Month: May 2015

LEFT BEHIND ANYWAY?

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Most Americans have attended public schools. They are therefore experts on curriculum development, educational philosophy, methods of instruction, and classroom management. Oh. You detected that note of sarcasm, did you?

Public education is like the weather. Everyone complains about it, but no one knows quite what to do about it. Well, I have a novel idea: Get out of the way, and let teachers teach. NOT teach to tests. But teach kids—not only to read and write and do sums, but to enjoy these activities without the stress of tests looming over them like Damocles’ sword.

Those infernal fill-in-the-bubble tests. Tests intended not to find individual students’ strengths and weaknesses and thus build on the former and remedy the latter, but tests to label a school as competent or not.

In the best of all possible educational worlds, a test should challenge and teach and allow students to show what they do know, not just supply some sort of percentage measure of their shortcomings—and, by extension, the shortcomings of their teachers and schools.

A proper test over content covered in the classroom is made up by a teacher who knows not only his or her material, but also his or her students and the test is evaluated by that same teacher on the basis of what was covered and what the teacher knows of the students. Such instruments are time-consuming to make and time-consuming to grade. Impossibly so for a high school teacher facing 150 students a day in a given subject area and equally difficult for an elementary teacher dealing with 30 students in five or more subjects.

I am not suggesting there is no place in education for standardized tests. However, the current exaggerated emphasis is not only leaving many children behind, but is driving many a good teacher out of the classroom.

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TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK

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teacherA most sincere thank you to all my former students who have over the years taken the time and trouble to let me know that I made some small difference in your understanding of—well, whatever. . . .

Math teachers know when a student has learned a new formula. The shop teacher sees the results of classroom instruction. But the fact is that teachers of high school and college English classes never know for sure what they have contributed to a student’s achievement. Oh, yes, we may see improvement in students’ command of language and their understanding of nuances of literature. But how much of that came from natural talent or practice or from the work of a previous teacher?

So, like the others, we plug along, do the best we can, and try to adopt that fundamental premise of any profession dealing with people: “First, do no harm.” Inevitably, we do, though. We are human, after all. So, to all those students I may have short-changed or ignored or hurt in some way, I offer my apologies. And to ALL of you—know that teacher appreciation goes both ways. I am truly grateful for the things you taught me and the things you made me learn.

WRITER’S BLOCK

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OK. So here’s the story. Well, actually it’s not—a story, that is. And therein lies the problem . . .

Other than emails and blogs and a few (very few) letters, I have written nothing since last fall when I did manage to meet my final deadline for The Memory of Your Kiss.

So, you might ask, what’s the problem? I think it’s mostly that I work most efficiently under the constraints of a deadline. Perhaps that is a holdover from my days as a college student pulling all-nighters when a major paper was due—or from my days as a teacher when I put off grading papers until the very last moment. Anyway, right now I don’t have a deadline.

Mind you, I do have five or six books in various stages of planning, but only two of them are Regencies, and none is a finished manuscript. To break out of the Regency mold (partially—I will never give up the genre entirely!), I will need an agent and most agents want prospective clients to come to them with a finished manuscript in hand.Covered_Wagon_(PSF)

A few weeks ago, I dragged out what I call “my wagon train book.” I wrote six chapters of it several years ago and my critique group liked them. But then life got in the way. I was in a serious auto accident, then had to have back surgery. About the same time I lost my truly wonderful agent, Jane Jordan Browne, to pancreatic cancer.

When I got back to writing, I pushed the wagon train to a back burner and produced my WWII book, In Enemy Hands, and two new Regencies, An Earl Like No Other and The Memory of Your Kiss. I’m happy to say that, with some tweaking here and there, those first six chapters of getting characters on the trail “ain’t too shabby.”

However, in order to finish the book, I need to re-immerse myself in the research of western America in the middle of the 19th Century to recapture the flavor, the nuances, the mindset of that time and place. To this end, I am finding invaluable a series called Covered Wagon Women (Kenneth L. Holmes, ed.) which contains letters and diaries of women who made the trek west between 1840 and 1903.

Believe me, the “Pioneer Spirit” is not just a cliché historians invented!

WRITER FRIENDS

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Have I mentioned how grateful I am for and to my friends who have been so incredibly supportive of my writing? These include life-long friends and former students and strangers who, judging by comments and questions, could very well become friends!

Of course there are those who faithfully buy every book I publish! Like Mary and Dottie and Bill and—and—and— I thank them for that—and for their urging their friends to do so as well.

Others read my stuff in draft form and/or listen to me rant as I am dealing with characters who refuse to do what I want them to do. (Don’t these critters—that I created—realize I am in charge?!) In this regard, I cannot laud my colleagues at Lone Mountain Writers enough. They always help me “make it
better.”

I am especially grateful also to those like Joan Atkinson, Sharon Wylie, and Lorie Shaefer who seem determined to drag me into the 21st Century, no matter how I kick and scream in protest about new-fangled things in technology. Their patience is incredible.

And I am learning. Truly I am.