I think I've blogged about this before, but it's a special anniversary and, since it's my blog, I think I'll do it again!
It's the second anniversary of my school's landmark, definitive, never-to-be-forgotten production of Cats. Quite honestly, a lot of people who saw this didn't get it. However, that's because there's nothing to get. And that's Andrew Lloyd-Weber's fault, not mine. The production itself was wonderful. It's interesting because when I ask almost any student who was in Cats what their favorite show was, this is the one they mention fondly (in case anyone cares, Fiddler on the Roof, The Wizard of Oz, and Annie are the next in order).
I feel the same way. In fact, to me, this show was transformative and healing. I had finished the previous school year on a very low note. A rough year had left me hurt, discouraged, and even depressed. It's difficult to express how low I was, or why I was. But I questioned whether I wanted to continue teaching--whether I even could be an effective teacher. I believe that but for the economy, I probably would have tried to get out of teaching altogether, or at least left my current school. For me, that would have proven to be a big mistake.
As summer rolled on, I began to dread the coming school year and I felt paralyzed inside. Still, I went through the motions and we started rehearsals in the late summer.
The kids in the cast were so sweet, so supportive and kind. The 8th graders led them in developing a wonderful esprit d'corps. Their cheerful, playful, and thoughtful attitudes, their good work ethics, and their positive, affectionate energy healed me, proving to me how powerful kindness and goodness can be. They made me like teaching again, they made me believe in myself again, and they made me want to keep going.
Even though most people didn't get it, I think the consensus was that it was well done--the singing, dancing, and acting were some of our best integrated and most consistent, I think. It was the only play I've taken part in at my current school. For various complicated reasons, I took a part--which proved to be a lot of fun.
It was uniquely fun time and though I love many things about all of the shows I've done, this one is special. Today is the anniversary of Opening Night--kind of a sweet, mellow memory.
I thought I'd post some pictures, just for fun.
I think I will succumb to the obvious temptation and be totally cliche: Let the memory live again!
Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat
Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser
Macavity, the Master Criminal
Jemima singing beautifully.
The Jellicle Ball
Magical Mr. Mistofelees
Mr. Mistofelees's lovely assistant
Gus, the Theatre Cat
The Rum-Tug-Tugger, the Rock-and-Roll Cat
I am interrupting this very serious discussion of middle school issues to announce that I just got the word from my publisher that The Kindling will be released in July of 2012! This is sort of like when you have a baby going to hear the heartbeat for the first time. It sort of makes it real in a very practical way. The really cool thing is getting the cover--that's like seeing the ultrasound. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. It appears the The Kindling will be the book title. Still working on a series title. I'll keep you posted.
Have you read the first chapter yet? Go on. It's short. Click here.
So, last week I talked a bit about how middle school students are simultaneously capable of far more and far less than you would think. You can read that post here. Today , I want to talk about some ways to motivate and/or discipline them that I have found useful.
When I started out in my current job, I really struggled. I had these huge classes of middle school kids (between 26 and 80 at one point). Because class was held in the theatre, they sat in the bleacher seating, not in regular desks. This many kids in a non-traditional setting made it really hard. Also, they had to choose between chorus and band. Sometimes it wasn't that they really wanted to be there--they just maybe disliked chorus slightly less than they disliked band. In other words, the vast majority of these kids were not intrinsically motivated by the content of the class. A few were, but most were not.
I nearly went crazy for the first few months. I was unhappy, and so were my students. As their behavior got worse and worse, I decided to match them with punitive actions. I acted very strict and gave out demerits for every infraction of my rules--of which there were many. I became like a policeman and the disciplinary measures became overwhelming for me to track.
S0, I started experimenting and finally found success with the following principles. Incidentally, I don't claim that these are unique to me. I'm just telling you what I found that worked.
