Click here for Highlights of 2008, Part 2

Jan. 18, 2008

Becoming a Win-Win Teacher

It’s one in the morning. I’ve been formatting survey responses, transferring them from emails to Word documents and trying to print them except Word keeps crashing. (NOT my favorite app. I may just end up switching over to Mariner or an open source word processor but I’m so in the middle of this project right now that the thought just makes my head want to explode.)

The survey responses are answers to questions I’ve been sending around about a new book I’m working on for Corwin. The material I’m getting back (from everybody from superintendents to school secretaries) has been interesting, to say the least. In fact, there’s so much here that I actually see two books coming out of this research—this one, a survival guide for beginning teachers (which is my immediate concern), and another, a systems-level book looking at what we need to start doing to keep the good teachers from leaving the profession.

This book, Becoming a Win-Win Teacher, actually started as a revision of Being a Successful Teacher, which is technically out of print, though I do have plenty of copies and should have stock until the new book comes out. But since the current edition of that book book is twenty years old and since the geniuses at School Specialty (who bought the company that originally published it) continue to refuse to give me the rights back (or even answer my calls), it was just a whole lot easier to follow our #1 business (and personal) policy and mandate to not deal with crazy, nasty, toxic people and simply get on with our lives, (especially after the headaches with 21st Century Discipline).

With the input of about several dozen people so far, the proposal and outline for this new book— which in all fairness can’t really be called a new edition since I so far haven’t actually used anything from the old book— has taken on a life of its own.

Growing a Book…

It wasn’t even on the menu, the list of topics I planned to explore in this book, but after the first handful of survey responses, it became clear that if I’m going to be fair to people entering this profession, I need to mention a few of the dirty little secrets nobody tells you about in college— like how political schools and districts can be, how territorial people can be, how challenging some parents can be, how many agendas you’re likely to encounter (often conflicting with one another), the things that don’t make sense (or are just plain mean), the amount of time and energy the job consumes, the expectations the frequent lack of discretion, the pressure, the paperwork and record keeping, and so on.

From what I’ve heard from some people, including some high-level administrators, I doubt I’d last a week in some districts, and I’ve been at this for 35 years now. And I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the lack of attention we pay to these not-real-supportive realities so many beginning teachers (and veterans, for that matter) encounter is a big part of the shock and discouragement I’m hearing, and a big part of what’s behind the attrition rates.

I spent several weeks writing in circles and waking up in the middle of the night with panic attacks. I have an insane deadline, mitigated only by an editor I adore (who will hardly benefit by me melting down completely or writing total crap). I’ve had to streamline my research process (no time to take notes on my precious 5″ x 8″ index cards!) and enter data directly into an outline I will, hopefully, be able to start writing from in the next couple of weeks.

I’m still not sure that this will work and, in fact, I am currently inundated with emails, studies, books, reports, and all kinds of other stuff people are sending me, and things I’m uncovering in this stage-one, data-collecting process. There are days I feel like I’m being buried alive and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to sort this all out into a cohesive entity.

The next step is to get the data into the outline— a kind of clunky enterprise, trying to hold a book open and type from it. At best, I’ve got stuff that’s already in editable electronic form (like the emails) but that I have to cut and paste to get into the right places.

So yeah, there are a lot of times I feel like I’m losing it, or that I’m sure this is never going to be done in time. And it may well be that an extension is necessary, but for the moment, I am pretty much letting most of the rest of my life go to hell in a hand basket, as they say, so I can concentrate on this thing.

And in my spare time…

I’m working on upcoming jobs and all the details that go with each one, learning some new software, bonding with a new laptop and operating system upgrade, and learning Italian. And feeling guilty that I haven’t finished any of my knitting or bead or clay projects lately.

2:08 a.m. One of my resolutions is to go to bed earlier. I’ve been shooting for 10:00 in bed, with an hour for reading or journaling. Not even close… I did just finish the section below, but might add a few new things in the morning.

