#COYER Summer Vacation

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Glory! Glory! Summer is here!

And so is COYER Summer Vacation. Don’t fear – there are basically no rules this summer!

Sign up by June 18th! COYER Summer Vacation runs June 18th – September 2nd.

You can read anything and it counts! Yes, paperbacks. Yes, audiobooks. Yes, ebooks that cost more than $5. Summer vacation is here for all!

 

My Summer Vacation Goals

Below are the titles I know I will be completing for COYER SV. I also plan to knock out 10 books from my TBR Jar (minimum), and I plan on them all being NetGalley picks.

Nearly all reviews will post after COYER ends.

  1. The Neverland Wars
  2. Wonder
  3. Caught Bread Handed
  4. Heart Like Mine
  5. Study Hall of Justice
  6. Awkward
  7. The Money Tree
  8. The Earl’s New Bride
  9. The SockKids Say NO to Bullying
  10. A Love that Never Tires
  11. Regarding Anna
  12. Generation M
  13. Resolution
  14. Sign of the Green Dragon
  15. In the Dying Light

 

 

“Like me! Like me! Oh, please, oh pa-leeez, like me!”

NEW FB

What’s that on the computer screen?

That’s me! Er, well, sort of. That’s Girl of 1000 Wonders Facebook page! Yes, it does exist. 😉

After a year of book blogging, I have come a long way…but I thought I’d be getting places faster, so I’m going to help that along.

I am officially joining the masses, shouting, “Like me! Like me! Oh, please, oh pa-leeez, like me!”

It’s pretty basic, my Girl of 1000 Wonders Facebook page, because I have neglected it. Yes, yes I have. I am fully admitting it. I see other authors or bloggers doing all kinds of jazz in my newsfeed, and I think, Hmmm, I should do something like that, except I never do. OK, not never. I have done two new things on the blog, but really, what’s that worth when it’s not consistent? 

If you have not yet “Liked” the Girl of 1000 Wonders Facebook page, I forgive you, but my forgiveness won’t last for long! I know it’s sometimes hard to navigate through all of the world wide web, and things get discombobulated. I get it, I really do.

But no more! There’s a handy-dandy link in the right-side navigation bar right below the blog stats, which if I do say so myself are looking pretty good! Go show some of that love!

Ye followers shall go “Like” Girl of 1000 Wonders Facebook page. Go, now! Do not tarry!*singsong* You’ll get content on the FB page that you don’t get on the blog! 😀

If you want to buzz over there and have a peek, here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/Girlof1000Wonders

So what’s in line for the blog this week?

Well. Let’s see …

I don’t know how to say this…

I’M GETTING A NEW CAR! I’M GETTING A NEW CAR! C’m on, dance with me people!

Yes. Yes!! BRAND SPANKING 150 miles NEW!

Shipped all the way to Austin, Texas from North Carolina. I know, I’m so picky. Hey, I’m spending $25K, I’ll get what I damn well want. Did I mention the dealership could only find 3 in the entire United States? … Yeaaaahhh.

In the meantime, I have an Avenger to drive. The dealership had no qualms about giving it to me. It had 21 miles on it! I’ve never driven a car with that few miles, but I more than doubled it on the drive home. 🙂 Sorry Nyle.

Also….

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Yes, that’s aaaaaalll ours.

I am starting the Great March Move of 2014! … On Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday…the END of my spring break. Please don’t smack me, I already know. Stupid idea. I’ve V8-ed me about a thousand times.  But, it needed to happen. It had to happen, if some people wanted to stay alive long enough to see the future unravel. It’s been one heck of a ride, but the stop was 5 months ago, and I’m going to be jumping off that train at full speed, bags packed.

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Do not be deceived – it takes up the entire parlor.

The blog will go on as usual, thanks to my expert planning, but I won’t be checking in for probably a week so that we can get all settled….and find out what’s in all of these boxes packed up last summer. Oh, the purging to be done. There’s no reason anyone in their mid-20s should have this much stuff….and that’s not even all of it. There’s no furniture there except the mattresses. I have stuff in storage too, and at my parents. 😦

So, please wish me a happy packing and happy, stress-free move (or as stress-free as can be).

In the meantime, if you don’t mind …

“Like me! Like me! Oh, please, oh pa-leeez, like me!”

