Friday, June 5, 2009
A chat with teachers who are authors
Children are always surprised when they learn their teachers have talents outside the classroom. The Mosquito looked into one area of talent – writing – and had a chat with seven teachers (five from Carlisle School and two from Concord-Carlisle Regional High School) who are published authors.
David Nurenberg – CCHS
Teachers are notoriously busy people, so the first question we asked, of course, is how they possibly found the time to write. It’s not easy, most agree. “I have to write; it comes out anyway,” said CCHS English teacher David Nurenberg. He had written articles for journals in the past before writing his first book. “I love writing fiction but it’s easier to get nonfiction published,” he said. His science fiction novel, The Fragile Light, which is about the struggles of superheroes in a society that despises them, was self-published in 2005. Writing is hard to fit in, though. “I wish I had more time,” he said. He said he writes at various times of the day. “I can write in any condition; I don’t need to go into a little room somewhere.” Some of his students have read his book. “Some enjoyed it and some were not shy about their feelings about it. I listen to what they say,” he said.
Eric Rivera – CCHS
CCHS Social Studies teacher Eric Rivera, said he hasn’t had the time to write in over a year and he misses it. “I knew I had to get my masters,” he said. “I knew I would be sacrificing. I’ll be done this summer.” His novel, The Almighty,”a psychological murder mystery, was published in 2005. “I know a lot of kids in the school read it,” he said. “It’s not a book for ninth graders,” he added, saying the target audience is adult readers. He said he is anxious to get back to writing. He is also an artist, and designed the cover of his book. Though the book received positive reviews, he would like to rework it someday, and perhaps shorten it.
Connie McGrath – CPS
Carlisle School Special Educator Connie McGrath, who wrote the educational book, The Inclusion-Classroom Problem Solver: Structures and Supports to Serve All Learners in 2007, noted, “One thing I found out is that when you really have something to say it’s not that hard to write it,” she said. “As a Special Education teacher, I’m in a lot of classrooms.” Her book is a guide to building a permanent, inclusive classroom structure that helps diverse learners. “It was a great experience writing it,” McGrath said. She worked on a couple of chapters at a time during school vacations, and after school. “I really liked it,” she said. “I would rush home from school to work on it.” McGrath shares copies of her proofs (pages with edit marks) with her students to show that adults also have to improve their writing. “It has been a good teaching tool,” she said.
Steve Peck – CPS
Similar to McGrath, Carlisle School Intensive Special Needs teacher Steve Peck, used his teaching experience as the basis for his 2004 article, “Communication Made Easier – Facilitating Transitions for Students with Multiple Disabilities” which was published in the journal Teaching Exceptional Children. His article grew out of his desire to create a document that would travel with his students as they transitioned to higher grades. Some of his students were non-verbal, and he wanted to have a simple way to let teachers learn about them. He created a book for each student, detailing their needs through text and photos. “The original idea led to the article after parents and teachers receiving the books (on the specific students) expressed interest in getting the idea out there for others,” explained Peck. “After the article was published, I received many emails from teachers and parents around the country about the idea and how they could tailor it to their students’ needs and specifics. I enjoyed the process and critiques from readers before it was published and the whole experience was enjoyable.”
Marcella Pixley - CPS
Carlisle School English Language Arts teacher Marcella Pixley said she writes “very early in the morning, late at night, and I don’t write when my children are awake.” Her novel, Freak, is in is third printing. It is a moving story of a middle school girl and her experience with bullying. While Pixley was writing Freak, she said, she found her time squeezed and it still is now. “I try to write every day but it is hard. I wish I could wake up and just write, but sometimes 5 a.m. is a hard time to be up.” Amid grading papers, taking care of two children, and domestic chores, “everything gets done,” she said, including her writing.
Alan Ticotsky and Rob Quaden – CPS
Carlisle School Science teacher Alan Ticotsky is the author of Who Says You Can’t Teach Science? and the Science Giant series. Material for Who Says…? which details over 100 hands-on science experiments, was developed through his need to create a science curriculum at his first teaching job. It was eventually published 11 years later in 1986. He had the idea for the Giant series for many years, but once a publisher was interested, “they wanted it right away, so that was an interesting way to speed me up,” he said. The Science Giants series includes three books which provide activities in physical science, earth and space and life sciences. Ticotsky also co-authored The Shape of Change and The Shape of Change – Stocks and Flows with Carlisle School Math teacher Rob Quaden and Debra Lyneis. The Systems Thinking books offer lessons to build skills about patterns of behavior and how things change over time. The experience of writing was different for him, said Quaden. “I don’t like writing. I like thinking about ideas. I wrote a lot of my parts by thinking and walking my dog.” The two teachers are often asked to present their material, which they did in Texas this year.
All seven teachers are either thinking about their next project or are in the middle of one. Nurenberg says he is grateful to have a publisher and an editor for his second novel, White Wolf, a vampire story. “The timing is good, with Twilight and all,” he said. He enjoys the editing process. “I don’t know if students feel grateful for teachers making green marks on their papers but I am grateful,” he said. He has over 100,000 words written, but “I was given a word limit range of about 90,000.” He plans to scale it back. He doesn’t have a release date set at this point.
Rivera’s new book, Barnhouse, is “essentially a novel about self-discovery,” he said. He said the story is more psychological and optimistic, with less action than The Almighty. He is also interested in writing a screenplay based on The Almighty. “The way I write is very visual,” he explained. “I tell my students you are painting a picture with your words. You need to see inner newsreel, like they are watching a move.”
McGrath said she has “a couple of ideas” for her next writing project. “I’m so busy at work,” she added. “This school is so wonderful for inclusion. The teachers are really great. I think I’m learning from them all the time.”
Peck said he is experimenting with making video books by placing the information on DVDs. The DVDs could arrive prior to a student coming to a new school. Creating videos gives the students an opportunity to be involved with the project. “I’m definitely going to do the video with the three students I have when they leave next year. They will want to be involved,” he said. The students would be able to demonstrate the types of methods that work for them. “Maybe once I put my first video or two together, I’ll look at approaching a publisher.”
Pixley is working on a new book that she plans to complete during the summer. “Right after Freak,” she said, “there was interest in having me write a similar book for boys and I tried to. I wrote some chapters along the same topic and it just didn’t work.” She said her husband has promised her two days a week during the summer to go to their barn and write. “I am dying to get more time to work on it. I think the second book is much, much better.” She runs a middle school writers’ workshop and has shared some of her work with her students. “I find the feedback from kids exciting, really helpful and motivating.” When she hasn’t had time to write, she said, she feels jealous that she doesn’t have writing to share. “I so value the kinds of comments that come out of being with the kids who would be the potential audience.”
Ticotsky and Quaden said they are not currently working on a project but, said Ticotsky, they have a “few things stored away that we would like to do in the life sciences.” ∆
All photos by Cynthia Sorn
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito