Orlando: We Are All Called to be Teachers

So, the school year has ended, my husband is (like thousands of other teachers) celebrating by sleeping in, and 49 innocent people in Orlando are dead.

These events are connected for me because they focus my attention inward: I am no longer a teacher. And so I struggle with a sense of powerlessness in the face of humanity’s constant lean toward evil.

Teachers, oh teachers, we need and love you because you have a window of time during which you can influence kids while they still are open to influence. Yes, yes, teachers teach math, science, art, PE, reading…but more importantly, teachers show students how to be kind, accepting, and patient with each other, by modeling kindness, acceptance, and patience, and by demanding these behaviors in their classrooms.

Only parenting is a higher call.

Well, now I’m imagining 49 coffins, 50 because of course the shooter, we can’t forget him, he was real too, a person. And I scold myself, “You gave up working with kids to write? What is that going to accomplish? How is that meaningful?”

So, here is my determination and call-to-action both: Writers! Let’s make our work mean something. Yes, we can write fiction about elves who masquerade as Navy SEALS, or intelligent mice who figure out a way to satisfy their wanderlust by sneaking aboard NASA flights, or a teenage girl who befriends neighborhood crows…but let’s also populate our stories with characters who struggle to accept people who are different than they are, with people who are kind to themselves and learn to forgive others, with moms and dads and boys and girls and kids and adults who show their patience with others by using words to process and resolve conflicts.

If you’re not a writer, but maybe you’re an accountant, or a doctor, or a grocery store checker or a student or a custodian or barista: our lives can mean something. It’s all in our decisions about how we treat people, who we smile at and how often, how we talk to the strangers we meet, what expressions of hate we tolerate in ourselves and others. If you’re a follower of Jesus, like me, it’s not even a choice; it’s a command: Love the way I have loved.

We can use our stories and books and jobs and lives to show people we love them as we struggle to be our very best selves. We can model a different way to live. If we do that, I guess we can be a little bit like teachers.

I will settle for that.


Photo credit: George Ian Bowles from Toronto, Canada – IMG_9170, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49444669

And the Winner is…

Two weeks ago I posted a contest: design the best contest! And boy howdy was it fun to read your entries!

Here are the ones that measured up to the stringent rules employed by our judges. (Me, over the course of several days. It’s kind of like having multiple judges, right?)

  • You provide a simple sentence. The contestant is to rewrite it in the most convoluted way possible while maintaining the original concept. Points for rare words used properly.
  • Each contestant should describe why they should win, in 50 words or less, using the words Dawn, Turner, and Claflin. Extra points if they rhyme.
  • Send the best Beechwood picture.
  • Entrants have to describe their homemade chili in 250 words or less for the winningest, yes… the WINNINGEST chili in the world!
  • Write a poem about the author.

The competition was tough, and who knows, you may see these in use on this blog at some point. But only one made me laugh so loudly that other people at the library turned to give me angry looks, so I am proud to announce that the winner is…Victoria Starr Allen, who wrote,

Hold a contest for the best original fortune cookie affirmation using “self-aggrandizing.” For example: The hair-cuttings of a famous self-aggrandizing author will soon be in your possession.

Congrats, Victoria! You will soon be presented with a collection of inspired and inspiring writings.

Thanks for playing my game, contestants! Now I am off to find someone who will cook me some WINNINGEST chili…


Photo credit: Nomadic Lass (Flickr: Domo Party) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Beta Reading, West Seattle Montessori-Style

Q: What do you get when you mix a class full of middle school students, a draft of a novel, and a bunch of laptops?

A: The most awesome beta-reading experience ever, that’s what!

So, most of you know I’m working on a YA novel. The reason you know this is because I love to talk to anyone who will listen.Or who won’t listen: I once felt sad for a man who was sitting alone at a movie theater and (please don’t hate me when you read this next part) I moved so that I could sit: Right. Next. To. Him. 

He left.

Anyway, so when I finished my novel’s third draft, I uploaded it to Google Docs and (with the teacher’s permission) shared it with all the kids in my daughter’s middle school class at West Seattle Montessori.


Here is what my Wednesday and Thursday afternoons have looked like:

  • fire up Google
  • read comments from actual, live teenagers
  • make corrections in real time online

It’s been super fun, and there is an amazing synergy from that many kids reading all at once. They respond to each other’s comments, they answer my questions, they give critical feedback. (Teens, as you know, are very good at critical anything.)

What’s in it for me is obvious, but what’s in it for them? (I mean, other than reading my totally boss book, of course!) Well, they get to see the real, painful work that goes into writing and revising a novel. They get the confidence that comes from telling a professional writer (I did get paid $200 once) to add a comma or to give more character description or that two Jon’s is one too many. You can see an example of this in the photo above; the text used to read, “My sister and I open our bedroom doors into the tiny hall outside our rooms. I wait for Emma to pass, then join her at our kitchen table.” The revision is so much better!

This is symbiosis at its best, folks. I can’t recommend this enough to you YA authors out there. I’m so glad God lined this up for me: it’s useful and fun! Form plus function! It’s the pink-handled shovel of writing, I tell you!

Was that last metaphor unclear? Maybe I need to get them to start reading my posts…

(One last thing: keep those contest entries coming! Because, they are hilarious, let me tell you, and they keep me occupied and out of trouble. Winner announced June 10–that’s just one week!)