FB

Take Control of Your TBR Pile and Clean Out Your E-Reader Challenge KICKOFFS!!

9c5e559d-78e1-450c-a449-37fdf32686b8_zpsf862803e-238x300ChallengeMarch-e1389762554738 I stumbled across these March Challenges just in time! The Clean Out Your E-Reader Challenge has started, and so has the Time to Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge, and I am planning to review some of those free books (and, of course, review books) that I’ve downloaded to my Kindle over the last year. I’m actually scared to look. Like, really scared. I don’t want to know how much of a book hoarder I am. But, I’m a cheap book hoarder! They were all free! (Except a handful that I paid very little to get.)

My goal is to reach Deep Clean status for the COYER Challenge by reviewing 10-14 books (below). Of course, most of these are review books, but I’m planning to sneak in some of the many downloaded freebie books. Now, I do have some blog tours coming up, but I have excluded all of that from the challenge. I am setting my sights high – really high, considering I will be moving in the middle of the month and have a lot on my plate at work (which, as a teacher, comes home with me), but I am going to try to knock out a nice chunk of my downloaded books.

Tentative E-Reader Challenge Book List

  1. In Time by Christine Locke
  2. Valley of Vice by Steve Garcia
  3. Public Affairs by Cassandra Carr
  4. Through the Portal by Justin Dennis
  5. Who You Callin’ Silly? How a Silly Woman Becomes Virtuous by Kimberly Lock
  6. Saltwater Kisses: A Billionaire Love Story by Krista Lakes
  7. Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer by Andrew Joyce
  8. Shackled by Angela Carling
  9. Enough Rope by P.L. Doss
  10. Banished Love by Ramona Flightner
  11. The Prophecy of Arcadia by Michelle Soars
  12. Dogs with Bagels by Maria Elena Sandovici
  13. Purified by Brian Smith
  14. The Money Tree by Helen Yeomans

For all of the rules, and extra mini-challenges for more prizes, visit Because Reading is Better than Real Life for the COYER Challenge.

For all the rules, and extra mini-challenges for more prizes, visit Caffeinated Book Reviewer for the Take Control TBR Challenge.

Book Blogging Resources

As most of you know, I’ve only undertaken this book blogging journey this year.  I’ve been going for about seven months.

I have a very helpful book-reading friend – Momabel of The Eclectic Bookworm (where I also co-author) got to help me start out. And I realized…this isn’t that hard. I can see how people get advanced copies of hot new books, whether best-sellers or from independent presses, and churn out book reviews.

If you’re a reader and not sure where to start – use this as a jumping off point. It has helped me immensely. You can definitely get relevant, upcoming books to review – for FREE (almost always in an ebook format) in return for a review.

Have you heard of….

  • Goodreads?
  • Smashwords?
  • Book Bloggers?
  • NetGalley?
  • Book Reviewer Yellow Pages?
  • Indie Review
  • EReader News Today?
  • Amazon – Kindle Best Sellers List?

goodreads_f4Goodreads is a go-to spot for all things reading. It has everything: book synopsis, quotes, book clubs, book recommendations, and book discussions. You can rate and review books, answer trivia questions, enter book giveaways, explore lists (by all types of categories) that other users create and take part in a creative writing community. You can also create your own personal reading goals, and “shelves” where you can keep track of books you’ve read, books you own, books you want to read and books you’re currently reading. (If you enter a book giveaway, the book it automatically added to your “to read” shelf.) And  lastly, you can see what kinds of books your friends are selecting to read, which can add flavor to your reading palette.

smashwords+verticalSmashWords is another way to get free books. There are additional titles that cost, so if you’re not generating revenue from your blog or reviews – start with the free route. Smashwords is also a place where you can independently publish an ebook. It’s a great place to start building relationships with publishers.

imagesBookBloggers is a site where authors can submit their books to be up for review. You can email the author via BookBloggers to request a copy to review, and they may send you an ebook version. I’ve had some success with this site – but lately it has been down A LOT. Like, all the time. I’ve received two copies from this source in 4 months.

