Editor’s Note: Kathleen West’s debut tackles the confusion, delusion and, yes, catastrophes often seen in the ecosystem of grade-school education. In this edition of Behind the Book, West lets us in on just how much of the storyline was influenced by her own life as a middle school teacher and what she would like readers to glean as they pour through the pages of her wry, cleverly observed offering.
What inspired you to write Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes?
The idea for the story came to me as I waited to find out whether my then-sixth grader had been cast in his middle school musical. I taught in the school he attended, and a colleague asked me if I planned to sneak up to the drama board and check to see if he’d gotten a part. Though I admit I was tempted, we agreed this was a terrible idea. What kind of parent would storm the bulletin board, pushing kids aside to read the list?
Obviously, I loved the idea of a character who would do just that. Julia means well, but she’s completely out of line. I’ve met moms like Julia lots of times, and I feel like I’ve (mostly) resisted being a mom like Julia lots of times.
As I started writing about Liston Heights, both from Julia’s and Isobel’s perspectives, I found myself obsessed with public criticism, which plays a big role in school communities. Everyone has been in school, and so everyone thinks they know how to define excellent teaching. And usually, when parents don’t agree with something they perceive to be happening in the classroom, the last person they’ll talk to about it is the teacher. So, instead of having a productive meeting with one parent who has questions, teachers end up having cryptic conversations about how “everyone” feels things are going badly. I really enjoyed exploring the consequences of behind-the-back complaining and gossiping, and the distrust and resentment it breeds between parents and teachers.
So you just received your new charms courtesy of HPB.com, now what? Whether you bought them for yourself or as a gift for someone else, here are 8 charming (pun intended!), quick and easy crafty ways to put your new HPB charms to good use.
1. Dangling Earrings
Educators hold a special place in our hearts at Half Price Books. Earlier this year, we introduced you to a pair of teachers who are true HPB booklovers. Adriana and Jeffery Sifford visited every HPB in the Houston, TX area (there are nine for anyone who’s counting) in a single day and tweeted about their adventure along the way. In this Q&A, we get to know Adriana and Jeff, and discover more about their choice to pursue a career in education.
Why did you become an educator?
Adriana – When I was a reporter, I covered education and I loved going to teachers’ classrooms and watching them teach. Students were engaged, teachers were having fun. I watched how students were learning from the teachers, and I always wanted to be a part of that.
Jeffrey – This may sound so cliché, but to make a difference. I always enjoyed learning and that’s something I wanted to pass on.
What do teachers do when their kids are at lunch? Take selfies in the classroom! Looking good, Adriana.
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
Adriana – My favorite teacher was Ms. Martinez. She was my 9th grade English teacher. She was nice, patient and was there for us when we needed her. She was also my debate coach. She made learning fun!
Jeffrey – My favorite teacher was my 4th grade English teacher, Mrs. Zaskoda. She made reading come alive and I looked forward to going to her class every day. Continue reading
I’d like to introduce you all to Caitlyn! She’s a middle school teacher in North Texas (an amazing one at that) and a wonderful friend of mine. Check out her picks of books and movies that help her along her teaching journey. Enjoy! -Sam
I’m one of those brave individuals that has chosen [been called to] a career as a teacher. I didn’t sign on because I wanted to have my summers free (although it is a beautiful perk) and I certainly didn’t embark on this journey because I thought it’d be easy (because in fact, nothing could be further from the truth). But it is my joy and my privilege to impart some small bit of knowledge on a set of middle school students every year.
I find inspiration in almost everything, even this Starbucks I’m sitting in. I really like the seating arrangements in this space and I’m making notes – ha! The greatest source of inspiration for me comes from books and movies. They are my love language. After a difficult day, I know I can read a chapter or watch a few minutes of a favorite story and it’ll fill my sails for the next day.
These are five movies and books that have been a source of motivation and encouragement at some point in my career.
Dead Poets Society (starring Robin Williams)
O Captain! My Captain! If you’ve ever seen this gem, then you’re probably nodding your head in a very, Ahh…of course kind of way. Mr. Keating is one of the reasons I love poetry and why I find it essential to teach in a free kind of way – no right or wrong, but interpretation and feeling. This movie reminds me that each person has the right to explore their own identity – what brings them joy, inspires them and fulfills them. I teach Walt Whitman’s poem O Captain! My Captain to my 8th graders and I love showing them the clip from this movie with that iconic line. Mr. Keating encourages me to be a source of inspiration to my kiddos, showing them that they can make their lives extraordinary.
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Continue reading