Tuesday, March 31, 2015

D. A. Russell with a Guest Post: "Duties of Teachers Not Related to Curricula"

Welcome D.A. Russell, author of Lifting the Curtain

Duties of Teachers Not Related to Curricula

by D. A. Russell

In 1990, a classroom teacher typically had all but six minutes per class available to teach the lesson plan for the day. We were able to dive into the lesson content, and use best practices reinforcement techniques to engage and challenge students. Children did an hour of homework each night, studied before tests, and enjoyed earning their successes. Children graduated from high school ready for college, and were soon ready for amazing careers. The USA ranked at or near the top of worldwide educational performance.

Just twenty-five years later the picture could not be more different. Almost 20 nations have passed the USA in educational effectiveness. Both SAT and ACT testing services find only 26% of high school graduates are ready for college.  College freshmen are spending their first year repeating high school courses – resulting in more and more downgrades to associate degrees due to lack of college credits. Children average just 1.5 hours per week of homework, and just 14% study the night before a test. Standardized test scores are down and graduation rates continue to decline. 46% of all new teachers quit the profession within the first five years. Charter schools are failing across the nation.

And we have cheated an entire generation of children out of a good education.

One of the most severe causes is the steep reduction in teaching time within a class period because of mandates that prevent teachers from teaching. Today, mandates by career DoE bureaucrats have usurped an average of 35 minutes per class period for non-instruction duties – yet the teacher is expected to cover the same lesson plan in the reduced time.

Here is a summary look at the major mandates that take a teacher away from the board for every class period. For periodic items (like assemblies) the time is prorated across the entire year.

Pre-1990 duties (6 minutes)
Fire drills
Handout/collect homework

Security Mandates (5 minutes)
Evacuation drills
Lock-down drills
Verify student ID use in every class
Track and continually monitor all children out-of-classroom

Social Mandates (1.5 minutes)
Assemblies – Allergies (Peanut, latex, perfume…)
Assemblies – bullying
Assemblies – LGBT
Assemblies – Career days
Assemblies – non-traditional careers
Assemblies – General (Class elections, PEP…)

Teacher mandates (4.5 minutes)
½ days for teacher training (PDPs)
Days missed developing new common core curricula
Yearly restraint training
State bullying training
Sign posting every class (core reference)

Standardized testing mandates (3.5 minutes)
Days missed proctoring standardized testing
Yearly test proctoring instruction
Days used to develop curricula and materials for standardized test preparation classes
Assemblies – standardized test orientation

Inclusion, ESL, and SPED Mandates (0 –- 30 minutes)
Accommodations to individuals and groups in lieu of teaching at the board
Repeating lesson via diversified learning techniques to individuals and groups within the class
Yearly ESL and SPED instruction

A vital caveat: the issue is not whether these additional topics are valuable, important, or necessary.  
Assume, for the sake of argument, that we all agree they are all vital to our children. Then we must also accept that the impact of a decision to replace chunks of the curricula with other topics is a reduction in education, and holding teachers accountable for things completely out of their control.

There are only 60-70 minutes in a typical class period
These non-curricula mandates must come at the expense of the lesson plan – usurping an average of 35 minutes per class from the planned curricula
Teachers are still held accountable for “not teaching” the full curricula when the real issue is that they are prevented from teaching because of these mandates
Teachers proficient in math, English, etc. are held accountable for teaching social issues where they have had no training and have little expertise.

The unintended consequences of these non-education mandates has been devastating. They led to dumbed-down teaching, lower graduation rates, being unready for college, and declining performance.  

We have cheated an entire generation of children out of a good education by inept bureaucratic mandates that prevent teachers from engaging and teaching our children. We must start looking at every mandate from the state and federal DoEs and start asking a very simple question: Is this what we want as the primary focus in our classrooms, and are we ready to accept the consequences if we do? If we continue to hid behind the false mantra that it is “…bad funding, bad unions, bad children, and bad teachers…” then we will never get to the real fixes.

Thank you to Wow! Women on Writing for providing this stop on D. A. Russell's blog tour!
For more information and more tour stops, click here.