NetGalley is a host site to publishing houses. I strongly recommend using this as a main (even netgalley_logoprimary) avenue to getting books. You create a profile, select books you’d like to receive, and the publishing house may grant you access to a book based on what they need in a reviewer. Setting up your profile for the genres and types of books you want is important. For example, I’m a teacher and have listed that my book blog has educational resources for YA novels I review as well as reviews for personal reads…and I don’t get many “request granted” email notifications for romance novels. You can rate and review books, which I think helps you receive access for future requests.  Often your additional requests for books from the same publisher will be granted if you’ve already been granted access to one of their books. I have had moderate success with this site: out of 100+ books I requested (all that were available and interested me at one point), I was given access to 49 titles. This is why I recommend this resource.

Book Reviewer Yellow Pages is basically a Yellow Pages listing of book bloggers of all types. The main focus is bloggers who review self-published books, but they do list a few reviewers who aren’t self-pubbed only bloggers. This is a wonderful resource if you are just starting out, need more variety in your reading, or want to create relationships with a few authors. This is also a great resource for authors: there are numerous articles about writing, how to get your books on store bookshelves, how to get reviews, and just how to market your book. Reviewers and Bloggers, you can join at ANY time! There are monthly newsletters available, and your blog is listed as a newcomer in the newsletter after you’ve gotten onboard. You also get displayed on the homepage for a while! Wonderful, wonderful resource.

The Indie Review is for readers, reviewers and authors – much like Book Reviewer Yellow Pages. This is for Indie book reviewers ONLY. If you are affiliated with a publisher, you are not an Indie reviewer. There is a list of Indie authors, so never fear! According to their site, they “[rank] within the Top Ten of Book Review sites on Google, globally.” If you don’t like traditional publishers, this may be a route for you to explore, and hopefully connect with some authors.

EReader News Today is designed for Kindle readers. It even has help for using your Kindle. Each day EReader posts bargain deals and free books! Although they only do two free books a day, there is still a selection of choices. The best thing is that you can still go back and get the free books from past days! Follow them on Facebook to see when they post their book deals.

scr2557-proj697-a-kindle-logo-w-rgb-lgAmazon Best Sellers has cheap AND free book lists. Here’s how you get there: on the left panel of Amazon.com, select Books -> Kindle Books -> Best Sellers (across the top). On the left will be Top 100 Paid, and on the right will be the Top 100 FREE.

**The EBW and I (through EBW) are listed in both the Book Reviewer Yellow Pages and The Indie Review, and we get multiple requests daily. I also utilize Smashwords, Book Bloggers (not so much anymore, due to website availability) and NetGalley.

Reviewers: what resources do you utilize? I’d love to share your input! Leave a comment below, or email me at girlof1000wonders@gmail.com.

Author Interview: Alicia Long & Jayne Jones

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their funny book

I’ve been on a kick lately about really wanting to authentically communicate with the authors who request book reviews. In the teaching world, we (mostly literacy people) talk about using “authentic texts” that are meaningful and build on (hopefully many) concepts or skills we’re trying to teach. I’ve realized lately that I have just been reviewing books that most independently-published (and by this I mean the non-traditional, big publisher method) authors send on. And that’s it. End of conversation. Sometimes not even a thanks. :-/

So, as the few that have recently trickled in with their requests, I make a point to ask or suggest additional materials and conversations (especially if it’s a first-timer). I’ve found that they want to share just as much as I want  to hear – and I want to start building some lasting relationships with authors, and to hopefully be part of their future projects. 🙂

All that aside, I recently was kind of blown off by a big-time author and agent. That got me really down considering the vast amount of work I put into reading the book (which, yes, I put at the top of my list and totally screwed up and backed up my reading schedule), writing a meaningful review (in hopes of sparking conversations) and other related blog tour type posts.

I felt like a small fry in a big ol’ vat of fat, crinkly fries. You know, the kind of small fry that gets all burnt to a crisp and no one wants? Yeah, that’s how I felt after that whole episode. That’s just not nice. That whole experience prompted me to make a few changes in my policies, and it was like this whole concept of TALKing to the authors lit up in flashing, bright neon lights. I couldn’t give up on blog tours that easily. I just had to do it my way…

This is one of the handful of authors that has requested a review – or in this case, co-authors! To me, two authors who jointly write and publish a singular book (or series) together is new to me. I really haven’t seen it before, but I think it’s an absolutely WONDERFUL idea. I’ve also noticed from a few other requests that have come in, that this seems to be growing into a trend. I hope it doesn’t die out.

