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Free-For-All Fridays

The Gathering of Wits and Nerves

A long time away from blogging, a lot of excuses. Last school year was tough—emotionally exhausting and stressful. It was hard to come up with anything to say that wasn’t venting, and no one needs that.

Then the momentum was gone. Still not sure I had anything to say.

Things happened, though. I survived the school year. I lost my editor as she got an amazing-awesome job at another house. (For those keeping count, this is the second time this has happened to me. Editors should flock to me if they want promotions.)

I also went to Las Vegas for the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference and signed ARCs—my first-ever author event! Look, here’s proof:

Me and my signing buddy, fellow Hyperion author Melissa Landers

Me and my signing buddy, fellow Hyperion author (of awesome!) Melissa Landers

I’m advising student council at my school for the first time ever, and I also went to a leadership conference with most of the kids over the summer. Lots of fun there.

Now the school year has started … well, actually, we’re almost through the first quarter. My classes feel more balanced for the most part, and I’m making things up as I go with student council. Generally, I feel like I have a better grip on things.

Well, except for the fact that my debut novel launches in ten days. Not sure I’m gripping that just yet. I keep expecting it to feel more real, but it doesn’t quite yet. Not even with a hardcover in my hands:

It even FEELS pretty.

It even FEELS pretty.

Maybe it’ll feel real when I’m standing in front of people, talking about it at the launch party. (If I don’t pass out and/or run screaming from the venue.) Or maybe when I see it stocked on shelves at the bookstore.

Maybe the rational, logical side of me took charge of this and accepted it as “real” ages ago, and that’s why I’m not noticing a difference. Maybe two years of students saying, “You wrote a BOOK??” helped it sink in. (If so, thanks, kids!)

So now it’s time for me to pull together. To gather my nerves for everything happening around the launch, and to hopefully gather my wits and come up with a few things worth sharing here now and then.

Wish me luck. :)

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When It’s NOT "Just Jealousy"

News Flash: Not all teenagers love and adore each other. (They’re just like younger kids and adults that way.) When one teen hates another, there seem to be two routes. The hater makes no secret of their hate, broadcasting it to the world, or they act extra-super-sweet-and-nicey-nice around their hate-ee.

The second is just about as obvious as the first.

Then there’s the response from the hate-ee’s friends once the hater moves on, particularly when we’re talking about girls:

“Forget it, she’s just jealous.”

It’s true at least some of the time, I’m sure. Envy gets ugly easily enough. But it’s become a sort of default response to being hated, or even just disliked. “It’s not my problem—they’re just jealous.”

What if they’re not? What if someone’s beef with me has nothing to do with my possessions, my status, my accomplishments? What if it has everything to do with how I’m conducting myself? I see kids who really don’t like other kids, and have really good reasons for it. Boys who disrespect girls, students who disrespect teachers, kids who try to cheat or cause trouble. And I’ve seen those kids brush it off with the “jealousy” excuse. Pointing fingers at the hater distracts me from what I need to see—my own face in the mirror, my own actions and character.

That doesn’t mean we need to beat ourselves up every time someone has a problem with us. But taking it as a prompt for some quick self-reflection couldn’t hurt.

This is part of why I don’t feel inclined to celebrate my successes in a sense of “Ha! Take that, haters!” If there are haters out there, I’m not always sure of the reason behind their hate. My success stands on its own. Separately, I’ll celebrate when I manage to knock down any of my own tendencies toward bad conduct …

… leaving the haters to worry about their own selves.

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Recover and Recharge

The weekend always strikes me as a time of recovery. This may be reflective of my day job, but this week there seems to be a lot to recover from.

Valentine’s Day being yesterday means today my students will be crashing from their sugar high, and I’ll still be finding candy wrappers in the strangest nooks and crannies of my classroom.

Yesterday was also our inaugural PAPfest. We’re recovering from running it. Some of our participants are recovering from the excitement. Others are recovering from the disappointment. (For the latter, be sure to check my post from Wednesday if you haven’t already.)

Today is mid-term, so I have a ton of grading to do. I don’t get to recover from that until it’s done. My back hurts just thinking about it. (I’m more likely to actually get grading done at school than at home, but if at school, it means being hunched over a desk while doing it. Definite dilemma there.)

One the plus side, it’s a three-day weekend. On the minus side, parent-teacher conference is coming up on Thursday. I actually like the chatting-with-the-parents part. The be-at-school-until-8pm part isn’t my favorite.

So the plan for the weekend is to do more than recover. It’s to recharge. And I think I’ll best accomplish that by engaging the writer-side a little more. Do a little reading for once. Do some work on either a revision or a rewrite of one project or another. Things that are a little less frustrating than grading quizzes where some kids did great, and others … still didn’t.

If you’re looking for something happy to get your recovery going this weekend, keep an eye on Young Adult Books Central today. They’ll be revealing the cover for Mindy McGinnis’s debut Not a Drop to Drink, which is less than seven months away from publication.

