Monday, February 28, 2011

Space and Walls

“It is far better to be feared than loved.”

- The Queen of Hearts to Stayne in “Alice in Wonderland”

As a teacher, I often think about discipline. Not too long ago, I posted about the kind of teacher I find myself to be and the teacher I aspire to be.

Middle schoolers are their own breed of student. They need to be taken seriously while they need the proper space to be gangly and independent and needy and sweet. And within those spaces to spread out, they need firm walls.

Oh yeah, no problem.

I achieve various degrees of success on employing this philosophy per class, per day. But I feel pretty comfortable overall.

There’s a teacher who teachers a harder subject than me. Harder in the sense that it’s more difficult for students to learn, and they’re more likely to act out. I also think it’s harder to make as interesting as Social Studies. (Which is AWESOME.)

Though this teacher works hard to be the most knowledgeable teacher she can in her subject, she struggles with discipline. The same students whom she’s coached, whom she’s tutored before AND after school, will act out during class with no remorse. I suspect they’d spend less time needing extra help if they paid attention during class.

This teacher recently acquired a student teacher. Both teachers have been frustrated with two groups, both of which I also teach. A couple of weeks ago, during lunch, the student teacher lamented about one group in particular.

I told her, “They don’t act like that for everyone.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Part of it is the subject.” I treaded lightly. “Part of it is different teachers have different classroom management styles. If I were you, I’d observe the group in other classes.”

“My student teaching only covers math classes.”

“You can go during your prep periods,” I said. “That’s what I did as a student teacher. Methods I saw other teachers use, I still use today.”

She didn’t seem convinced.

A couple of days later, she’d taken my advice and agreed that, yes; those students do behave differently with different teachers.

Last week, I woke up feeling lousy. By the time I drove to school, my stomach threatened to revolt, and I became hot and chilly at the same time. I didn’t want to call in sick because I had too much to do before February break. Three of my classes were working on projects, so I could hang in there (if I didn’t vomit). I had a little while to figure out what to do with my first class. Mediating a debate wouldn’t work in my state.

I directed the students to read two small chapters on microloans and answer four questions. My carrot was that if they finished in time, we’d watch “The Simpson’s” episode Lend-a-Lisa because it talked about Kiva microloans. “This isn’t my most stellar teaching moment,” I murmured to the teacher whose room I temporarily occupied.

I don’t have my own room, but instead wheel a cart with my supplies from room to room.

After class was over, I was glad to have a period off to rest. The room next door was noisy. Noisier than usual. It’s not my policy to interfere with other teachers, but I only heard the student teacher’s voice.

I peeked my head in and saw her trying to settle the students with threats. They didn’t care. I walked around, asking what they were supposed to be doing. I coaxed the ones with a worse reputation by saying something like; “She’s a student teacher, learning how to teach (I may or may not have added, “your rotten class.”). Why don’t you give her a break and get to work? If you don’t understand what to do, then raise you hand and she’ll help you.”

When the room was reasonably settled, I kept the adjoining door slightly open. Minutes later the classroom erupted. The student teacher threatened and doled detention left and right. One of the sassier students was in a state. I asked her what happened. It turned out another student had gotten injured, and a bunch of students had stood up because of concern, but had gotten reprimanded by the student teacher.

The student teacher just wanted a quiet room. She couldn’t tell the difference between bad behavior and an incident.

I sprang into action; checking on the injured student in the bathroom, interviewing other students, getting another teacher in the room, and alerting the appropriate people in the office.

The student teacher was beside herself when I spoke with her later. I reassured her, “It could’ve happened to anyone.”

It’s hard to stand up there, commanding respect, keeping attention, and teaching an interesting lesson that sticks. A teacher is constantly adapting. If the student teacher isn’t with the grade-level or the right teacher or in the right school or gets thrust in the wrong situation, it may make them walk away from teaching.

I hope this student teacher doesn’t give up, and figures out how to create her own space and walls.

Teachers, what one piece of advice would you give

new teachers about classroom management?