These two lovely ladies, Alicia Long and Jayne Jones, ran into each other by way of Capitol Hill and congressional office staff and worked for almost ten years in the political arena. They first got started working together under Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman. They realized there was just too much not to share, so why not write a book together? Hello, Capitol Hell!

They are both extremely dedicated woman to a variety of institutions and groups, and I think that makes them even more “real” to readers. I enjoyed reading their bios on the Capitol Hell website. You may find out one of these two ladies dreams of marrying Green Bay Packer Quarterback Aaron Rodgers…and yes, it is on her bucket list!

Both Amanda (over at The Eclectic Bookworm) and I have reviewed Capitol Hell. It was really hard for me not to go read her review, which you can read here. This is my take on Capitol Hell.

Oh, and one last thing before we get to our interview: you can get a SIGNED, PERSONALIZED copy of the book right now. How’s that for nice?

Both of you worked together under MN Senator Norm Coleman. Were you friends before that opportunity, or did you become friends because of it?

Alicia:  Our love of politics actually brought us together!  We met on former Senator Coleman’s campaign when we were both working in the Volunteer Center.  We even shared a desk, so we became fast friends!

Jayne: We met on the Coleman campaign and shared a desk. Trust me, if you can share a desk with me then you can be my best friend!

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Former Senator Norm Coleman (MN)

Alicia: I don’t think either of us had ever considered actually writing a book before.  But after we finished working on the Hill and began to tell people about all of the crazy things we saw, the common response was, “You should write a book!”  So, one day we just did.  Not only was it cathartic, but it was also so much fun rehashing memories with one another.

Jayne: After we both left the Hill, we were sitting on my couch laughing about all our stories and other staff stories. Alicia decided to write chapter one and she sent it to me.  I loved it. Added a little sparkle and off we were rolling.

Why did you think it was important to share the experiences and situations that crop up in your book?

Jayne: Ha. I’m not quite sure we think it is important, but more or less we wanted folks to laugh and bring the inside the beltway humor to outside the belt. We were sick and tired of DC tell-all-books.

Alicia:  We definitely didn’t want to write a “tell all.” We wanted to write a fun, light-hearted book, that gives readers a glimpse into the life of a Hill staffer, and I think we were able to accomplish that. 🙂  There are just so many crazy things that happen there, it’s too good not to share!

How did you decide what situations (and ensuing commentary) to include or exclude?

Jayne: Believe it or not, we had no notes or outline. We just wrote and what stuck—stuck. 🙂

Alicia: Everything just sort of came organically and we went with it.  Jayne and I like to joke that we share a brain, so there was really never any arguing about what to keep in and what to cut.  We stuck with what was funny!

What did the writing process look like as the two of you wrote this book together?

Alicia: We love this question!  I actually started the book and wrote chapter one.  I sent it off to her, she added her pizzazz and sent it back to me.  She then took a stab at chapter two, and I added my take on things.  We literally piggybacked the book like that, and what was so fun was neither of us knew what the other one was join going to write!  It was always a surprise.  We had talked about an overarching theme, but that was it!  It was almost like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.

Jayne: It was gruesome. Just kidding. It was a total blast and we piggy-backed the entire journey. Folks like to call us ham and eggs. You can’t have the one without the other. We had zero hiccups, fights or angst over stories, wording or storyline. I’m not sure I could do this partnership with anyone else, besides Alicia!

Was it difficult writing this book? What were the most challenging things about writing this book together?

Jayne: I think the most challenging is what many authors don’t do. Post production you must work your fanny off and self promote your book as much as possible. From marketing to book signings to media, your book (or our baby, as we call it), really is a priority and focus for both of us.

Alicia:  Ditto what Jayne said.  The editing process was also tough… revision, after revision, after revision.  Writing is the fun part!!

*cover varies
*cover varies by edition

Were there any authors that influenced how you wrote the book?

Jayne: To be honest, not really. I love to read but I’m not sure I’ve read a book like Capitol Hell! : )

Alicia: I definitely looked at the works of other chick-lit authors I enjoy like Sophie Kinsella and Lauren Weisberger.  I also read Stephen King’s “On Writing” because, lets face it, he is the master!

The book kick starts with Allison’s first days, and the insane amount of flack she puts up with from both her superiors and her co-workers. I applaud you both, because I wouldn’t put up with it! How did both of you continue to work in such an environment? What made it bearable?

