work. After a month of grueling work, I still didn't really understand calculus. My first test had been a fat F and so had been my second one.  I didn't give up though.

I kept working. Toward the end of the semester light began to dawn in my noggin.  I had gained the basic tools of math, and I was finally moving forward with calculus.  Pat worked problem after problem for me, again and again, while I watched.  Week after week.  One day toward the end of the semester, I asked him why did he put up with me because there was no way I was going to pass his class.

His eyebrow quirked up and he told me, "Oh, you are going to pass."

I jerked in surprise.

"You have showed up for every class, every office hour. You have worked every problem set. You've never skipped anything.  I have never seen this kind of worth ethic in a student. I know I didn't have it when I was your age."

"But I failed the tests."

"Some things are more important than tests." Pat said.

To this day I love math. I'm fluent in the language of mathematics.  Imagine if Pat had cared about the tests?  I live in a world that has decided the test is the way to know how the student is doing. To me, this an epic fail. A good teacher's F student is successful.  We want educated people not good statistics. We want students who love subjects and show up every day excited about learning. A good teacher makes that possible.

Hug a teacher today. Thank them for what they do. If you are a teacher, you are one of my heroes.  I wish the Internet were full of stories about teachers instead of celebrities.

Here is a doodle. This is the cover art for the upcoming TEENSPublish anthology!  This is a silhouette of each of the participants. Also note my book PLUMB CRAZY is on sale for my birthday month: 99 cents.  Here is the Kindle link.

Here is a quote for your pocket.
Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people. Socrates

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Teachers Who Helped: A Writer's Perspective

Hi folks, school is about to start, and I am thinking about all the wonderful teachers in my life.

As a teen, I was a small town country girl with big dreams. I lived 45 minutes outside of one of the biggest cities in the United States, Houston, TX, but that drive might has been as far away as the moon. When I walked to the bus stop, I stared at a cornfield.

My favorite teacher in high school was Mrs. Baugh.  She taught drama, speech, and English, my all time favorite subjects at Waller High School.

In a school world that expected me to do nothing (I was a less than stellar student), Mrs. Baugh expected everything. She always told me I was a surprise. She said she saw a tenacity in me that she'd never seen in a student before.

One of my favorite moments was when I had returned from a speech tournament with an oration that she had given me a D on. I had won first prize at the tournament, and I was waving my little speech under her nose.

"YOU failed me when I turned this in!" I said.

She looked at me over her glasses. "Whatever is in your hand does not resemble what you turned in to me. That was a first draft, but I knew you'd eventually get it figured out. You always keep at it."

What she said was true. I was a strange student.  If I failed a paper (I failed many), and I was unhappy about that, I would keep working until I was satisfied.  Long after we moved on in class, I would still wrestle failed  papers. I could never work fast enough in school, but given time, I could do good work.

Mrs. Baugh understood this about me and encouraged me at every turn.  She is the first teacher who believed in me.  I am still writing today.  Her belief is still with me.  I also know that my need to make it better will eventually lead to my best work.

Yay, for good teachers.  I hope you all have the best year ever.

I hope you take time to appreciate the teachers in your life and the gifts they have given you.  I will be back with more this month.

Here is a doodle.

Here is a quote.

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. Carl Jung

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Creativity and the Current Temp: 107F and 42C

Hi, folks. Yes, the temp is out of control now. I am hunkered down in the air conditioning. My summer publishing program for teens, TEENSPublish, has come to end. It is tough to say goodbye. We laughed, ate Skittles and wrote reams. Good times.  

So talking about the heat, did you know that high temps lead to more aggression? All that energy is best channeled into your dreams and aspirations. That has been my goal this week. I haven't written many words but I have been doing the hard work of thinking about what I should do next.  This is a secret, no one tells you at first. Much writing is done off the page.

Many ways exist to beat the heat. One is to find water. I went to the beach. I love to jump waves and soak in the rays.  My bones feel better. My muscles feel better. My favorite sight: dolphins jumping in front of the wake of a boat. Embracing the heat is one way to beat heat exhaustion.

Think about this. The heat brings gifts. Summer rains pour down as the temps rise. Every afternoon. It's tropical here, and the rain is torrential. The feeling of pounding rain is better than any massage. My senses tingle with so much input. Creativity is bubbling.

Hence, the writing is swirling to the surface. I know last week, I was pretty down, but all the encouraging words have helped, and I am rising. Cling to hope, friends. It anchors your soul.

I will be back next week with a series I am calling School Days.  These are moments in my educational journey that have changed everything.

Here is a doodle for you:

And a quote for your pocket.

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.
Langston Hughes

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Creativity and the Current Temp: 105F and 40C

Hi, folks. We have hit the high temps of the summer. The next four weeks are going to be brutal. It is so hot outside I can feel the wall of heat pushing into the house.

I'm struggling as a creative person right now. When the temp goes up, so does the pressure in a closed system.

I am feeling the pressure, and I think I'm cracking.

I thought I could do this story thing. I thought I could be an author, but it looks like that is not in the cards for me. I got another rejection with glowing praise for my writing followed by sizzling barbs about my inability to tell a story. My plot is just not, in the publishing professional's opinion, you know, worth a hill of beans. Not news to me.

I keep hoping that I might gain wings and take to the sky in a beautiful way, but I am a ridiculous caterpillar who sprouted tiny wings that will never lift anything. Dang.

My big problem? I can't imagine not writing, but I find my publishing career has crashed. I'm sifting through the wreckage. I know I sound depressed, and you're right. I've had major depression for a while. I'm getting help, but it looks like this is the new normal. Here is the question that haunts me. Why did I ever think I could capture an audience? I've never been the star of the show. I'm a little worker bee. Not the type who receives fanfare.

The worker bee is tired. Persistence makes sense to me, but whatever I'm doing is more of an epic delusion. The doors of publishing have been closed to me for several years. I've tried to reinvent myself through self-publishing.  CHICKENS DON'T TAKE OVER HALLOWEEN was a fun experience but it didn't lead me toward my goal.

So what am I seeking?

I'd like to be in a place where I turn out a book a year to a group of happy fans who buy enough books that I don't have to score essays anymore. I'd like to have few (4 or 5) speaking gigs in the spring and the fall. I'd like to be paid to do the work with teens that I do.  Modest goals and yet they might as well be Everest.

To end, I have a request. I rarely ask this, but all my friends who read this blog, send up prayers and thoughts that I could become untangled about my creative life.

I hope that you find creative vision.  I hope you keep working under pressure despite the heat.

I will be back next week with more of my rambling.

Here is a doodle.

"For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not." Cat Stevens