About the Book:

The 2nd edition of the acclaimed look at today's failed education system -- with dozens of teacher submissions from across the USA and nine new chapters! Both KIRKUS and CLARION praise this important book "...from the unique perspective of a classroom teacher" that shows the real problems that have destroyed the education of our children. Few parents or legislators have any chance of seeing the real state of education in our urban schools. It is a shameful disaster -- unlike anything that we, as parents, experienced just 15-20 years ago. The real problems stay largely unseen, because career DoE bureaucrats and school administration are extremely good at hiding their failed policies behind the curtain of the school entryway. In Lifting the Curtain, Russell provides a detailed look at urban high school education from inside the classroom, including three years of research, and the first ever major survey of what students and teachers think of the educational system. If we want a real solution for our children, then for once we must focus on the real problems, the ones carefully hidden behind the educational curtain.

About D.A. Russell:

D. A. Russell has spent the last ten years as a math teacher in one of the urban high schools that is the subject of Lifting the Curtain. He is an honors graduate of Dartmouth College, and has his master’s degree from Simon School, where he was valedictorian of his class. Russell is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He has two children that he treasures, and four grandchildren. His son is a police officer who served in the US Army in Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star for valor. His daughter is a lawyer and his most passionate fan and honorary literary agent. Russell has a passion for children that dominates his life. He has taught and coached children for decades. Few things are more important in Russell’s view than to cherish the children who are our real treasures in this world. He is a contributor for education matters to the Huffington Post, and runs a personal blog at: LiftingTheCurtainOnEducation.wordpress.com  D. A. Ruseell is dedicated to letting teacher voices be heard in the real problems with education.

For more information about blog hostess, Audry Fryer,
please visit www.audryfryer.com 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Karen Mann with a guest post: "A Novel Idea: What Comes Next"

Welcome Karen Mann, author of The Woman of La Mancha.


A Novel Idea: What Comes Next

by Karen Mann

You have an idea for a novel. Before you type “Chapter 1,”think about the following.
Know what kind of novel you are writing. Literary, romance, sci-fi, mystery. These areas and others have conventions that you need to know, plus this information helps define your audience.
Know your audience. Be able to express who will read your novel. If the protagonist is under 20, you may be writing a young-adult novel. If your protagonists are in their sixties, then your audience may be baby boomers.

Know the arc of the story. While your ideas about the story may change as you write, take time at the beginning to jot down your thoughts about how the story will unfold. These notes may be in outline form or just a page or two of thoughts. Keep a journal handy and continue to jot down ideas. You don’t want to forget that great idea that comes in the middle of the night!

Know your characters. Think like an actor and get into character with each of your characters. Make up some interview questions that ask about their families, friends, likes, and dislikes, and write the answers from each character’s point of view. Become them as you write. Silas House, author of Clay’s Quilt, says each character has a secret. Ask “What is your secret?” Also ask, “What is it the reader will know about you that you do not know?” You’ll be delighted with what you come up with. Plus this exercise gives you backstory on the characters; tidbits you will use that will make your story more vivid.

Know your time period and the geographic area. Even if you lived at the time and place the novel is set, research until you know the period or place enough to write how it looks, feels, smells, tastes, and sounds. Look for those specific details that will make your story memorable.

Know that novels are true to fiction, not true to life. If you are writing something that is autobiographical, be flexible. You want to write the best novel you can, and that will probably not be what happened in real life. Yet there are moments and feelings from your life that will be the perfect fit.

Make a commitment to write a sentence a day, and even if that’s all you write, you’ll still be making progress toward a completed novel. Good luck! You can do it!

Thank you to Wow! Women on Writing for providing this stop on Karen Mann's blog tour!
For more information and more tour stops, click here.

About The Woman of La Mancha:
The Woman of La Mancha, a companion book to Don Quixote, tells the woman’s story of Don Quixote by recounting the story of the girl he called Dulcinea, the woman he loved from afar.