P.S. Tune in Thursday when post about the debate and how my heart has begun to break because my ETS job is nearly over.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Writing WoW

“If you don’t have a sensation of apprehension when you set out to find a story and a swagger when you sit down to write it, you are in the wrong business.”

- A.M. Rosenthal

Those of you who read my Last Post know that my Winter Writing Wonderland wasn’t that wondrous.

Because I wasn’t in the right frame of mine to write after the stressful morning, I decided to cram the remainder of the day with chores. I did laundry, spent way too much time at the post office, food shopped, cooked an elaborate(ish) dinner, and had a cousin over for dinner.

Tuesday didn’t work out. But I vowed WEDNESDAY was going to be THE DAY. Oh yeah.

7:30 am – woke up too early because of the stupid cat.

Got up, had coffee, and caught up on some blogging and e-mails.

9:00 am - declared to my children that I was making myself cereal and it was now my writing time so I didn’t want to be bothered.

9:01 am – the children requested breakfast.

9:05 am – looked over chapters 17-21. If I don’t know what the heck I wrote last, how I am I going to add to this thing?

10:34 am – I begin writing chapter 22. I’m at 28,327.

For the next 5 ½ hours, I write. At 12:30 I stopped for lunch. At 2:30 I figured I should take a shower. At least I had brushed my teeth in the morning.

4:00 pm - By the time I know I’m done for the day, I’ve written 4,292 words, I’ve finished chapter 24. I’m up to 32,646 words. I’m well on my way to the projected 50k.

I feel so good. I’m proud at my accomplishment. Even more, I’m relieved. Since beginning this job in October, I’ve only written about 10k words on this WIP. I wrote almost half that number in one day. It was getting to the point I didn’t really know if I could continue writing.

Okay, that’s a little dramatic. Since I got the job, I wrote a short story that was accepted in an anthology. And I have done some writing. But this is the first manuscript that I haven’t belted out rough (and I mean, rough) draft in about six weeks. Its like I’d lost my moxie. I’ve had all these ideas for Naked Eye, scenes unfolding, but I didn’t have the mental stamina to write them. But today I wrote two big scenes I’ve thought about for months.

When I teach a really good lesson, I can’t imagine not teaching. I get a high while I’m up there and for sometime afterwards. Same if I have a breakthrough with a student. They don’t happen each time I teach or interact with a student.

Those feelings happen virtually every time I write.

So, which job makes me happier?

- The teaching job because I get paid. And I like the subject and the kids some most of the time.

- The writing job because it feeds my soul.

I don’t pretend there aren’t difficult aspects: editing, harsh critiques, crafting a query, sending said query, receiving rejections, explaining why I’m still not published. But when I’m writing, I’m building something.

As the writing day wore on, I got giddy. I posted word count updates on Facebook even though I’m sure nobody else cared. My main character, Lucienne has a story to tell but I’ve been stifling her. Back in the fall, I had wanted to bring this manuscript to the NESCBWI conference this May. But I’ve already registered and already had to send my query for the quick query and 10 pages of my manuscript for the critique. I had to send “completed” work. Several days ago, I didn’t have faith that the WIP would be completed in time.

I have to make time for this because I feel better. The weight of the words has been partially lifted. Today I can breathe.

What role does writing play in your life?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Winter Writing Wonderland

“A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”

- Annie Dillard

It’s winter break! This means time to write ALL WEEK. Hooray!

Except Saturday because my in-laws and nephew are visiting.

No big deal. There’s always Sunday. Except they’re staying for part of the day and then my husband and I have some errands to run and we invited a friend over for dinner.

No matter because there’s Monday. My husband is off so I’m sure I can squeeze in some time except that two boys come over to hang out and one sleeps over and there’s laundry to do.

TODAY, Tuesday is THE DAY. My daughter is going to taekwondo camp from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm and then I’m going to drop off the boy who slept over and then I’m going home to write until noon when I have to take a shower and run errands. It’s gonna be GREAT!

Watch my schedule unfold:

7:57 am – I’m up. I don’t have to leave for 45 minutes. Excellent.