And that right there makes up for the empty cotton candy bag shoved between books on my shelf.

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Being Liked is Nice, But Not at Another’s Expense

When it comes to teaching, I know I have things to work on, but I also do some things pretty well. A lot of kids like my class and like me as a teacher.

That feels nice. It’s helpful, too, when a kid who doesn’t normally like math likes you as a teacher. They try a little harder, which often leads to doing a little better. I’ve even had a kid or two come away with a totally different opinion of math as a subject.

Like I said, it feels nice.

You know what doesn’t feel nice, though? Students convincing counselors to let them transfer into my class mid-year because they think I’m somehow better than the other teacher who teaches the course.

Flattering, but … wait a minute.

The two of us prep together and teach from exactly the same materials. We have essentially the same training. We see eye-to-eye on most mathematical topics and how to approach them. Sure, our personalities are a little different. But here’s what it really comes down to.

I don’t have a reputation yet.

The other teacher falls into the tough-but-fair category. That’s a good thing, but kids who don’t like the “tough” part spread the word that she’s “mean.” (Oh, please.)

Letting kids bail from one teacher to the other just because they feel like it isn’t fair to her—it undermines her. She’s been teaching for years and teaching well, and she deserves more credit than these kids are giving her.

It’s also not fair to me. It puts me in a position I don’t want to be in, playing me against my colleague. That sucks. On a more practical note, I don’t like it because it means my classes keep getting bigger. They’re all between 36 and 39 students now.

(My colleague could see it as great for her, because her classes are smaller, but she doesn’t. She’d rather we each have a fair, even class load.)

And you know what? Kids (and people in general, I’m sure) do this all the time. Playing favorites. Choosing sides. Trying to get everyone else to like/not like the same people they do. Often without much—if any—solid basis for that opinion.

I don’t like it.

Not sure what I can do about it.

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Experience vs. Expertise

There are a couple of things I could say I’m an expert in. Math and deaf education, for instance. I have the degrees and the training, plus actual years in the classroom. (Not that I can’t still improve, of course.)

Then there are areas I have experience in. Some coincide with my expertise (such as those years of experience in the classroom), while others are just experience, making me far from an expert. I’d put writing and the publishing industry in this latter category, though I think it’s transitioning to the former.

I have expertise, I have experience, and I also have opinions. On just about anything. Some of those opinions are on subjects I have NO experience in, much less expertise. I try to make it clear that those opinions fit into the “very theoretical” category.

My opinions on writing and publishing are a little less theoretical, because I’ve actually done some stuff. I’ve written a few novels. I’ve queried a lot. I’ve critiqued a few manuscripts, and I’ve talked to some agents and editors. But in a business as fickle and subjective and super-in-flux-right-now as publishing, my individual experiences are only worth so much.

Still, people ask for advice. I offer my opinion, and I try to back it up with the reasoning or experience that led to it. They can take it or leave it as they see fit.

That pretty much goes for all the advice and opinions I offer in any area, including education. Yes, I favor certain ways. Yes, I get frustrated when other people seem stuck in what I view as outdated or unsubstantiated opinions. I get even more frustrated when those people don’t have the expertise to back up what they’re spouting.

I’m pretty sure beating someone over the head with what I think won’t do much to change their mind.

So I’ll say what I think, especially when asked directly. I’ll try to keep my mind open to understanding the reasons behind opposing views. And I’ll give experts a fair shot, while considering the source of their credentials.

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Six Degrees of Separation from Me, I Guess

I’ve had a particularly annoying song popping into my head frequently, and by the end of the post, I’m sure you’ll have guessed it.

It started a month or two ago. My mom mentioned something about where her mother and grandmother had grown up, and our neighbor down the street remembered that her husband had family connections in the same location. Five minutes of conversation later, we figured out that my mom and this woman’s husband are second cousins, making me and the children in that family third cousins.

Oh, and one of those kids is in my math class. He now periodically greets me with, “Hey, Cuz!”

Earlier this week, I went to the mall to pick up a few things. A lady helped me at a particular store, answering questions and pointing out products she thought would fit my needs. During checkout, she signed me up for their frequent shopper rewards program, which involved giving my name, address, and such. She got a look on her face and said, “Did you … this probably sounds weird, but do you play the cello?”

I looked at her a little harder. “Tonya?”

Turns out we both played cello in the same junior high orchestra as well as the local youth symphony.

Then yesterday, my mother went in for surgery. (She’s doing well!) In the ICU afterwards (part of the plan, don’t worry!), the nurse and my dad got to small-talking. Dad asked if she’s from the area. She said she was born and raised in El Paso, Texas.

That’s where my mom grew up.

When my dad mentioned that, the nurse asked for her maiden name. Dad gave it.

“You mean Aunt Nelle and Uncle Ivan??” (My grandparents.)

Turns out this woman is my mom’s second cousin (their grandmothers were sisters). My mom even remembers her from way back, I think.

I guess there’s really no point in me being surprised at these things anymore.

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