1. Reward, reward, reward. Students of this age will respond far better to rewards than to punishment. I found a few rewards that have been very successful. For example, if a student answers a question correctly, I throw them a starburst. You would be amazed at how this very small thing motivates them. I also found out that if I let students earn minutes of recess by behaving, singing a passage well, etc., that they will do almost anything to earn those precious minutes. This has been as close to a silver bullet as I've ever found. If you think about it, most of what adults do is because we seek a reward, not because we are trying to avoid punishment. We go to work every day to earn money. We exercise (at least I've heard some people do this) to look and feel better. When the motivation is a penalty, we are not nearly as quick to comply. Lots of people speed, cheat on taxes, etc. What's the difference? There's no reward for compliance--only penalties and many people decide the risk is not as great as the potential reward. Think about that. Most of us interact with kids using negative consequences and very little positive. Let them earn rewards they like instead of withholding privileges. This has been transformative for me.
2. Be as immediate as possible. I used to let them accumulate recess minutes in a bank and then, on a few days I'd let them go outside during chorus time and use whatever minutes they had. I generally made sure these days overlapped with days we couldn't have normal rehearsal for various reasons. However, I've found that letting them use these minutes each week works much better. In order for either rewards or consequences to have much of an impact on this age, they need to be immediate. Adolescents simply don't think in the long term. Next month might as well be next year or next decade.
3. Use small, bite-sized chunks. A colleague of mine has his 7th graders devise, execute, and then write-up a significant science project each year. The level of detail and organization this requires is substantial and flies in the face of everything I believed about what 7th graders could do. So, I started observing this and trying to figure out why it worked. First of all, he focuses like a laser on this project. It is a major point of emphasis in class and the whole years is structured around it. Secondly, he has broken the assignment into tiny, bite-size chunks and mini-assignments. For example, if you say, "You have a science project due in 6 months" they will accomplish nothing. But, here's what he does: "Next week, you need to bring in three news stories on scientific topics." Then, they have to come up with a few questions those articles raise. Then they have to suggest an experiment that might answer a question. Then they have to identify the dependent and independent variables that would be used. On and on. Tiny, bite-size chunks that they report on at regular intervals. My colleague requires them to come in for two of three conferences with him to check on progress, discuss problems, etc. He makes himself available for this on weekends and holidays and so on.
4. Be as concrete as possible. Adolescents do not generally deal with abstraction. Our school gives out demerits for infractions of rules. These have their place, but I have found them to be of limited utility. I used to spend a lot of time after play rehearsals picking up sweatshirts and books and binders and all manner of things. Saying "please" didn't do much. So, I gave out demerits. That didn't do much, either. Part of the problem is that the demerits don't really do anything until the students have accumulated 5 of them. Then they have to go to detention. But that is too abstract and too distant for most students. So, I decided that if I was running a maid service, I would insist on being paid. I now pick up whatever is left and then email an invoice charging three cans of Dr. Pepper--to be paid for with the student's own money per item. Since doing this, I hardly ever have to pick anything up, and I don't think I've ever had to pick up the same student's stuff twice. I can only conclude that it's a much more concrete and immediate consequence than the demerits.
5. Be consistent. In working with middle school kids, you have to have a very clear idea of what you want. You have to focus on that like a laser and not be distracted. Pick one or two things you will not budge on and then be unyielding. Middle school kids, for the most part, do not understand exceptions. There might be a very good reason to make an exception. Don't. Nuance generally does not work. You will give them a complex explanation of why, in this case, you are going to make an exception. It might make sense and they will nod and acknowledge that they understand. But they will not. All that will register is that you made an exception. I have fallen into this trap over and over. They are not as mature as they look. Their ability to deal with abstractions is very minimal.
6. Understand what you are trying to do. You need to very clearly understand what you hope to accomplish with discipline or motivation. Let me give you an example. When I was younger, my mother got tired of picking up our stuff--which we left liberally all over the house. Anything she picked up was put in a closet and to retrieve it, we had to do chores.
This is a logical and very rational bit of discipline. And, as far as I can remember, it did absolutely nothing to change our behavior. As far as I know, we still left things out at the same rate. So, in terms of changing our behavior, it was not successful. But, it was a wonderful way to teach us a lesson about life and real-world. It was also the right thing to do. So, I think it was a success--but not in the short-term. It's important not to confuse means and ends--but it is also devilishly difficult at this age.
Pick what you want to achieve and then focus on it relentlessly.