It’s 1583. An eleven-year-old girl wakes in the back of a cart. She has lost her memory and is taken in by a kindly farm family in La Mancha. She adopts the name Aldonza. She doesn’t speak for quite some time. Once she speaks, there is a family member who is jealous of her and causes a good deal of trouble, even causing her to be forced to leave La Mancha in tragic circumstances. Having to create a new life in a new location and still unaware of her birth family, she adopts the name Dulcinea and moves in the circles of nobility. While seeking her identity, she becomes the consort of wealthy men, finds reason to disguise herself as a man, and leans herbal healing to help others.

There is a parallel story of a young man, Don Christopher, a knight of King Philip and the betrothed of the girl, who sets off on with a young squire, Sancho, to find the girl. Christopher’s adventures takes them across Spain and forces him to grow up. Does he continue the quest to find his betrothed or marry another and break the contract with the king.

Both young people have many experiences and grow up before the readers’ eyes. Floating in and out of each other’s paths as they travel around Spain, will they eventually find each other and be together?

About the Author:

Karen Mann is the author of The Woman of La Mancha and The Saved Man. She is the co-founder and Administrative Director of the low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program at Spalding University (www.spalding.edu/mfa) and the managing editor of The Louisville Review, a national literary magazine since 1976 (www.louisvillereview.org). Having lived in Indiana most of her life, she now lives in San Jose, California. See more about her books at www.karenmannwrit

For more information about blog hostess, Audry Fryer,
please visit www.audryfryer.com 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

M. Shannon Hernandez with a Guest Post: "Changing Lives Across the Country, One Page at a Time"

Welcome M. Shannon Hernandez, author of Breaking the Silence.


Changing Lives Across the Country, One Page at a Time

by M. Shannon Hernandez

It’s been just seven months since my memoir, Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher, has hit the market. As a first-time, self-published, indie author, I wasn’t sure what to expect when choosing to publish such a raw account from a teacher’s perspective. At its core, my memoir deals with the hot-topic in our nation right now—the many flaws of public education. But my memoir is also a story of reinvention, hope, and having the courage to dream again.

As readers finish my book, there are times when it is has been almost impossible to keep up with the onslaught of emails I am receiving from them. Each writes to me with a personal story of how my story could be theirs, or how I have given them the courage to change careers, or just to thank me for telling the truth about something that hasn’t been made public. I am honored to receive these emails, and I am committed to personally answering everyone at least once…because well…I never wanted to be that author who was impersonal and a recluse.

Below are two excerpts from the most recent emails I have received:

"I JUST finished your book and wanted to share what it meant to me. Three months ago I left my job as the assistant behavioral intervention specialist at a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. I loved my job and love the people I served. Changes in the field, staffing, morale and an unexpected job opportunity motivated me to resign. I look forward to going back to school for my masters in social work, but must admit that fear and my inability to find the right words have prevented me from writing my admissions essay. Tonight I spent my evening reading your book out loud to a resident from the group home who is currently in a coma due to a fall. Our professions are different, but our passion and dedication to changing lives is the same. After reading your book I am really encouraged to overcome my own mental barriers, apply to school and get the tools I need to have the career I feel lead to. Thank you for sharing your story.” ~Sabrina

“I just wanted to reach out and say that I identify with your message. I too am a teacher struggling to decide whether to stay or go. I am a doctoral student who wants to research how the teacher evaluation system has contributed to the large teacher turnover. I have been working on updates to our mentoring program and handbook as part of my grad school work. I saw your post about your mentor and was wondering if you would be ok if I included it as a success story in a training I am going to be doing. There are so many things you have said that totally resonate with my experiences.  Looking forward to reading more from you.” ~Carol

One of the greatest aspects of this entire journey is that I have been able to build some quality, loving relationships with people who were just complete strangers only a few months ago. Some have invited me to coffee or dinner, some have asked me too speak at a meeting or event they are hosting, and some are just finding me on social media—so we converse there.

I chose to write this honest, raw memoir to tell the nation why great teaches are leavingand what we need to do about that if future generations of children are to have a quality education. Of course, it was my story, but it is shared and common among so many teachers, that my story became theirs.