8:05 am – Wake up my daughter. She’s kind of snuggly, so maybe I’ll rest in her bed for a few minutes.

8:20 am – I badger the three children to choose a cereal and a fruit.

8:40 am – My daughter rushes to get ready. I decide to come back to get the boy who slept over instead of dragging him out now. Let them play a little longer.

9:15 am – I’ve dropped off my daughter, run to get $ to pay for the camp, returned to the Taekwondo place. It’s locked! I pound on the door. No answer. I pound on the window. The master opens the door. I pay and hurry home.

9:21 am – Sleepover boy hops in the car. I drive him home.

9:28 am – I pull in his driveway. His brother is running down his porch steps to go to a friend’s house. I drop sleepover boy off. Just before I exit the driveway, sleepover boy runs over to me.

“I’m locked out.”

Apparently his brother locked the door fifteen seconds before we reached him. And neither boy has the key. No matter – sister is upstairs.

“No, she isn’t,” brother tells me.

My head is spewing a steady stream of curses.

I pull out of the driveway so the minivan can pull out to take brother to his playdate. I call the mother who is at work. Yes, the sister is home. She’ll call the sister’s cell phone and try to wake her up. I sit in the car and call the house number.

9:40 am - I decide to walk over to the house and shout the girl’s name near her 2nd-floor window.

When I do she yells, “I’m here. I tried to find you but you weren’t in and I locked myself out.”

My head is again spewing a steady stream of curses.

“Why didn’t you just wait for us? Why didn’t you take a key?”

“I don’t have a key.”

She’s got a cell phone though and she’s on the phone with her dad. He tells her there’s a key outside! HOORAY! She thinks it’s the wooden cart, but it’s not. Turns out it’s hidden under another wooden piece which is ENCASED IN ICE. No metal tools available because they’re also in the house.

9:50 am – I call the mother. She gives me the address to her work.

I drive to the next town over to collect the key.

10:23 am - When I see both half-sister and sleepover boy open the door and enter the house, I leave.

10:27 am – I enter my home. I’m not in the mood to write.

10:28 am – I reheat my coffee.

10:30 am – I prepare a cover letter to send along with a manuscript.

11:06 am – I pay bills.

11:27 am – I check my e-mails. A friend of my husband’s sent me an introduction to critique. I critique it.

11:52 am – My husband calls. I complain about my lost writing time.

“Write now,” he offers.

“I’m not in the right frame of mind,” I explain. I’d planned to settle in by 9:30 am and write until noon, take a shower, and then run errands before picking up my daughter. “And I should write a blog post,” I add.

“Why don’t you write about what happened this morning?”

12:00 pm – Write post.

12:23 pm – Find a quote to match the post.

12:34 pm – Put up post.

12:35pm - Take a sorely needed shower.

There’s always this afternoon…

“Next week there can’t be any crisis. My schedule is already full.”

- Henry Kissinger

Writers, how do you stay on schedule?

Do you have a schedule?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Good News

I have good news.

My first publishing credit.

In book form.

My short story was accepted for the 100 Stories for Queensland anthology to raise money for the flood victims in Australia. It’s coming out March 8th!(Old Kitty/Jennifer Domingo and Jessica Bell are going to be in it too. )

Rosie Connolly and Charity Bradford were interested in hearing what it was like to make the transition from writing l o n g n o v e l s to short stories, so I have two posts. The post on Rosie Connolly's Blog is about my first attempt to write a short story and what I learned along the way. The post on Charity Bradford's Blog is about overcoming a self-imposed writing mold that helped me write the story that wound up in 100 Stories for Queensland .

Please visit so they’re not sorry they agreed to host me!

Happy weekend!

Monday, February 14, 2011

400 Followers Fiesta on February 14th - WINNERS!

“Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”

- Robert Heinlein

There were 14 prizes.

Two were available to the 1st commenters to request them:

The 1st quick commenter who received the Smart Words book is Neurotic Workaholic!