7. Realize that there are some things that you just have to bite your lip and deal with. The reality is that some middle school boys would literally rather die than sing loudly and with energy and emotion. They don't want to look stupid or be made fun of. That means there is literally nothing I can do to compel them to do this. So, I need to not fight it. I try to encourage and motivate, but I have also come to accept the parameters I'm dealing with. Similarly, some kids will simply not clean their rooms regardless of what you threaten. So, decided if it's really worth the effort.
There's more I'd like to say, but I think I'll save it for future posts.
( Note: Middle School Monday will be posted later today!)Today I'm reviewing Bloodborne by suspense-writer extraordinaire, Gregg Luke. This was a really enjoyable read. I love to be able to get lost in a good mystery/thriller, but don't like the sex and graphic gore that often come with books in that genre. Gregg's book had the things I ehjoy without the extraneous stuff I don't.
Before I get to my review, let me post the book trailer. This is one of the best I've ever seen.
The book begins with a strange attack on Dr. Erin Cross, a brilliant scientist. She survives the attack, but her life is quickly turned upside down as she realizes that she is at the center of a conspiracy. Erin has to run away from her predictable life and put herself entirely in the hands of Sean Flannery, a former Marine who can save her--if she can help him save him from the demons that haunt him from the past.
I enjoyed this book and Gregg did a great job with the pacing. It was fast and kept me engaged. He knows his craft and threw in plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. One particular plot twist completely surprised me, but I was impressed with how deftly Gregg had laid the foundation from the beginning. He had built a trail the whole time.
The characters were quite good as well. Often in a thriller, characterization gets fairly short shrift, but Gregg's characters all felt real to me. Some of them tragically so and I was surprised by how much I came to care about these people. Even the villains were dimensional and realistic.
The premise of Gregg's book is really creepy--mosquitos being loaded with a deadly virus! If you read it, just be warned: you will never be able to tolerate a mosquite bite again!
The villians were interesting and fairly unique I thought. It would have been easy to rely on having them be Middle-East terrorists or something, but Gregg was quite clever in designing them.
I did have one minor quibble. Erin's character was slightly problematic for me. I think it's my theatre background, but characterization is really important to me and I get a bit hyper-critical. She's super-smart, independent, a bit overweight and on the plain side--but also extremely attractive to men, in fact that attractiveness is important to the plot at two points. I have no problem with any one of these traits, since I'm on the plain, overweight team myself (although I'm not brilliant). However, putting them all together with being attractive didn't ring quite true to me. I understand the appeal of this combination of characteristics to some readers, but it held me back from totally believing her. This was not a big deal--just a tiny nit to pick.
That is avery minor quibbles, and actually, it's a compliment to Gregg's writing. Usually you just assume that thrillers might be a bit weak in the character/logic departments. As long as they are good stories, who cares? Gregg's thriller is a cut above, though, and his writing is so good that these minor things were the only hiccups I noticed.
And, as I said, these are pretty minor little quibbles. Bloodborne is a very enjoyable book. It's fast-paced, well-written and really, really creepy. I totally recommend it.
You can purchase this book at Deseret Book or on Amazon by clicking here.
*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
If you are a parent who is totally comfortable with your child growing up and following the cultural mainstream around them, read no farther. If you look around and think, "I woud love it if my child followed the trajectory of where popular culture is taking them," stop here. If you are comfortable with the value system implicit in the movies and TV shows and computer games that are big in your child's peer group, if you see the pop stars and idols and are fine with your child emulating them, then this will be of no interest to you. In fact ,it might make you mad. So, instead of reading any more, may I interest you in reading about my new book, The Kindling (click on the title)?
If, however, you feel anything from a vague sense of unease to outright discomfort at where our cultural streams are going--and carrying your child, then read on.
In my job and in my church assignment, I encounter a lot of parents and a lot of children. Because of these two parts of my life, I tend to watch parents and children anywhere I go. I have noticed in the last few years that many--perhaps even most--parents feel intuitively that they don't like where our culture is headed. They feel uncomfortable with some of the movies their kids watch, with some of the behaviors that are modelled and encouraged. They see everyone else in the culture doing things and so they go along with it, even though they feel unsettled, unsure, or uncomfortable. There's sort of this attitude of, "Well, what can you do?" Followed by a shrug and a sad smile. Good heavens! Have we sunk this low as a culture?