So let’s review last year’s resolutions and plans…

Some of these go back a few years. Let’s see how much progress I actually made.

Seeking balance and moderation in my life

REALLY not the best time to ask about this. I don’t know when I’ve ever felt quite as OUT of balance. I haven’t touched my beads or other crafts, there are piles of things around my office and house that need to be put away, and stuff on my desk that frankly scares me to go near. There are quite a few things I’m simply going to have to let go for the next few months, although there are always other priorities that nibble away at the time I need for writing.

I am more aware of stress and “psychic invasions” in my life than ever. (I recently sent a copy of the survey to my editor to pass around and actually got the name of the book wrong…) So I am taking a few breaks (a massage yesterday, dinner with friends tonight) but the fact is that I have taken on an awful lot right now and it often feels like more than I can handle.

Create new products.

The Win-Win Classroom came out at the beginning of November 2007 and seems to be doing well. Feedback has been great, and I would have LOVED to have had a chance to bask in some sense of accomplishment, but as soon as it was done, I started working on a facilitator’s guide (which is done except for a page or so of introduction I need to write this weekend). It will be nice to have the guide out to help people using this book in their classes, book studies, and inservice programs.

I finally have the files and the software to bring out Magic, Miracles and Synchronicity, the book that will replace the now out-of-print Daily Riches. I have gotten one bid from a printer and need to get a few more, but I honestly have no idea when I’m going to get that book on the presses. It’s so close to being done (just needs a couple hours’ worth of work) that it would be sad to not have that book available for the next few months because I’m not focused enough to get the files to a printer!

In the coming year, I am still hoping to bring out my Teacher Tapes on CD, bring out the CDs for counselors, and put a number of our products (“Pads” on the Back, TeacherSaver Memo Pads and the article, “Positively Positive,” among other things) on a CD as well. OK, that’s what I wrote a year ago, and these things are still a priority, but I doubt I’ll even be able to think about them before summer. Maybe. I also want to do something with Parents in a Pressure Cooker, which has been out of print for a while, and the two workbooks that go with it. One day…

Because another publisher has been talking with me about bringing out another parenting book, and then there’s a likely facilitator’s guide for this new book, and then the follow up to this book, so a real, good, healthy break (as in not being institutionalized or anything quite along those lines) is still a way off.

Now despite the anxiety I’ve been experiencing, please understand how grateful I am that this demand for my work exists. This is an author’s dream-come-true and the culmination of decades of work in this field. I hate the thought of not striking while the iron is hot and am rationalizing the commitments I’ve made for the next year or so as an intense investment in some long-range positive outcomes.

Set up a shopping cart on this site.

DONE DONE DONE!! Woo hoo!

Create an account with Pay Pal.

DONE!

Create a link with Amazon.com. Maybe…

More a “probably” than a “maybe” at this point. When I can get to it.

Create a data base and site map for this site.

For the time being, the two different site maps, one listed by topic, another listed alphabetically will have to suffice.

Clean out my office files, my garage, my studio.

I’ve gone through quite a few things that had been sitting around for a couple of years and there are parts of my life that are actually fairly well organized. This will always be ongoing but seems to be one place where things fall apart when I’m writing on a deadline, especially a really crazy deadline.

Get my studio files up on this site.

It’s totally unofficial, but I posted some of the work I did in polymer clay and in silver clay for a few friends to see. I haven’t linked these pages from anywhere except a couple of blogs, but they’re there.

Keep walking (I love shooting for 10K steps a day!) and avoid eating stupid when I’m on the road.

On and off. I’m having trouble getting in ten thousand steps when I’m sitting at a computer or reading all day, but I’ve actually gotten to the gym a few times this month and have been walking 5-6 days a week. On the road is always a challenge, especially when I’m working and traveling in the same day, which I will be starting again in about 10 days, and will be doing pretty solidly over the next three months.