The 2nd quick commenter who received Bird by Bird is Meredith Moore! was kind enough to help me out choosing the 12 winners. I tried to give everyone their 1st choice, if not one from the top 3.

Without further ado:

The Query Critique from Nicole Zoltack :

Kelly Polark!

Orange Mint and Honey (signed):

Pamela Keener!

Across the Universe ARC:

Nicole Ducleroir!

The Red Garden (signed):

Erica from the duo Erica and Christy!

The Hunger Games trilogy keychain:


Magnet Swag:

The Words Crafter!

How Fiction Works:

Hannah Kincade!

The Book Thief:

Rosie C!

The Hating Game:

Meredith Moore!

(On a roll, Meredith?)

How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack:

Angelica R. Jackson!

Flags of our Fathers:

Katie Workman!

Picture Perfect from Len Lambert :

Sophia the Writer!

Psssst: Len is having a 200 Follower Contest TODAY.

PLEASE VISIT! If you don't follower her blog, you should!

Congratulations, winners!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

xo Theresa xo

How are you going to show your love today?

P.S. Paul Cornies of the thought-provoking blog Quote Reflections has his book 365 Quote Quest available on Amazon. Check it out!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Are YOU Ready to Write YOUR story?

"They were huddled together like a family of Ellis Island immigrants just off the Mayflower."

- A Sure Thing by Nicole Polizzi (Snooki)

Are you ever too young to have a story?

No, of course not. Remember Anne Frank’s diary?

Are you ever too young to write a story?

Not if you can grasp a pencil or tap a keyboard.

Are you ever too young to write a memoir?

Not if you’re Justin Bieber.

The Bieber isn’t the first, and it won’t be the last. You’ve got to jump on this bandcarriage!

Now some of you are probably worried you’re not young enough to write a memoir. Not to worry. Check off which if these traits apply to you:

_____ I’m a famous rockstar.

_____ My hairstyle is unique. (See Justin Bieber, Snooki, and Donald Trump for examples.)

_____ I came from a humble hometown and made it big. (Abe Lincoln is an early example of this repeated phenomenon.)

______ I have popular You Tube videos.

______ I failed to pass my driver’s test, but then I received a Range Rover as a gift, so it all kinda worked out.

_____ I have tweets riddled with spelling errors that can be placed verbatim into my book.

_____ I say things like, “There are lots of things I really like besides girls. Like pizza.... And CHUCK NORRIS." (Bieber always capitalizes CHUCK NORRIS.)

If you’ve checked off three or more, then you’re ready to write your memoir. You no longer have to fret that famous people and even dogs are gobbling up all the advances. There’s still BIG $ for someone like you.

Don’t worry about minor details like beginning, middle, and end. You think Bieber not being near “The End” of his life stopped him? He may be the next J.K. Rowling because his memoir has series potential.

You can even ride someone’s coattails. What if your mother was the governor of Alaska and ran for vice president, and then you got to be on a dancing competition show with famous people? MEMOIR!

Spelling and grammar deficiencies are no obstacles when crafting your memoir, mostly because the publishers will hire someone to write it for you. And don’t let little details like “facts” get in the way (See James Frey). What’s more important; a boring memoir or a memorable memoir? I’d argue the “mem” stands for memorable.

Lastly, writing the book isn’t enough. Today it’s all about promotion and branding. Some projects to consider:

A concert tour.

A concert in Time’s Square on New Year’s Eve.

A calendar.

A Christmas Stocking!

Remember, it’s not about being an author - It’s about being a brand.

In conclusion, if you have a mostly true story in which really cool things have happened (bonus if you’re already famous) then write your proposal, and wait for editors to clamor for your memoir and hire you a ghostwriter.

Then sit back and wait for those royalties.

Yes, it’s THAT easy.

What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sideline Support

My daughter is second from the left.
Her 2nd sparring partner is 2nd from the right.

“If you make every game a life and death proposition, you’re going to have problems. For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.”