I have a suggestion. Fight back. Assert your authority. Most of all, say, "No."
Your child might really want to do something. That's ok. They probably would like to eat lots of unhealthy foods or sleep too much or not do their homework. I'll bet you say, "No" on those occasions, though.
So why not say "No" when your child is getting involved in something that you don't like or feel good about?
"I don't care what everyone else does. You are not going to see that movie." "You are not going to start dating at 11." "You are not going to wear that."
I am absolutely bewildered by the amount of parents who have simply surrendered to a cultural onslaught. Remember--I'm not talking about parents who have decided they are fine with it. If you are, I happen to disagree, but you're the parent and you can raise your child however you see fit. I'm not here to argue with you today (but also, I told you not to read anymore of this!). I'm talking about parents who don't like these cultural trends, but aren't really doing much about it.
You are the parent!!!! You are not helpless. If your child wanted to eat six bowls of ice cream a day, I wager you would say, "No!" And feel comfortable doing it.
I think some people don't want to seem judgmental or harsh. I understand that, but I don't buy it. This is not about imposing your morals on other people. To the contrary, it's about not letting others impose their values on you. I don't think there is anything wrong with saying, "I disagree. Or even, I believe that's wrong." Having strong values does not make you a hater.
The fact that some executive on Madison Avenue thinks clothing is appropriate for your child or my child is irrelevant. That fact that some board of industry professionals has decided that a movie is just fine for my child to watch is irrelevant. The fact that everyone in my neighborhood or school or church or community center likes the movie is equally irrelevant.
I think some parents are afraid of their children, or perhaps afraid their child will be mad or not like them. I think other parents are just not really sure what to do and maybe wonder if they are wrong to be worried--after all, everyone else is doing it.
Stand up! Be brave. You don't need anyone's permission. You don't need your child to like you or agree with you. You are there to protect them and to make choices for them while they are young and immature and unable to consider all the implications, factors, and consequences of decisions.
Honestly, I think some parents don't want to be seen as being weird, or standing out. I do get that. I am a minority religion and have lived in several places where my beliefs put me in direct opposition to common cultural practices. It's uncomfortable, for sure. Awkward. But, you probably tell your child not to be afraid of standing out, to be different and not go along with the crowd. You probably tell your child to resist peer pressure when it comes to things like alcohol and drugs and cigarettes. Why not do the same thing with cultural trends that worry you and make you uneasy?
Some parents grossly overstate their child's maturity and decision-making ability. This is something I see a great deal. Your child is a child. They are not an adult. They might be bright and organized and clever. They might even be mature for their age. It might be easier to see them as an adult, capable of making decisions that can have an effect on their lives. You might really believe they are capable of it. They aren't. I promise you.
Kids today are sophisticated. They know a lot. But they are still children, still not fully mature, even though they might seem like it. Even the most mature of them are not ready to make all their decisions. They just aren't.
Your child needs you to be the adult, to say, "No."
Be brave! They'll thank you for it later. And yes, you might lose some battles. You might even lose the war. However, I do
So, if you are interested in reading about the genesis for this alliterative, exciting new series, you can click here.
Today, I want to discuss something it took me years to figure out. It's quite simple, but can be transformative in how you interact with middle school students. At least it was for me. Here's the secret: middle school students can do much, much more than you think. At the same time, they are capable of far, far less than you expect. Let me explain.
When we do our school productions, they are run entirely by middle school students. The lights, the sound, the stage crew--all of these functions are run by students, but you would never know it. The audience would be astounded if they realized all the trouble-shooting and problem-solving that goes on. I am routinely surprised and delighted each year when I see how much they can do. Choreograph a two hour play with 180 kids? No problem. Oversee complicated set changes, lighting cues, while dealing with broken fog machines and touchy pyrotechnic devices? No problem. I've seen them edit newspapers, mentor small children run amazing plays on the court or field, organize two-day bake sales, raise $10,000 for cancer and so on and so on.
They can literally do pretty much anything at this age. Except pick up their jacket or remember their book.
I go to rehearsals and performances and watch these kids pull of truly amazing, adult-level work. And then I walk through the halls and see the daily detritus of their lives: planners, notebooks, textbooks, jackets, even a pair of pants once.