Enhance and improve the Links section of this site.

Ongoing.

Actually set up the idea sharing sections in our various Forums.

A low priority at the moment, but still on the list.

Write more articles.

I would love to and in fact, have written for a number of columns and just got another request in today. So while I don’t have the time to structure for article writing on top of everything else, I have been pretty responsive to the requests I’ve gotten in the past few months. And I think that’s probably the best I can do for now, assuming I can keep up.

Revisit the possibility of revising Parents in a Pressure Cooker.

Still pretty far down my priority list but not off the table.

Create a place for visitors to this site to sign up for notification of new products, for example, or a newsletter, perhaps one day.

Not yet. It’s a data base thing to which I’m still looking forward. One day.

Clear out the clutter I threw into boxes and crates a few months ago when I “cleaned” my office. This means a lot of filing, sorting, tossing, stuff I really hate doing.

Well, they’re sorted. I’m going through some of the papers that were in those piles in my research. Still a few things relating to stuff like taxes and investments I don’t feel like looking at right now.

Continuing to block off two months at the end of the year to rest and recharge.

I have done so for 2008-09 at the cost of several great job offers I had to turn down, not only because I committed to time off, but because I’ve also committed to another geek cruise at the beginning of November, which I’ve never taken off before, and will be out of the country during that time.

Still… without this time at home, even though I’ve been writing the whole time, I don’t think I’d be worth much when I go back out on the road. I know someone who calls this time for rebooting her system, and I really get how important that is.

Learn new computer stuff.

Few things I would like more, especially related to video (transfers, downloads, production, etc.). I have the hardware and the software but not the time. Not yet.

March 1, 2008

These past six weeks…

I have not been home for more than four or five days at a stretch, and my time at home tends to be eaten up with dreary desk duties, things like pulling together tax stuff, developing contracts, sending birthday cards, creating handouts for upcoming events, planning travel, checking logistics, filing receipts, running invoices, and getting book orders to Jerry.

Most of these tasks, individually, take only a few minutes, maybe a half hour, but stuff like this can eat up days at a time. And has.

In January, just before I was about to head back out on the road again, I got sick with that respiratory crud that seems to be going around everywhere. (And I mean everywhere!) I supposedly had the contagious stuff under control before I left the first time, but I have really been feeling a lot less than 100% for quite some time. Yuck.

No writing going on here…

I had hoped to have all my research and notes completed by March 1. What a joke! I have been inundated with survey responses—wonderful information that will ultimately make this book so much better than it would ever be otherwise. Good stuff. I haven’t even gotten thank-you notes out to the last few dozen people who submitted their responses yet.

And formatting? Forget it! Seems I’m just going to have to cut a lot of my normal processes and just dump stuff directly into the manuscript outline, hopefully in the chapter in which it will make the most sense.

Still… there are certain logistical priorities, like keeping track of who sent what, and which book or article or Web site was the source of which quotes, that require time and attention. (Including acknowledging submissions.) It’s been hard to stay on top of that stuff, and I’m usually really good at that part!

So yes, I’m behind and I’m frustrated and the other day I found out I might have a teensy case of TMJ cause I keep waking up with this blinding, searing pain on one side of my head. (God bless my chiropractor who was able to realign my head, neck, and jaw and relieve the pain! This after a trip to the emergency doctor to rule out an ear infection or an exploded eardrum or stuff like that.) Let’s talk about stress, why don’t we?

I’ve drafted Jerry into typing everything I’ve highlighted over the past few weeks into a word processing document so I’ll at least have the data in a useable form (and centralized place). I still have massive piles of stuff to read and sort out, including cannibalizing some of the material in the nearly 400-page Being a Successful Teacher. When?

Note: Maybe it’s age, but I really think that good keyboarding skills and the ability to do laundry have become my primary relationship priorities any more.

Needless to say, I’m still a long way from what one might actually call “writing.”

