The Experience, Not Only the Results

August is the Sunday of summer. The days are shorter and already we’ve had nights that whisper about fall. And in those whispers I hear too much, because so much awaits me as I turn the calendar a find that gleaming September staring back, asking: You ready?

I don’t know.


Every September requires I go back to school. It’s a right of passage that most of us are glad to have outgrown, but that’s not an option for me. Nor is ignoring the changes in education: the Common Core State Standards. They exist and are being implemented with begrudging fanfare. However, I do consulting work on the side, and I have created numerous ELA lessons that align with the CCSS. They are, in a word, boring.

That’s not to say educators will only use the types I have seen and won’t create dynamic opportunities for their students, because that always happens, regardless of the mandate. The difference with this reform is the unspoken message that the standards are more of a curriculum than a series of benchmarks. Therefore, teachers are looking to deliver content in a method that addresses the tenants of the CCSS first, and the needs of the students, second. And therein lies the problem. When you move the content to the front of the classroom and place the students behind, you’ve already failed. I can teach an unengaged teenager almost nothing. But I can teach an engaged student anything. Good teachers find a way to reach the individual.

Now the struggle will be how to do both effectively. Those CCSS results are measured, and they count. But the immeasurable experience of the students matters even more. ┬áTherefore, I posit that educators start by asking the students what they desire from their education and build from there. That’s pretty much how I go about writing.


Speaking of which, have you heard I have another novel coming out in just over a month? Seriously, if you pre-order Dare Me, it releases on September 17th. The thought of this makes me ill. Not because I don’t love this work. I do, and reviews are indicating that readers will, also. Really, my anxiety is similar to my issues with the CCSS.

As an author, I have to entice. The work must be strong, but so must be the delivery. I have to inform people that Dare Me exists without being an annoying beacon sending the message: Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book! Who listens to that guy?

Which is why I had the trailer created (below, in case you missed it), am lining up events (more on these, soon) and am harassing the local media for interviews. It is my hope that I am doing this well, am being creative and not annoying, and mostly, that I am engaging my audience, not shoving my work at them. Fortunately, I’ve had practice. Anyone who says teaching is for those who can’t, has never asked an educator to step into another set of shoes. That classroom is an unbelievable training ground.

What to do?

I promise that my students will be engaged with English education this year and that my readers will be engrossed by Dare Me. I will be behind the scenes hoping I’ve done a good job, but all the while knowing that regardless of the outcome, I’ll continue to strive for better. Not only for results (test scores and sales figures), but the experience.

Life is something to enjoy, not something to get through. Sadly, education and reading for so many are the latter, not the former. I am not comfortable with that idea. In my work as an educator and as an author, it is my intent to make the most of the time. Not only mine, but for those with whom I have contact. Because when those whispers start next summer, I want to be right here, preparing for another year, and another novel, knowing I’m doing the best I can with my time by providing education and stories that matter.

The Power of Narrative


“Let me tell you a story.”

I love those words. I can remember as a child waiting eagerly for whatever followed, because I grew up with relatives and teachers who used narrative as a primary tool. They told stories. And there’s a power in that, one with the ability to produce such resonance or dissonance that the world can be forever changed. That is why this time of year it is of particular importance to be mindful of the stories we tell ourselves.

I have had the concept of “narrative” on my mind recently because of the Common Core State Standards. There is a push to minimize literature in our curriculum and focus on Informational texts. Here’s the rub, every text is an informational text. Every article, graph, excerpt from an autobiography, they tell a story. They aren’t always in the structure of our standard narrative with the fixed setting, characters and conflict, but they are stories, nonetheless. Heck, even a math problem can be a narrative. If you don’t believe me, find a second grader and ask to assist with her math homework. Trust me, you’ll be telling stories.

Beyond the significance of this point for my teaching colleagues and I, lies the importance of narratives in our own lives, especially this time of year. It is typically stressful to begin with, but add our Nation’s recent tragedy and we find ourselves gripped by one particular story: evil and the loss of innocence. It’s a tragic, but common feature appearing since the beginning of oral storytelling. But so is the advent of the hero, the virgin birth, the everyday miracle. Yes, there are narratives to choose from, and that is vital.

I don’t write light and uplifting stories, so this may sound strange coming from me, but we should focus on a positive slant concerning the stories in our lives. That’s not to say throw on the proverbial “rosy sunglasses” and prance around like everything is fine. Because that’s ridiculous, because it is not. But that also doesn’t mean we should dwell in the darkness.

How you see your holidays unfolding, the story you tell about the travel or the interactions with your family will affect how you conduct yourself. The ol’ self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m as guilty of it as the next person. On the surface, it’s a simple mistake of judgment, but when it is repeated it becomes a belief. And belief can distort everything, for good or bad. And once you filter all stories through the only one you have available, nothing is as it seems.

Therefore, believe in letting the story unfold. Watch the characters develop. Don’t mentally “read ahead” and try to outwit the writer. Enjoy the setting and the conflicts. Neither are typically permanent and often the resolution of the latter is the most rewarding piece of all. Let the story breathe and throw away your preconceived notions of how it should be.

The Holidays are a time filled with the unexpected. And in the ensuing week I wager that acts of kindness will make a return. The world seeks balance, and its story is constantly righting from the last dip. So let us help by not minimizing, but in honoring, and in telling ourselves what we know is true, and that everything else will eventually be revealed.

Happy Holidays.