Jayne: This is a great question.  Here’s the deal, we both are truly thankful and appreciative for our experience on the Hill. There is no better job training for other jobs or life, quite frankly. We were young and very naïve! Plus, you have everyone telling you what a glamorous cool job you have—you don’t quit.

Alicia:  Some days were tough.  Some days were great.  I think we both were raised with Midwestern values and were taught that you work hard and never give up.  That being said, I don’t think we would put up with the same things now as we did in our twenties.  But everything is a learning experience.  You learn and you grow.

Some reviewers have indicated that the book shies away from a lot of political issues on the table these days. I’m sure you were both privy to more of these issues than is shared in the book. Why did you decide not to include such issues?

Jayne: And, some reviewers think we hit too hard on some political issues like immigration, etc. This isn’t a political thought book—trust me, if we wanted to write one we could—we both are very opinionated and engaged. We wanted readers to laugh—bringing that hilarity to the election box—that’s our campaign motto. And, gosh darn it, we are sticking to it!!

Alicia: We wanted to ensure that the book would be enjoyable for folks on both sides of the aisle and we purposefully tried not to alienate anyone.  We obviously had to affiliate the characters with a political party, otherwise it wouldn’t be true to real life, but the point of the book was not to promote a political agenda.  It doesn’t matter which party you support, if you work on the Hill, you are bound to experience the madness there!

What do you want readers to take away from reading Capitol Hell?

Jayne: A read that will make you laugh, wonder how much is true and really teach others about how to treat fellow colleagues and people.

Alicia: The urge to read Capitol Hell 2! 😉

Will there be a follow-up book to Capitol Hell? Or is this the last we can expect from either of you?

Jayne: Oh come on, you know this isn’t the last!! Of course, CH 2 is in the works as we type!! We hope to have it ready by the end of the year! Go McDermott!

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Alicia Long & Jayne Jones

Jayne & Alicia: CH2 Sneak Peak!?!?  Sure why not!?!  Here yo go!! -J

“Rise and shine, Valentine,” I stated as I aggressively shoved Janet to roll over.

She mumbled and finally came to life.  And when she did, I could tell that she was just as shocked as I had been to find us nestled half-naked together in bed. “What the hell happened?” she asked.

“Ha,” I scoffed, “I was hoping you could explain this to me.”

“Oh, oh, I have a headache the size of Texas,” she whined.

“Well, no shit…so do I.  Stop complaining and get some damn clothes on,” I ordered as I got out of bed.  I had an uneasy feeling about what had transpired the night before.

“Easy, Karma Wannabee,” she bitched back. “You’re no fun when you’re hungover.”  I ignored her comment and we both slowly got dressed without saying another word.  Janet finally broke the silence.

“You were a hot mess last night,” she said. “You could barely stand up.”

“What, happened?” I asked.  “All I remember is dancing with Cam and then nothing.  I think I blacked out.”

“Whiskey must make you mean.  Do you remember bitch-slapping Blair across the face last night?”

“What!?!” I shrieked.  “I couldn’t have!”

“Oh, you sure did. And everyone saw.  Charles even over-reacted and asked if he should call an ambulance.” she continued, “You were dancing with Cam, showing off moves I didn’t even know existed, and those long legs of yours were grinding and swaying all over the place. Cam’s face was pitch red. Apparently, Blair tried to come join in the fun and you had no time for him,” she continued. “Cam told me that Blair came up and asked if you learned those moves in stripper school and then said you could dance on his pole anytime. Without saying a word, you whipped around and slapped him right across the face. It was glorious,” she said grinning from ear to ear.

I stared at Janet unable to speak.  I couldn’t believe that I had physically assaulted Blair in front of all my co-workers.  Granted, he definitely had it coming considering the comments he made, but there was no way this was going to end well…

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Jayne: We’d love to hear from you or better yet send you a signed copy—check us out at www.capitolhellbook.com. We LOVE talking and Skyping with book clubs!! Thanks for your tremendous support!

Alicia: A BIG HUGE THANK YOU!! WE LOVE YOU GUYS!!

Keep up with these gals on Facebook or Twitter. If you want to know more about the authors, or get connected, their emails are provided on their bio pages.

 

Book Bloggy Friends: Policy on Blog Tours?

Call to all book bloggy friends! 

I am relatively new to book blogging since starting in January.

