Saturday, August 27, 2016

Teachers Who Helped: Believe in Your Students

Hi, folks, This is the last in my series of Teachers Who Helped.  Of course, I saved the best for last. In 1995, I moved to Kirkland, Washington. A friend of mine, Kathi Appelt, encouraged me that there was a vibrant group of writers in the Seattle area and recommended that I take a class on children's writing at the Bellevue Community College. Kathi said the teacher was considered very helpful.

I signed up for the class and met the teacher, Peggy King Anderson. (Those of my readers in the children's writing community are freaking out right now because I am dropping some names!)  Peggy is a teacher like no other I have ever known. She loves her students and her subject. She taught me that my best story is in my soul, curled up inside, and that it is destined to break out of its chrysalis and take flight. But the most important lessons I learned from Peggy were all about loving the journey of writing books, loving the people who write children's books, and actually letting the writing transform me, before it transforms anyone else.

Her Master Classes around her dining room table were magical. Bowls of popcorn, slices of apples, and generous heaps of conversation, I met Holly Cupala, Jolie Stekly, Meg Lippert, Allyson Schrier, Vijaya Bodach, and so many more in these classes. One thing was clear about Peggy: she nurtured excellence. Most writers entered her classes unpublished. Few stayed that way. Peggy encouraged me as a mom, as a wife, and as a student. She understood that people are complex and all the pieces of who you are inform your stories.  She taught me that in the midst of storms of life that writing is my safe place. She said, "Writing is saving you."

I'm a person of faith in Christ. With Peggy's gentle critique, I learned that there was a divine spark in in my work, something wholly outside me. Each book is lit by God and is part of a great fire of goodness. Faith is something beautiful that I share with Peggy. She taught me about holiness of my work, that it is important, and that children were hungry for my words. It is my sacred duty to make my words wonderful, to draw close to the bone, and reveal the hidden truth of the worth of every individual.

Finally, Peggy's belief in each and every one of her students buoys me. Do you have any idea how powerful the faith of a learned teacher is? Her unending encouragement lit a fire of encouragement in me that I try to pass it on. Peggy is no longer teaching classes to devote time her family. (Always keeping those priorities right.)  She does however continue to mentor. Check out the link to website above if you are interested.

My puny words are never going to reveal the total awesomeness of Peggy. If you read my post, and know Peggy, drop by her Facebook, and let her know what a difference she has made in your life. If not, thank the teachers who believed in you.

I hope you liked this series and will back with next week with a series I call Close to the Bone.

Here is a doodle for you.

Here is a quote for your pocket.

I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well. Alexander the Great, (His teacher, Aristotle, who was taught by Plato, who was taught by Sophocles.)

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