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Why Teachers Should Write More Books

It feels like a long time since I've penned anything here. For those of you unaware, I've been immersed in working on my first solo book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education. As it stands, I'd feel comfortable putting this out there to the people who read me consistently. Yet, to break through the usual debate on education literature, my editor and I thought it best to flesh this book out for a more coherent message. Instead of the usual dialogue about books for teachers (and perhaps about teachers), I want to create a book that's by a teacher about a teacher for a teacher (and everyone else interested in what it takes to teach.

Just getting to this point required disappointment and heartbreak. As it stands, many educational publishers want books from teachers by teachers, but with a singular focus on their resources or classroom narrative. Outside of a book like The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar, few books use the contexts and stories of what's happening around them to demonstrate why their expertise matters. As a writer, I find many people have difficulty putting their favorite stories from school into a book, perhaps because the stories border on the fireable.

The last thing I'd want is for a teacher to think their work might get them fired. I must be nuts.

I have this wild belief that, simmering underneath our longform pieces, our emotional posts, and our great diatribes about what happened in school. Thus, those of us with a gift need to put their words in even longer form: the book. Special shout-out to Dan Brown (the teacher), Deborah Meier, Bill Ayers, and Frank McCourt, but teacher writers need more cache when it comes to our stories, and the ways in which those stories inspire others to teach.

My shortlist for people who I wish would write a memoir-ish book: Renee Moore, Xian Barrett, John Holland, and Bill Ferriter. I know a ton of other teachers, so perhaps we can suggest them in the comments.

In the meantime, those of us who continue to write can take solace in the fact that people actually do want to hear those stories, way past the instructional pieces that we're always asked for. Expertise has the word experience in there, too.

14 Comments

Shannon Cde Baca commented on October 14, 2013 at 3:11pm:

Keep on Keeping on

Jose,

I agree with you! OK, I usually do but this struck a chord. When publishers expect teachers to stay in the practical hints and tips box we do not get that authentic voice from the classroom that shouts..."Hey this is NOT working folks!". We need that voice to keep us focused on the path through this muck and not just the shiny bits and pieces of success. The system is broken in so many ways and like a very poor landlord most of the ed reformers are ofering a bit of plaster and a bucket rather than replumbing the structure.

Your voice is the voice of reason and the voice from the inside telling other teachers that they are not crazy...the system really is not working.

So, keep writing and speaking truth. Change will come when enough voices join and guide the efforts.

Shannon

Lori Nazareno commented on October 14, 2013 at 8:50pm:

Teachers Leading

Hear, hear my friend! I, like Shannon, of course agree with you...and usually do. But it is more important than ever that teachers, particularly that define themselves as leaders, begin to share our stories and experiences. And I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you call out the specific type of writing that we are most often asked to share, but only reflects a small part of who we are. While it is important that great teachers share their great practices, our profession will not truly become a profession until we begin producing the solutions that we so desparately need through our writing.

I know that I have often found myself in the, "Who wants to hear my little story?" sort of mindframe. But as I work more and more in this teacher leadership arena I have begun to realize that, just like I want to hear others stories, perhaps they want to hear mine.

If we truly going to a profession, then we are the ones that need to write about our experiences, share them with others and be the implementers of the solutions that we know will work for our kids and out profession.

Bill Ferriter commented on October 16, 2013 at 7:21am:

Writing Books

Hey Pal,

First, I can't wait to read your book.  Your voice and your willingness to tackle issues beyond the classroom is always something that I've admired about you.

And I couldn't agree more that memoirs are an important contribution that teachers can make to the narrative about what is happening in our schools.  They help to chip away at the "false transparency" about the life of a teacher and the happenings of a classroom that Dan Lortie wrote about way back in the late 70s.

But you're also right that half of what I'd want to write about would probably get me fired all at the same time!  In a way, I think schools and the politicans who govern them are perfectly happy with false transparency when it comes to the truth about what lies behind the apple signs hanging on the front doors of schools. 

Maybe when I retire -- which is only 9 years away. 

Rock right on,

Bill

Wendi Pillars commented on October 18, 2013 at 11:13pm:

Keep it going

Jose, I love your honesty, and look forward to reading it in longer form. And yes, there are a lot of teachers whose stories I would love to read. Maybe Bill can compile them en route to retirement. 

 

Jennifer Cantelmi commented on October 20, 2013 at 10:25pm:

thank you

It takes courage to be honest, critical, and creative, and to think outside current constructs - and this is exactly the kind of thinking that is needed to transform our education system for the better. Keep it up.