Seven months ago, I didnt know that my words would impact others so greatly. I was nervous and timid about publishing such an open and vulnerable account. But Im glad I had the courage do sobecause my book is changing lives across the country, one page at a time. What a remarkable journey this has been so far!

Where to purchase Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher

Find Shannon online:


Thank you to Wow! Women on Writing 
for providing this stop on M. Shannon Hernandez's blog tour!
For more information and more tour stops, click here.

About Breaking the Silence:

America’s public school system is broken and M. Shannon Hernandez knows why, firsthand. After fifteen years in the teaching profession, three gut-wrenching realizations forced her to recognize that she must leave the career she loved so dearly. She knew that if she continued to work for a failing system, she would also continue to lose a little piece of her heart and soul every day.

You are invited into Hernandez’s classroom for the final forty days of her teaching career to understand the urgent need for school reform, clearly demonstrated in each story. You’ll witness the intelligence, vulnerability, and humanity of her students, and the challenges teachers like Hernandez face as they navigate the dangerous waters between advocating for and meeting students’ needs, and disconnected education policy.

This book is not only a love letter to her students, her fellow teachers, and to the reformed public school system she envisions, but also a heartfelt message of hope, encouragement, and self-empowerment for those who feel they are stuck in soul-sucking careers. It is an essential read for each citizen who is seeking a life comprised of more purpose and happiness, as well as parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers who know our nation’s education system is in desperate need of an overhaul.

About the Author:

M. Shannon Hernandez is the founder of The Writing Whisperer, and her mission is to help heart-centered entrepreneurs and heart-centered authors find their brand voices, share their unique stories, gain more visibility, establish themselves as experts, and create authentic marketing messages, all through the use of smart content strategy and engaging copywriting. The Writing Whisperer was named one of Top 100 Websites for Writers by The Write Life in both 2014 and 2015, and Shannon has been featured as a content strategy and copywriting expert on many prominent podcasts and websites. She is a leading voice in the world of authentic business writing and heart-centered education reform, and she writes regularly for The Huffington Post. Shannon’s memoir, Breaking the Silence, chronicles her exit out of public education, after 15 years, and provides readers an intimate view of her journey to business ownership, finding happiness, and reinvention.

For more information about blog hostess, Audry Fryer,
please visit www.audryfryer.com 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Myrna J. Smith with a Guest Post: "Writing from the Mature Point of View"

Welcome Myrna J. Smith, author of God and Other Men: Religion, Romance, and the Search for Self-Love.


Writing from the Mature Point of View
by Myrna J. Smith

Long ago I read a short story, the name of which I cannot recall, that tells a story of a sexual attack from three different times in the woman’s life. The first time, she tells how a local man cornered her in a cornfield and brutally attacked her. The second telling has softened her view towards the man, and by the third she is sympathetic to her “attacker.”  She points out that his distorted face made it difficult for him to have relationships with women. She thinks he just wanted affection from her.

For many years, I perceived myself a victim: I saw my parents as favoring my easy-going older sister; my beloved grandmother left just when I was moving into my teenage years; my former husband moved across the country, leaving me with three children and a mortgage. Had I written a memoir at that point in my life, it would have had a lot of anger and bitterness, but very little understanding.

At a mid-point after several years of psychotherapy, I could have written how I had forgiven my former husband, but especially my parents for favoring my sister. After all, she entertained them with her life, telling them about her boy friends and any details from school. My mother did not have a skill of making friends, and because we lived on a farm 11 miles out of town and she did not drive, she couldn’t even wander into stores to see other people. She took care of the house, her husband, and her children. She must have relied on my sister’s conversations as a high point of her day, for certainly I was not going to tell her anything.

Why I didn’t talk to my parents, especially my mother, is unclear to me.  I might have been afraid they were going to criticize me or worse yet try to control me. My mother had a terror of any of her children, including my brother, conceiving a child before marriage. My sister had had a bunch of boyfriends—I had just one, so maybe she was more concerned about possible sexual activity from me, her more rebellious daughter.  Also, I hated that we were poor and judged both parents for that condition. I talked about all of these things with several psychotherapists. Now I can’t imagine how I spent an hour a week for three or four years on these issues.