They can do big things when properly motived. But they struggle--tremendously--with little things.
I'm not a psychologist, so I can't explain why this happens, but I know it does. Details and routine tasks are incredibly difficult for middle school kids to grasp. Some do it well, but they are exceptions and most really struggle with this.
Consequently, messy rooms or forgetfulness on assignments or other mundane things is pretty common. When it happens, don't freak out. It's normal. It will pass.
However, this doesn't mean you simply surrender and just wait for three or four years to pass. You don't need to do that. But, it does mean that you need to structure things differently and make some adjustments. I'll talk next week about how to help the student. But this week, I want to talk about things the parent or teacher or leader can do.
One of the most difficult things about this age group is that they look much older and mature than they really are. They are big--almost look like small adults. But they are incredibly immature in terms of emotional and cognitive development. They are big babies, puppies, as it were and if you are deceived by their physical maturity you will set yourself up for disappointment.
Understanding that, you need to decide what is really important and then focus in on that like a laser and let the rest go. For example, if your child does his or her homework, letting the messy room go might not be a bad idea. Know the value of choosing your battles carefully and also of a tactical retreat.
Adults frequently focus on what the preliminary steps are to the desired goal. This doesn't work
with middle school kids because you end up focusing all your efforts on getting them to do the first goal or two, and frequently you'll never get to the end result.
Here's an example. When I first started teaching choir, I valued children sitting up straight by section and never talking. I decided that this was necessary to accomplishing my goal of having them sound good. We never got there because I spent all my energy enforcing this since it is an unnatural arrangement for middle school kids. I became punitive and harsh about minor things.
I finally learned that letting them sit where they want is a privilege they will work to maintain. I learned that enduring a little noise from the altos while I'm working with the sopranos made the overall class go much more smoothly. And I learned that giving up five minutes at the end of class to let them run around the gym or chat as a reward for doing focused work during the previous 40 minutes was more effective than forcing them to work that extra five minutes.
I get what I want and they get something of what they want and everyone is much, much happier.
This post is already a little long, so I'll stop here. Next week, I'll talk some more about structuring things in a middle-school friendly way and some thoughts on motivation.
Ten years ago, I was a doctoral student at NYU. I worked all day as the drama specialist for a school district up in Queens--so I was in a different school each day doing a variety of projects. Then, I'd ride the train into Manhattan and go to school in the evening.
Getting to work was about a 90 minute proposition, sometimes 2 hrs, depending on which school I was assigned to that day, so I had to leave fairly early in the morning.
I'd get done with class around 9 or 10, depending on the night, and then catch a few trains home. If I hit everything just right, I got a bus that took me a block away from my house. If not, I had to walk about 12 blocks to get home.
I remember quite vividly these very long walks on very cold nights. I felt so tired and worn, and was already stressed about the fact that I'd have to be waking up very soon the next morning and it would all start again.
I'd look at the windows of the houses I walked past and could see through the curtains into what looked like warm living rooms filled with families watching TV, eating and so forth. The contrast between these folks relaxing with their families and enjoying the evening heightened what was already a pretty keen sense of misery.
My greatest aspiration became to someday have a comfortable home, instead of a dingy apartment, and to be able to be home in the evening and just enjoy my family--play a game, watch TV, read a book--and not have class or studying to do, not be getting a pit in my stomach when I thought of going to work the next day and so forth.
Two nights ago, it was a coolish, fallish sort of night here. I got home from rehearsal, tired, but happy after a day at a job I like. And then, I did--nothing. We ate dinner, and then just sort of vegetated. I watched a TV show with the older kids, snuggled with the 4 year old while he went to sleep, and read a few pages in a book. It was blissful, heavenly, and nirvanic. In fact, it was everything I hoped for so many years ago.
We live far enough out that I'm pretty sure no cold, tired graduate student was walking past our house on his way home that night. But I'm pretty sure that if there had been one, he would have looked in the window and thought "Wow, that looks really great. I hope I can have that some day."
So, to all my friends who are struggling right now as you go to school, as you raise your young families, as you fill your Church assignments and everything else that is going on--hang in there! Life will get better and it will be worth it. I promise!