Leilani Velazquez commented on November 12, 2013 at 7:47pm:

Write On!

I agree completely that the teacher's story needs to be told!  Tony Danza taught one year in the public school system and wrote a book regarding his experience.

I just self-published a book for teachers, and the most I spoke about my story was a 1-page introduction.

 

#clc-teacherleader

Bill Ivey commented on November 12, 2013 at 11:25pm:

Great idea - and more names!

I would buy books like that in a second, and read them pretty much straight through upon their arrival. I have already hinted to my family that your book would make a great Christmas present. :-) Beyond names already mentioned... I think Nancy Flanagan has the potential to write a really strong book along those lines as well, though she's not currently in the classroom. She has the ability to tell compelling stories and extract deep and provocative truths from them in a really accessible way. I also think of Sabrina Stevens as a powerful and courageous voice that more people need to hear. In the independent school world (though I automatically have reservations about giving voice to independent school people at a time when public schools are subject to so much undeserved disrespect), I think Josie Holford's strong and uncompromising voice for progressive innovation deserves a wide audience.

Cheryl Suliteanu commented on November 21, 2013 at 11:43am:

writing as role models

Jose, I too, look forward to reading your book.  And, you are rekindling in me something I've long wanted to do: write about my first five years teaching and the amazing impact that has had on me in the twelve years since.

What would you recommend as a strategy to get started? There's drama, heartbreak, social injustice, and great stories of strength and courage. Where does one begin writing about something that is so personal, emotional, and controversial?

 

Marsha Ratzel commented on November 25, 2013 at 9:37pm:

I'm writing a book about my journey

I've been writing my book for about 2 years and it's almost done.

It's the story of how I struggled to find a path in re-defining my classroom so that student voice and student passion was upfront.  It is the narrative kind of story that you all mention...and I'm lucky because I pulled much of it from the blogging that I've been doing for years and years.

I was alone and trying to reinvent myself to something I couldn't really explain to anyone in my school.  And really had to reach out there to find other colleagues with whom I could collaborate and work.  It's hard going it alone.

But alone is good because it does give you the most critical voice and time to really critique every move you make.  I worked and worked at figuring out how to release my power over to the class...and I had made so much progress.  Then I was switched to a completely different grade level and in a completely different subject (from 6th grade science to 8th grade Algebra I).  So then I had to figure out how to transfer what I'd learned in science to math...

Now I've been switched back to science....with older students.  And am learning again how to transfer what I've learned to a completely differnet curriculum and different age students.

My book talks about how I took on this challenge for better and for worse.  Where I had success and where I stumbled.  It is my hope that it gives other teachers a little encouragement that they can make a transition to something better for their practice....even if they have to go it alone and even if they have to keep switching up content areas.  Determination is the key and the patient to let yourself try things out and see what works.

I worked with the best editor in the whole world, John Norton.  He has been such a mentor every step of this writing way....and I would say that finding a good editor/mentor for the writing part was key for me.  Maybe that's because I'm a math and science kind of person.  But I couldn't have done this (and I would have quit a million times) without his kindness and encouragement.

Stay tune.  The book is coming soon....(like in the next couple of weeks).

Bill Ivey commented on November 26, 2013 at 10:39pm:

I confess..

... I knew this book was in the works (a little bird), and I'm delighted it's almost here!!!

Marsha Ratzel commented on November 27, 2013 at 4:45pm:

Yeah......

Wish I was as skinny as this bike rider.  But the graphic artist outdid themselves in designing the cover.  There are other things that the artist was able to make come alive....and little bits of art pop up.  I had no idea what possibilities were out there.

It's been such a Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and a steep learning curve trying to become an author.  It reminds me of the National  Board process....there are many places that I could improve or make much easier on myself....if only I had known......  I guess we're never too old to learn new tricks though and I'm definitely enjoying the ride for all its worth.

Thanks Bill for the acknowledgment.

Tim Wilson commented on November 27, 2013 at 12:21pm:

Test Comment

Test

Ramya test Ramkumar commented on November 27, 2013 at 12:22pm:

Great Blog!

Great Blog!

Ariel Sacks commented on November 29, 2013 at 10:41pm:

Becoming an author

Jose, I am so excited to read your book and that you've persisted to get your story out there. People need to know it.  I agree that we need many more stories of teachers' experience in the profession--that's key to us defining our own profession. We need "mirror" texts. We need to see ourselves reflected in the narratives about teaching and education. (This is something I describe in my book in relation to students --they need to see their stories reflected in the literature they read.) The issue of getting fired or becoming marginalized for having a "big mouth"--it's real. Thank you fr your courage!

 

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