- Dean Smith

My eight-year-old daughter participated in her first Taekwondo tournament this weekend. She confirmed she’d do her forms, but she didn’t know if she’d spar. Sparring has been a challenge for her because it’s against the kind of person she is.

From an early age, I’d describe her as: Generous. Fair.

As a toddler, if someone asked her for a potato chip, she’d hand out a big one.

If she has food or toys to split for a game, she made sure everyone had the same amount.

She lets her playmates get first choice.

If playing a board game, she lets the other person go first.

In soccer, she had a hard time with the concept of stealing the ball from an opponent.

In sparring, it was hard for her to be aggressive. But Taekwondo has helped her harness her inner-fierceness into competitiveness.

We sat in the middle near a group of women with girls about my daughter’s age. I noticed one girl about my daughter’s size shared my daughter’s name. I forgot about it.

My daughter did her forms to the left. She was nervous but did okay considering it was her first tournament.

One of her coaches convinced her to spar. Buoyed from doing her forms, she agreed. Her first match went well. She won. I was so proud of her and she was beaming.

Here and there, I noticed the women near me shouting for their girls louder and more aggressively than any of the other parents. The mother of the girl who shared my name was particularly vocal. It reminded me of when I was a kid playing soccer, and there was always a parent or two who cared way too much. I’d feel sorry for those kids because they were under more pressure than me. And my dad was the coach!

My daughter rose to spar in the second round.

So did the girl who shared her name.

The mothers shouted the girl’s name. When they realized both girls had the same name, they added “D” for her last name. My husband, two other parents from our Taekwondo place, my son and I all cheered for my daughter, even adding “M”. We used her nickname “Bee”.

But we were drowned out.

My husband went closer in hopes of being louder.

The women stomped their feet.

When my daughter got a point for a kick, the mother shouted, “That wasn’t fair. I’m going to speak to that judge.”

My daughter was clearly thrown off. The other girl a stronger opponent and the crowd was against her.

Then the girl gave my daughter a kick, and she fell to the floor.

I knew my baby was holding it in. As soon as the matched was called, she went to the sidelines, sat down, and cried. Her coaches came over. Her brother came over after them. She calmed down.

I felt helpless.

I wanted to run over and hug her.

I wanted to YELL at those women.

During the final round, those mothers were just as cutthroat. The girl with the same name lost. Her mom clearly disappointed that she only received a silver medal.

When it was over, my daughter came to me. I held her close.

“Nobody said my name,” she said.

(My heart breaks here.) “We did. You couldn’t hear us because they were louder. I even called you ‘Bee’ but it probably sounded too much like ‘D’.”

“I heard the woman say she was going to talk to the judge when I got the point.”

I sighed. “I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to remember it. There are parents who care a little too much about their kids’ games. It becomes their life. They forget that there’s another kid out there whose feelings are being hurt if they lose. You have to learn to tune them out. You want to win or lose based on who you’re up against. Not the audience.”

After a few minutes, she smiled and said, “My strategies for sparring in the first round didn’t work on her. Next time, I’ll have to use different strategies.”

Just like that, she was over it.

She wants to spar in another tournament.

What did I expect from a girl who can kick clear through an adult board?

Since then, she hasn’t mentioned the match, and she’s back to her sunshine self. I’ve thought about it. A LOT. It’s hard to let our children go out in the world and get hurt. We can’t coddle them each time something is hard. And the older she gets, the less I’ll be able to shelter her from life’s kicks.

Good thing she’s got inner-fierceness.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fiesta Postponed - Read Instead

"A room without books is like a body without a soul."
— Marcus Tullius Cicero

You can still enter to win prizes for the Four Hundred Follower Fiesta until midnight EST. But I’m sorry to announce I can’t pick the winners today.


I had the best of intentions when I picked the date for my alliterative title way back when. Before I realized report cards would be due on 02/08. I’m feeling swamped.

Most unfiesta-like. So will announce the winners on FEBRUARY FOURTEENTH, which will keep my post title alliterative and will maybe send some love to followers on that special day.

Thank you to all who follow.

Thank you to all who comment.