As a mature person I see that I had wonderful parents who put their spiritual lives ahead of the material life. To my mother, going to church was the highlight of her week. My father, a high school graduate who made a living as a farmer and janitor, read spiritual books from all points of view. When I took up A Course in Miracles, a difficult book to understand, he read the entire book to my mother.

He even kept up on scientific advances by taking magazines, such as Popular Mechanics. After the children left home, he began working with wood, designing a fancy thread holder for my mother, who sewed. It was elegant and practical, accommodating 60 spools. Others liked it so much he made ten more. The lives they lived were much fuller than I realized at the time.

In writing from a mature point of view I can see that I brought on most of the pain in my life, but I can also appreciate where that pain has taken me. My divorce, the biggest crises in my life, put me on a spiritual path that would not have been possible had I stayed married to my achieving husband. I see that my parents knew much more than I gave them credit for. My rebellion from them gave me an independence that has helped me be a world traveler and writer.  

Any one of the three periods of my life could have been the basis for a memoir: anger in the first, intellectual understanding in the second, and finally, the one I chose, spiritual comprehension in the third. However, without the pain and experience from the first two, I wouldn’t have been able to write about the appreciation and acceptance that has come from living a reflective life.  

Thank you to Wow! Women on Writing 
for providing this stop on Myrna J. Smith's blog tour!
For more information and more tour stops, click here.

About Myrna J. Smith:

Myrna J. Smith held a faculty position in the English Department at Raritan Valley Community College, Somerville, N.J., from 1970-2004, where she took leave for two and a half years to serve as Associate Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning housed at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. She received a Ed.D. from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey in New Brunswick, N.J. Smith also had two Mid-Career Fellowships to attend Princeton University, one in English and one in religion. Smith, who was 74 years old when she published her memoir, now resides in Frenchtown, N.J, a small town on the Delaware River.

She recently returned from a five-week trip to Asia: two weeks with a small group to Myanmar and a few days in Hong Kong, where she has friends, and Vietnam for 10 days. The year before Smith traveled to Thailand and Cambodia and the year before that to Indonesia, both with small groups. She also travels in Canada and the northeast U.S. with her sister, brother, and their spouses most years.

About the Book:

God and Other Men: Religion, Romance, and the Search for Self-Love:

Myrna Smith opens her story one Sunday night when she returns home from a ski weekend with her three children. While she was on the slopes, her husband had moved out. That had been the plan.

Yet her story, though it encompasses her divorce, is much larger. Ultimately, Smith sets out to love herself, to find an inner place where she can rest and grow.

In this search-for-the-holy-grail memoir, Smith traces her travels toward enlightenment as a middle-aged American woman with a wry humor and heartfelt longing. On the journey she discovers spiritual fulfillment doesn’t come easily, or all at once. For her, it is quite elusive.

The quest really started, she realizes, in her childhood on an Oregon farm where she and her older sister were once “converted” in their father’s pea patch by two young Bible summer school teachers barely out of their teens. The school was part of the tiny church their mother attended while their father stayed home, read Edgar Cayce books, and mused on reincarnation.

Later, drawn by the mysticism of the Hindus, Smith’s journey leads to Bangalore where she touches the robes of Sai Baba, the Indian saint. Back home in New Jersey, she finds herself in a country farmhouse getting prescriptions channeled through a medium for everything from her back woes and diarrhea to an obsession with money.

She also writes of the demons that surface during a years-long love affair with her beloved Charlie and what A Course in Miracles stirred within her.

Smith’s story is one of adventure and effort that, in the end, reveals three simple yet essential truths that are both the journey and the destination. 