High School’s Not Forever Scholarship

Eric Katz, my coauthor on the book High School’s Not Forever, suggested that we offer a $250 scholarship to a lucky senior who submits an essay about his or her experience in high school. (I have since found out that this seriously brilliant idea was originally his wife, Christine’s!)

He posted the scholarship on FastWeb, right around the time I figured out how to put a counter on the page that advertises this scholarship on our site. I was initially reluctant, thinking that no counter would be better than a counter with 6 visits showing.

So imagine my surprise when we had over 1000 hits the first day! In the first week, we had received 73 essays and our ranking for this book on Amazon went from well over #195,000 to #6041 in just a few days. (This week was the first time this book actually went into a 4-digit ranking, a very big deal!!)

The initial rush has slowed down a bit, but we’re still hearing from kids, and getting orders through our Web sites, and the deadline for submission is still months away— August 1, 2008.

Out of balance, for a change

Last weekend, I drove down to Charleston from Myrtle Beach, where I had been speaking at a Montessori conference the day before, to visit friends of mine from our Pittsburgh days circa 1972. We hadn’t seen one another in about ten years, and I was just too close to pass this up. It meant an extra day out of town, but this one was well worth it.

While I was thoroughly enjoying the day and our time together and congratulating myself on deliberately building in a day for something social, we walked into a bead store and in minutes I was near tears, realizing how long it had been since I had had my hands in beads, clay, even knitting.

I have this perfectly wonderful studio and all kinds of stuff (and yeah, I picked up some really cool fake pearls and a beautiful dichroic pendant because I didn’t have those exact things, and I can’t get anywhere near it.) I just feel so totally overwhelmed, and so totally out of balance, and I think this would hurt a bit less if I were at least making some kind of progress on the book to which I have devoted this period of time.

I know it won’t always be like this, but that was a real hard reality to face.

Ready to leave…again…

I’ve had some great times on the road, some wonderful groups, even a few really nice surprise hotels and meals! The Best Western Richmond Suites in Baton Rouge was a real treat, with a huge, comfortable apartment-sized suite, and an incredible Lebanese restaurant across the parking lot. What a nice change from the usual hotel fare, when we could even get that! (We stayed in one place where the restaurant was closed for dinner and the cook didn’t show up for breakfast!)

After two weeks up in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Canada (among other places), where the temperatures were well below zero, and where I learned, after our flight into Saint Cloud, that toothpaste could actually freeze, it was really nice to be in the southern part of the country for my last two runs. Tomorrow morning, I head back up to the northeast— Manchester, NH and then Burlington, followed by three days in New York. So more from the road. Or soon after…

April 27, 2008

End of semester rush

I got home late Friday night after a week across Canada— great participants in all five cities (and four provinces, and three time zones…) and a not-bad week despite cold, gray, crappy weather including some late-season snow and ice, lots of cramped flights, and a few hotel conference rooms that were just too hot and crowded to work in comfortably.

Add to that the end-of-semester exhaustion that’s been creeping up on me, my server being down for days, changes at my publisher I’m not entirely clear about, and something weird going on with my email programs (I can’t send anything out on my main account), and it ended up being more stressful than usual.

I went to bed around midnight, just after I walked in the house on Friday, and didn’t do much beside sleep for the first 36 hours I was home! Kind of scary!

Can you hear me now??

If you sent an email any time between April 18 and the 21st or 22nd (or since then) and haven’t heard back, there’s a chance the message got lost in cyberspace. Please try again, or call me (505-323-9044). I’ve been trying to answer the messages I’ve received, but the server was down for days and I don’t have all my mail server issues sorted out yet. I’ve spoken to a few people who have told me that they sent me something I never received, so if you haven’t heard back (or got a message to me bounced back to you), please try again!

Home for the summer, or much of it!

