Tag Archives: Teaching

They’re watching us.

In the Spotlight

I’m a natural born nerdy geek, which is why my profession chose me. I’m a teacher. I’ve always been one, even when I was in school. Few other things give me the amount of satisfaction I receive when I see a student’s eyes light up with understanding. To see my students implement what I’ve taught them is a joy to me.


Important elements of teaching include encouraging the students not to give up, impressing on them not to settle for less than what they can achieve, and showing them that they can do far more than they think they can. I tell about my failures in order to show them how the failures contribute to the successes.

Author Spotlight

One of my goals in teaching is to produce more effective teachers, though not necessarily in classrooms. Parents, friends, and co-workers are teachers, too, though some do more harm than good. In fact, I am not everyone’s favorite person. Ha! I’m not usually their favorite teacher, either. I can be a hard taskmaster.

Imagine my surprise Monday when I walked into school and was met by excited students and teachers directing me to the “Authors in the Spotlight” wall put up by the fourth graders. I was truly amazed that two of the eighteen students in that class had chosen me and featured my books. I was in exalted company: Dahl, Riordan, O’Connor, Morgan, Park, and others.

I’ve taught these children for five years. They know I’ve published seven books because I’ve donated my books to school auctions, and I’ve shown the students my Amazon page. I wanted them to know they could publish and control their own work.

I was very happy to be featured, and I was truly glad that I have always written clean fiction. There is nothing there I would be embarrassed about my students reading, though my books aren’t children’s books. Just another reason to keep my material PG and PG-13.

The children are always watching.


Learning by doing…

Photo: Zhao! (Creative Commons Flickr)

Photo: Zhao! (Creative Commons Flickr)

How does one learn to tell a story effectively? My apprenticeship took place in the time-honored School of Hard Knocks. I fell in love with the power of stories through reading books, but basic story skills were built through teaching children.

Children are honest. If they aren’t getting it, if I am not connecting, I will know right away. First comes the fidgeting, and then the faces. Those expressions can be priceless, right? The listeners in this picture are dialed in. Hats of to the storyteller!

I teach middle and high school, and the feedback there is top-notch. For years teens have helped hone my comic timing. Nowadays I can be a terror when crossed, for my students never quite know what I will say.

To illustrate, one hapless 7th grader was talking to a girl at the scoring table recently. Over the top of my reading glasses I gave him the Death Ray Look. “Mr. Smith,” I said, and the rest of the class rustled to attention. They know that tone of voice and waited to see what would happen next.  “I realize that you are irresistible to women,” I said crisply. “But you must resist them. Go sit down.” Amid laughter the poor boy went slinking back to his seat, but smiling too, because my rebuke had included a compliment. Well, kind of.

Photo: Zhao! (Creative Commons Flickr)

Photo: Zhao! (Creative Commons Flickr)

The most challenging audience–and I taught this age group for 12  summer quarters–is the 3-4-5 year-old crowd. I was the one to present the junior church Bible lessons, and I learned to keep 30-40 of them (plus parents and student helpers) in the palm of my hand through dramatic storytelling.

Unexpected special effects helped.  I came up with all kinds of illustrations, raiding the church kitchen and janitor’s closet and my classroom (our Christian school is on the campus) for supplies. Fortunately, when I burned the prophet Jeremiah’s scroll (like King Jehoiakim did), there was not quite enough smoke to cause a problem.

Learning by doing–sink or swim–do or die. When you’re in front of a live audience, you have no choice but to deliver!

So what skills have you learned in the School of Hard Knocks? What new skills are you trying out now?

Word Crimes

Weird Al Yankovic’s “Word Crimes” is my favorite YouTube video this week. He has been reading my mind. As a former English teacher turned writer, I can attest that everything he sings about in this much improved version of “Blurred Lines” is a pet peeve of mine. One disclaimer: It is NEVER okay to leave out the Oxford comma. Yes, I will make drama about that.

I’m a music enrichment specialist, and my elementary school children are working on a play called Grammar Rocks. I’m teaching them the music, and the drama/creative movement teacher is handling everything else. The songs are fun, but they teach the children about punctuation, contractions, adverbs, verbs, and troublesome words. Each song uses a different musical genre. The “Troublesome Words Blues” is my favorite. GrammarRocks

I teach at a charter school which emphasizes the multiple intelligences and encourages creativity. The children learn to think “outside the box.” Geeks and nerds are valued, not labeled. These students are capable of learning the songs and applying the content to their writing skills.

The English teacher in me loves explaining what the songs mean as we learn the words and music. The children loved it when I pointed out that correct comma usage was the difference between “I ate, Grandma,” and “I ate Grandma.”

I may have a budding, best-selling author or two in the group. The third graders actually published a book last year. How wonderful is that?

Back to the Classroom

Photo: David Jakes (Creative Commons Flickr)

David Jakes (Creative Commons Flickr)

Can you hear the school bell ringing? I can, as I tread the empty hallway between my classroom and the photocopier. Yes, it’s time to put on my teacher hat.

This summer has been unusual, to say the least. The end of April saw me in Intensive Care, as I battled septic infection. With no bedroom on the main floor, I came home to live on the sofa. I was not strong enough to begin writing until mid-July.

Even so, I cranked out the final six chapters to my novel–just over 15,000 finished words. Not bad for a girl who woke up hearing “You know, you almost died.” Miss Shake-It-Off learned a few things about striking a balance between work and rest.

Now comes the true test of strength. I’ve got steam enough until lunchtime, but those afternoons? I’ll be walking out with the students at 2:45–a first for me!–and heading back to that sofa.

Autumn is my favorite season, a time of new beginnings. A crisp tang in the air, luminous colors, and a fresh beginning with new students. Working two careers keeps me young, right? Or at least too busy to notice the years as they pass. Or those bumps in the road.

Photo: David Jakes (Creative Commons Flickr)

Photo: David Jakes (Creative Commons Flickr)