Publisher: Cape House Books
Website/Blog: https://myrnasmith.wordpress.com

Amazon Link:


For more information about blog hostess, Audry Fryer,

please visit www.audryfryer.com 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: Afraid of Everything by Karen Jones Gowen

If I told you I read this fascinating page-turner about a woman who spends the first half of the story in a therapist's office analyzing her anxiety disorder and the second half in a coma, you might think I was in need a therapy session or two. Yet, what lies on the surface of this novel is only the tip of a deeply, gratifying story.

About: Afraid of Everything by Karen Jones Gowan 

Helena Carr is afraid of everything. After a crisis at work, she quits her job and feels lost. It's time for a serious change, to beat the extreme anxiety that has plagued her since childhood. Something entirely different, unplanned and radical. Sell her house, move to a foreign location, turn her life upside down in an effort to end the emotionally paralyzing fear.

Before Helena can act on her options, there's a terrible accident on a Southern California freeway. Instead of going on an exotic vacation, she is in a hospital, in a coma, traveling to strange worlds in another dimension, meeting people who seem to know more about her than she knows about herself.

As Helena explores this intriguing new world, she realizes the truth about her past and the purpose of her future. And she is no longer afraid. Helena is ready to live. But first, she must wake up from the coma.

Paperback: 285 pages
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: WiDo Publishing (October 21, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1937178595
ISBN-13: 978-1937178598

Twitter hashtag: #AfraidGowen

Afraid of Everything is available for purchase in print and as an ebook at Amazon,Barnes & Noble, and Indie Bound


Though I don't admit to feeling afraid of everything, at the beginning of the book, I could relate to Helena's inclination to give into her anxieties and hide from the world. Helena shuts out her newly widowed father, barely interacts with her kind neighbors, has little time for her grown, unhappily married daughter, no longer works at the career she once loved and has trouble opening up to her therapist. I especially enjoyed the character of Ruby, the therapist, who tries yet falls short of helping Helena handle her debilitating fears.

Then, Helena makes a rash decision to run away to Guatemala and here's where the story turns into something so much more. Helena thinks she is well while it's clear she is not. And, isn't that how life is? You're walking around in denial and then, bam, reality hits you. In Helena's case, that reality turns out to be a head-on collision with a truck

Now, Helena is in a coma. But it's not the kind of coma you would see on daytime soaps, you know, when the character lies motionless in bed while the drama unfolds around them. In this case, the drama happens inside Helena's mind. I was reminded how coma patients often claim to be more aware than they appear. Helena enters a dreamworld in which she encounters a being that must be her guardian angel identified as Coriander, like the spice and with a spicy personality. Helena exists in a beautiful, peaceful world far from the the life she was leading, though she is alone and lonely. In an uplifting scene, she meets with her recently deceased mother who also guides her on how to overcome her anxieties.

There's a point when there's doubt if Helena will wake and yet, it sets up a rewarding ending. Helena's coma and experiences on the other side bring Helena the peace and well-being that had eluded her all her life. The characters from the beginning return for an ending that not only benefits Helena but the lives of those around her.        

Afraid of Everything takes the reader on a fascinating journey from the stress of everyday living into realms beyond this world and back again. In the process, it reveals valuable life lessons and truths about living free of fear.

Thank you to WOW! Women on Writing for providing this stop on Karen Jones Gowen's blog tour.
For more information and more stops on the tour, click here.

Meet the author: Karen Jones Gowen

Born and raised in central Illinois, Karen Jones Gowen now lives and writes in Panajachel, Guatemala. She and her husband Bruce are the parents of ten children. Not surprisingly, family relationships are a recurring theme in Gowen's writing. Her children's stories have appeared in the Friend, and her essays in the Jacksonville Journal Courier. Gowen's published books are Farm Girl,Uncut Diamonds, House of Diamonds,Lighting Candles in the Snow, Farm Girl Country Cooking: Hearty Meals for Active Families and Afraid of Everything. She blogs at her website,karenjonesgowen.com and at Coming Down the Mountain. You can email her at karenjonesgowen@gmail.com.

Twitter: @KarenGowen


Thank you for reading this review! For more about blog-host, book reviewer, Audry Fryer, please visit www.audryfryer.com