Despite a couple of great jobs this month and next, I don’t have much speaking or presenting work on the books. This is always a mixed bag for me— relief on one hand, being able to stay home for a bit which comes up against a bit of anxiety about finances. For the moment, relief is beating anxiety hands down.

About the book…

My first contract for this new book requested that the manuscript (first draft) be done at the end of February. They moved that up to the end of April, which honestly wasn’t any more realistic. I am still finding things to research and still have things to add to the outline.

Half of the last five months were taken up with working on the Facilitator’s Guide for The Win-Win Classroom (the galleys of which I just received and need to turn around by May 2)! And much of that time was simply tied up with travel or presentations.

I’m having a hard time getting my head back into working on the book— I’m tired of the research, feeling overloaded with information, and frankly not enjoying the process. The mainstream literature (conventional wisdom, as it were) looks way too much like the stuff I studied nearly 40 years ago, or focuses on basic, benign, mechanical stuff like bulletin boards. The “discipline” strategies are outdated, ineffective, and inconsistent with any of the work I’ve been doing for the past few decades.

And when I ran into advice to “mark testing dates on your calendar” so new teachers can be sure to “cover all the content in time for the tests” (all this before ever meeting the students or knowing where the kids are), I was so depressed I could barely move.

Just as depressing, I’m running into first-year teachers who are getting some really bad advice, and others who have already bought into the idea that their primary role is to prepare students to take (and pass) tests.

So I’m really struggling with what I need this book to say— on some days “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE” is all that comes to mind— and how I want what I write to come across. Everything I put my hands on seems to focus on helping new teachers fit in, which basically (in many cases, at least) just means becoming committed to (or co-opted by) existing systemic dysfunctions. I have no intention of adding to that message, but at the same time, don’t want to write a book that is so fringe that it will get some good teacher fired, or not be used at all.

Frayed around the edges…

I had dinner with a friend who has known me for nearly 40 years and has seen me through a LOT of stuff. She’s called a few times to check on me because she says she’s never seen me so stressed out in all the time she’s known me!

So I’m not sure I’m actually in a good place to write! Since that dinner early in April, I decided to back off a bit. Between computer crashes, not being able to get in touch with my editor, and being gone all the time, it’s been real clear that the time isn’t right.

Close. Closer than it’s been in a while. In fact, simply giving myself permission to just walk away from even thinking about the book for the past couple of weeks has really helped. Plus being home now and not having a zillion other distractions on my plate—though it’ll be better when I sort out the rest of the computer weirdness I’m still dealing with and taking care of a few little details for the jobs I have coming up.

It’s been hard to find time to update this page, and I’ve been in such a crappy space so much of this time that I really haven’t felt much like sharing where I’m at. I’m feeling a whole lot better, just having the travel and details of the past few months behind me (and hopefully the cold, gray weather, too!). I’m still more tired than I’d like and sorely in need of more balanced nutrition and exercise, but I’m in a much better space.

June 21 , 2008

Happy Summer!

I haven’t had much to add to my blog lately. I’ve been home a bit more since the middle of May than in quite some time, although I was out much of last week and take off again tomorrow. Exciting jobs and a nice re-connect with the work before I take the next 6 weeks off from the road. A short break that feels shorter yet with the pressure I’m putting on myself to finally sit down and get some writing done.

After months of spinning my wheels— not entirely, as I’ve been reading and building up the outline with survey responses and research— I think it’s time to get that first sentence down, no?

The Facilitator’s Guide is Here!

One of the projects that has held up my work on the new book for beginning teachers is a Facilitator’s Guide to go with my book, The Win-Win Classroom. A mere 80 pages, you wouldn’t have thought it would have taken as long as it did. But it’s been a while since I’ve written curriculum and activities and, aside from having forgotten how much I enjoyed it, I’d also forgotten how much work it is!

The upshot is that the “mere 80 pages” are jam-packed with activities and anybody using the book with a class or study group, or in a seminar, will have enough to keep him or her busy for months!

Highlights of 2008, part 2

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