Friday, May 15, 2009

HBF Teacher Discusses No Teachers Left Behind

Our special guest today is Hopeful But Frustrated Teacher (HBF Teacher). The author’s new book, No Teachers Left Behind, tells the story of a fictional school system—the frustrated teachers, its overpaid administrators, and the ignorant and unsupportive parents of the students who show little respect for authority.

Welcome to The Book Connection. We’re thrilled to have you with us.

Please tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been teaching? What made you want to become a teacher? And, did you ever envision yourself as an author?

I live in Atlanta Georgia, and I’m a happily married mother with two children. Growing up, I was lucky enough to have some really caring teachers who challenged me and inspired me to learn – that is why I had to become a teacher. My desire to become an author arose sort of from a similar path. As a student, I was disappointed in the endings of so many books and stories that I got to the point where I was constantly complaining about them. A teacher suggested that I rewrite an ending one day, and the writer in me was born.

How long did it take you to bring this book from the first draft to the final published product?

The 1st draft is always the easy part. I actually think I wrote No Teachers Left Behind in a month. The editing and proofreading seemed to take forever – around 3 months.

Were there any obstacles or challenges you faced during the publishing process?

I really don’t feel like I went through any major obstacles or challenges during the publishing of No Teachers Left Behind. Still, publishing is such a pins and needles ride. You’re always on your seat because you want to make sure that you end up with your very best efforts.

Tell us about No Teachers Left Behind. What is it about and where did you find the inspiration for it?

I wrote No Teachers Left Behind as medicine for myself. I was at the point where I was starting to feel quite disillusioned as a teacher. I was depressed by the red tape and all the other stuff thrown at teachers on a daily basis. No Teachers Left Behind helped me deal with my frustrations. In the book, I reveal the frustrations through the voice of a fictional middle school staff.

Why did you choose the format of poetry, emails, and excerpts to portray the lives of the people at Vilyon Middle School?

It just sort of came to me when I thought about the diverse group of people who choose, everyday, to become teachers. We come from so many places and speak in so many different voices. It just made sense.

Some of the language in this book is on the strong side. How do vulgarities and obscenities help or hamper the message you’re trying to get across?

Yes some of the language is kind of strong, but No Teachers Left Behind is realistic fiction. In the school where I work, this language is all too frequently the norm. Some people may find it offensive and choose not to read the book because of it, yet at the same time, as an author, telling my story, I had to be true to my story.

One of the themes that runs through the book is how administrators claim that their decisions are to help the children. Do you believe that to be true?

Not being an administrator, I can’t really speak as far as the intent behind an administrator’s decision. Sometimes though, as a teacher, who has to deal with the same bad behavior from the same child over and over again, I have to wonder about the logic behind my principal’s decision to keep that child in my class. Children are important, but at the same time, I can’t help but think teachers are just as important. Without them, where would the students be?

Do you think the politically correct desire to not leave children behind is what has created many of the challenges teachers face today?

I think the “no child left behind” act did indeed create many of the challenges that teachers are now facing. So much emphasis was placed on “not leaving children behind” that too much responsibility was taken away from the students and their parents and placed onto the teachers. Education is not a one-sided thing. It takes parents, students, and teachers working together to be successful.

There is an email on Page 187 that states, “Please be reminded that as effective teachers you should never sit down when you have students in your class. Statistics show that teachers who sit down during classes have a higher rate of discipline problems.” I have to ask, is this for real? Did someone ever send you a memo like that?

Word for word – LOL, I have never received an email like that, but I have had an administrator say something similar to that in a speech once. It made me laugh then, and it still makes me laugh now. If you’re an effective teacher, then it doesn’t matter where you are in your class. If you’re not an effective teacher, as a teacher, I’m the first to say, “Get out. You’re in the wrong field.”

In our daughter’s second grade classroom, the teacher removed all the tables, installed a reading loft with seating, and brought in a couch and several easy chairs. Instead of sitting at tables, the students use clipboards and sit where they choose to perform their daily tasks. What do you think of that idea? Is this something that would be allowed in your school district?

I love the idea of allowing students to create their own comfort zones. Students learn best when they’re comfortable. I don’t think my school district would have a problem with this idea. I can see them being all for it if the students can achieve their academic goals in an environment like this one. If I was teaching second grade, I would definitely enjoying having a similar setup in my classroom. Right now, in middle school, with the students I have, I’m not sure it would work for me because my students are so easily distracted.

What challenges have been brought upon teachers because of English as a Second Language students and the increased amount of students requiring evaluation and special arrangements for special needs?

There are some challenges because of the increase in the number of ESOL students and students with special needs, but these challenges are minimal. One good thing about the United States’ system of education is the fact that it is always producing new strategies and teaching methods for teachers to reach their entire student populations. The neat thing about these strategies is that they don’t stand out as being different. Most of the strategies are methods teachers can use with the entire class. At the end of the day, most students learn in similar ways so once again, the challenges are minimal.

Is there a way for America’s system of education to better address these issues than they are now?

As a teacher and a parent, even I am conflicted on a solution to this problem. There are so many variables. Still, I must admit to feeling teachers should have a greater input into America’s system of education. If nobody asks us what we think and then changes are made, then we truly are being left behind.

It seems that students have changed a great deal since I was in school. In high school, I remember there being one stabbing incident and the whole school was in an uproar over how something like that could have happened. Nowadays, it’s not abnormal to read in the news about shootings, stabbings, even massacres in our public schools on a regular basis. How are teachers able to deal with these issues?

It’s confusing. We think about it, and we don’t think about it. You know it’s out there and a possibility so you keep your eyes open, yet at the same time, you pray it never happens. You can’t do anything else except quit, and if you became a teacher for the right reasons, then quitting is really not an option because deep inside, you truly believe you can make a difference. I think that’s why I keep showing up everyday.

What kind of support do you get from parents when discipline issues arise?

It depends on the parents. Some are really supportive, and it’s a great thing. Problems arise when the parents are nonchalant and/or just live in a state of denial and look immediately towards the teacher as the source of the problem.

How does lack of support from parents make your job harder? Do you think some of the lack of support is due to there being so many families where both parents are forced to work?

A lack of support from parents makes my job incredibly hard. Both parents working – I can see that being a minor factor in the lack of support, but I don’t see it as being a huge factor. Both my husband and I work. He works 60 to 80 hours a week, and I’m often grading papers at home and creating lesson plans. Still my children know I will not tolerate them disrespecting an authority figure. My children also know the importance of a good education, and even my youngest, in the fifth grade, is always asking her teacher for extra work (and this is on her own) even during holiday and spring breaks.

What is the main thing that you want readers to come away with once they’ve read your book?

After reading No Teachers Left Behind, I hope readers will view teachers differently. I would like for parents to reach out to their children’s teachers and get to know them better. The old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is still very much true.

Where can readers purchase No Teachers Left Behind?

Readers can find the book at

Do you have a website or blog?

The website to learn more about No Teachers Left Behind is

What are your plans for promoting No Teachers Left Behind?

I am doing a lot of direct marketing as well as an exciting blog tour with I am also meeting readers through myspace, twitter, and facebook.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today. I have enjoyed the interview.

Thank you for spending so much time with us today, HBF Teacher. Good luck with your book.

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