I have been toying with the idea of starting a new feature here. Lots of people I know have clever, alliterative features on their blogs: Wordless Wednesdays and Festive Fridays and Thankful Thursdays and the like. I am not a) that clever or b) that creative. Plus, a lot of my friends who do this have something valuable to share, like my friend Elisa's amazing photos on Wordless Wednesdays, or author Annette Lyon's peerless grammar advice on Word Nerd Wednesdays. But see, Elisa and Annette have actual skills.
I don't want to give writing advice because lots of people do that and also, I feel like it's a craft I'm trying to master still, so who am I to tell everyone else what to do?
So, I've been thinking about my niche. I am the proverbial Jack of all Trades--I dabble in lots, but there's nothing I really stand out in (I'm being honest, not self-deprecating). Except one.
I totally get middle school kids. I really do. And I'm a pretty good teacher, if I do say so myself.
Since middle school is a place most of us remember about as fondly as gettting our wisdom teeth, there's not a lot known about it, and not a lot of people talk about it.
So, I am going to be that person. Henceforth (or until I get bored) I am starting Middle School Mondays here on bradenbell.com. On MSMs I will blog about the curious creatures we call middle school students, providing thoughtful commentary, pithy anecdotes, and deeply helpful advice for troubled parents based on my 25 years (!!!!!!) working with this age group. At least that's my intent.
Feel free to write in with your middle school questions. If you are a parent, maybe I can help you translate the strange grunts and squawks of your hitherto loveable child's bizarre new actions. I can help you understand the trajectory of your child's development and, if nothing else, help you have faith that one day, your child will return, a wonderfully mature and delightful, stable young man or woman. If you are a middle school student, maybe I can help you see why your parents act the way they do. In other words, I can be your translator. All identities will be kept strictly confidential. You can send me a line here or just email braden at bradenbell.com
For today, I wanted to talk to parents about the value of silliness.
Saturday our school had a big birthday bash. It was quite a day, complete with all sorts of festivities. One of the activities was face-painting. I didn't want my face painted. It's itchy and looks silly on men of my age and standing. But as I walked past the booth, some students asked me to let them paint my face. I have learned in these situations to agree to it. So, I sat down and had all kinds of glittery things painted on my face. I also had washable tattoos applied and a cat nose and whiskers.
This was not what I wanted. However, it amused the kids and it did me no harm. It bought me just a bit of credibility with those students and affirmed that I care about them. Next time I need to discipline one of them, it will be in the context of having a small bond. This is important if you are a youth leader or teacher or anyone in authority.
Middle school kids LOVE to do stuff like this. It usually involves making you look silly. It will rarely be what you want to do. Do it anyway. Swallow your pride and just give in. Be a little silly. The more dignified and up-tight you are, the more value this kind of thing has.
One caution: this has to be kid-initiated. If I had run up and said, "Hey guys, paint my face!" they would have thought it was lame. You can't impose or initiate this. But be ready, when your child suggests some silliness or other to go with it. It pays off later, big-time. Also realize that what a student will suggest with a teacher or coach, he or she may be mortified if a parent does it. So be sensitive to that.
Okay, and that's a wrap! Thanks for coming and tune in next time for another exciting installment of MIDDLE SCHOOL MONDAY!!!!!
It is a beautiful day in Nashville today. Almost, but not quite as beautiful as the crisp, golden fall day in New York City ten years ago.
9/11 is personal to me, to my family. We lived in NYC on that day. A dear friend lost a sister in the attack. I watched the second tower come down from my office window. We were not in danger, but our neighbor worked at the World Trade Center and narrowly missed death that day. In fact, she only lived because she ignored the "all clear" and decided not to go back in after the first plane hit and they were told the other buildings were fine. Later, as she fled, she had to dodge a tire flying through the air--part of the airplane's landing gear.
I regret that, like many other things, 9/11 has become politicized. It wasn't like that in the days immediately after. The horror of 9/11 brought people together in a remarkable way. New York City was a different place for several months. People made eye contact on the subway. They gave up seats to the elderly or pregnant women. They were courteous and kind.