Read this while you wait for the winners:

Most of us are teachers and writers, right? We’re all readers I assume.

This was posted in front of the 8th-grade ELA teacher’s classroom. It’s from Hornbook and is by Dean Schneider and Robin Smith.


(I’m going to add one to keep with my alliterative contest.)

1. Never read where your children can see you.

2. Put a TV or computer in every room. Don’t neglect the bedrooms and kitchen.

3. Correct your child every time she mispronounces a word.

4. Schedule activities everyday after school so your child will never be bored.

5. Once your child can read independently, throw out the picture books. They’re for babies.

6. Don’t play board games together. Too dull.

7. Give little rewards for reading. Stickers and plastic toys are nice. Money is even better.

8. Don’t expect your children to enjoy reading. Kids’ books are for teaching vocabulary, proper study habits, and good morals.

9. Buy only 40-watt bulbs for your lamps.

10. Under no circumstances read your child the same book over and over. She heard it once, she should remember it.

11. Never allow your child to listen to books on tape; that’s cheating.

12. Make sure your kids only read books that are “challenging.” Easy books are a complete waste of time. That goes double for comic books and Mad magazine.

13. Absolutely, positively no reading in bed.

14. Don’t buy or borrow books for your children, especially when they’re too young to appreciate them.

Would you add anything to this list?

Are you guilty of promoting any of these fourteen?

Happy reading!

Love, Theresa xo

P.S. It’s my mother-in-law’s birthday today.

Feel free to wish her a happy day in the comments.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

- Declaration of Independence

Last week I was in the middle of teaching my eighth-grade class about Humanism during the Renaissance period. I had some interesting connections planned to do with Socrates and Plato as well as John Locke and Thomas Paine. Oh, and a little thing called the American Revolution.

But that’s not all. I was going to contrast people’s lack of choice during Medieval Times as opposed to do individualism during the Renaissance. Oh yeah, it was gonna be AMAZING.

The students were engaged; quiet when I was talking, answering questions when I asked, and participating in discussion.

Then a female student to my left asked, “Do you dye your hair?”

I get this a lot, especially from teenage girls. The difference is it’s not usually asked in the middle of a lesson. See, my hair is black. With my pale skin, it must not seem real.

Ironically, when I was a teenager punk-artist, I dyed my then medium brown hair black. But now I hate when people think I dye it because I don’t.

So, instead of telling her, the question was inappropriate,

Instead of ignoring her,

I answered.

“No, see all these grays.” I leaned over so she could get a good look at my bangs.

I told the whole class, “When I was your age, my hair used to be a lighter brown.”

“Really?” a startled brunette with hair like in a shampoo commercial asked to my right.

“Really. Your hair darkens as you age.”

She looked horrified.

I surveyed the entire class. “My hair is going to be on the test.”

Then I returned to the lesson.

Students love sidetracking teachers. We have to make sure they don’t let our sidetracks get in the way of the material. But sometimes we can fool them and tell them a story so they get lulled into listening when I’m really teaching them. Whenever I can, I tell a story about my life if it will make a point about the lesson.

This was (obviously) not one of those times.

Later, I wondered what they’d remember from that lesson:

- Plato trying to convince Socrates to escape prison, but Socrates refusing because he’d rather accept a death sentence than undermine democracy? (The idea was more important than the individual.)

- Feudalism making generations of families stuck in the same occupation? The idea of the individual didn’t exist.

- Humanists promoting the idea of individualism was against church teachings. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake as a heretic.

- The idea of individualism continued with Enlightenment Thinkers.

- One Enlightenment Thinker, John Locke inspired the Founding Fathers. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property was changed to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence. (How much property can you promise, after all.)

- Americans, like Socrates, were willing to die for democracy. But this time, they were willing to die so their new government could maintain their freedoms.

If I had been the student, I would’ve remembered that my hair was going to get darker as I aged. That thought would probably freak me out. But back then I would’ve laughed because that would be a LONG - WAY - OFF.

(Should I tell the students time accelerates as you get older?)