And instead of being from Brooklyn or Queens or Manhattan, instead of being Catholic or Jewish or atheists, instead of being white or black or hispanic, instead of being Puerto Ricans, Dominicans--we were all Americans.
American flags proliferated over night. They were every where. Apartments. Fire escapes. Car antennae. It was not nationalism or superiority. It was genuine love and unity. It was an impulse to link arms as we realized that what we took for granted might not be so unassailable.
I thank God that we have not had any more attacks on that scale since then and I honor the brave people who have stood between us and danger. Surely our relative peace has not happened simply because no one has tried to hurt us again.
I think of those brave firefighters and police officers who ran towards the hell that everyone else was running away from. Jesus said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). I mourn their loss and the loss of innocent life in those towers.
But I also mourn the loss of unity, the loss of togetherness that swelled up during those days during the aftermath. I mourn the quick, and entrenched return to our own tribes and ideological camps.It's not that I think we should all agree with each other on every thing. I don't, and that's not possible. It's not that I think that principled disagreement is never right. I think it's often important.
But I do wish we could be less strident, less hyper-politicized. The people who died that day died because they were Americans. They didn't die as Democrats or Republicans. The firefighters who gave their lives while trying to rescue people were trying to rescue other Americans, other humans. Their brothers and sisters.
I wish we could remember that.
One of the most amazing things I've ever seen happened on that day. It's something that has not been widely remembered in the collective consciousness and I think it's worth a look.
All the members of the U.S. Congress--senators, congressmen and women came out on the steps of the capitol and held a press conference. They said the things you would expect and had a moment of silence. But watch a few minutes into it. Something really remarkable happens then--something that provides a wonderful metaphor for the way forward.
I don't hear Democrat voices or Republican voices. I just hear Americans singing, acknowledging that we are together and that we need help and guidance.
Today I did one of the most exciting things that an author does. I sent my signed contract in to a publisher. I'm thrilled to announce that my book, MIDDLE SCHOOL MAGI: THE KINDLING will be published by Cedar Fort Press. I don't yet know what the release date will be, that will be assigned by the publisher later on. For now, I'm thrilled. I have worked on this project for 2 1/2 years now. For various reasons, it's been kind of complicated and has taken longer than normal to get to this phase.
This book is quite close to my heart because it takes place in a small, private middle school and features the close relationship between three seventh graders and a slightly rotund, sweater-vest wearing theatre and choir teacher who happens to have a Ph.D. To be honest, the character is not based on myself. Rather, he's the teacher I wish I was.
If you've visited my blog much at all you know that next to my family and church, teaching, my students, and my school are the other great loves of my life and this book is sort of my love letter to those last three items.
I wrote this book at a time when I was at a particularly low ebb in my career. Some students and their parents had hurt me terribly. It was unintentional, but I was deeply discouraged. But for the bad economy, I probably would have left teaching, or at least my school (that would have been a terrible, terrible mistake as the years since have been the happiest of my life).
Feeling the need to pick myself up a bit, I thought about writing an adventure that featured close bonds between students and a teacher--it was sort of a vicarious way to ease the rather sharp pain I was feeling.
While thinking about that, one night my family got home from church on a stormy Wednesday night. My son said they saw a creepy guy in a black cape walking across people's lawns in a heavy storm. Why would such a person be out on such a night?
That got my mind thinking and those two lines of thought converged. I stayed up late that night writing two climactic battle scenes--one that happened at the beginning and one that happened at the end of the book. I could see these scenes clearly, like a movie in my mind and I couldn't type fast enough to get the words on the page.
Then, I filled in the rest of the story between those two points. And then I revised and revised and revised and revised. And revised.
At any rate, I love the story and the characters. I should add that the characters are not meant to be portraits or portrayals of anyone. It's true that some of the teachers in the story were suggested by colleagues, but they quickly evolved into their own people and are not meant to be representations of anyone specifically. Still, I suspect that those lucky enough to be in the Harding Academy community will think they recognize some of the characters.
I'll be updating all this as I get a release date and so on. I'm already dying to see the cover. That won't happen until closer to the release date, but my publisher does amazing covers and I'm anticipating it already. I'm also planning how I can do a really cool book trailer and t-shirts and, and, and---
If you are interested, you can read the first chapter by clicking here.
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