In June I was asked to do a book blog tour for J. Daniel Parra’s Pieces of Tracy. I had no idea what I even got myself into – I had to ask friends and Daniel’s agent. I’d already done an interview with Linda Harley (author of Destiny’s Flower) after several exchanged emails, but didn’t know that could be considered a blog tour. I know, total noob.

I recently had a bad experience with an agent. It made me initially want to chuck the whole idea of blog tours and not do them again. I ended up pulling the remainder of the materials, and then felt guilty so I posted them…but without the fanfare.

Bloggy friends, what is your take on book blog tours or other promotional posts?

Do you have guidelines/expectations you send out to those who express interest of these types of things, or do you avoid them altogether? Do you only do work with independent, self-published or small press authors (marketing their own books), big time traditional publishers, both?

What do you have to say about all of this? I definitely need your feedback.

Tell me what you think by leaving a comment, or you can email me at girlof1000wonders@gmail.com.

GUEST POST by John Owens

Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education by John Owens (Sourcebooks, 2013)

John left his publishing job at Hachette to become a classroom teacher – in the Bronx. He had heart, and he wanted to help. He learned much about his students, especially the educational needs that were lacking to be met.

But he was going to find that his help wasn’t really required at Latinate Institute (pseudonym), a small public school focused on setting an example for reform. The administration needed teachers simply to push and enforce their “Big Ideas,” as Owens calls it. And when things don’t go according to the Big Plan…the teachers are to blame, and the students are just statistical performance numbers.

For additional information about this book, see this earlier post. To read my review of John’s insightful book, go here.

This is the article that started it all. 

Why I Left Publishing To Teach In The South Bronx

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John Owens

By John Owens, author of Confessions of a Bad Teacher

When I left a high-level publishing job in a Manhattan skyscraper to teach English at a public school in New York City’s South Bronx, I thought I could do some good for underprivileged kids. I am a middle-aged professional, but I’m not lazy. I’m not crazy. I’m great with kids and I love literature.

My love of words has taken me from a troubled, working-class childhood to a wonderfully happy, successful life. I have been writing—and teaching others to write—for a long time. And I have enjoyed helping younger writers build great careers. During a three-decade career as a writer, editor, and corporate executive, I had traveled to more than a hundred countries, met heads of state, and picked up some wisdom about getting along and getting ahead in life that I thought was worth sharing with those just starting the journey. I wanted to make an impact directly with kids in the classroom. To use the cliché, I felt it was time to “give back.”

There was something else at work here, too. For want of a better word, I will call it patriotism. The flood of immigrants into New York City in recent years has been astounding. Currently, nearly 40 percent of the city’s residents are immigrants, according to data compiled by the Weissman Center for International Business at Baruch College. Queens and Manhattan have seen huge influxes from China. The Bronx and Brooklyn are teeming with Dominicans. Africans, especially from the central belt of the continent, are numerous in the Bronx.

Needless to say, the children who have come with or been born to these recent arrivals are the future of our country. They need teachers and mentors, guides to help them navigate what often is a new world. Teachers like I had growing up. Teachers who can present a passion for the greatness and potential of learning and the greatness and potential of America. Teachers who can make kids want to be upstanding, successful Americans.

You can find John on Facebook. 

Book Review: Confessions of a Bad Teacher

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Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education by John Owens (Sourcebooks, 2013)

John Owens is an editor, journalist, and photographer. Formerly, he was the Senior Vice President and Editorial Director at Hachette Filipacchi Media, where he oversaw brands including Road & TrackPopular Photography, and Travel Holiday. He has made more than 100 national media appearances, including Good Morning AmericaCBS This Morning, CNN, FOX News, and NPR’s All Things Considered.

For additional information about this book, see this earlier postYou can find John on Facebook. 

We talk about bad teachers, but too often we mean all teachers. 

I chose this book from a plethora available from publishers on NetGalley. Mainly I scope out fiction, but I singled out this book because it’s about education, and that’s what I do. With the evolving state standardized testing and the commentary I’ve overheard over the years about the backlash of poor performance, I knew this was something I had to read and share for all my fellow teachers out there — especially the new ones like me. I think most Americans can agree that our education system is broken, but those who have the power to change it don’t understand it. There have been many bills passed in the last 15 years that flew with the banner of improving education, but all they did was cripple education – and take away much-needed resources.

The principal and assistant principal were quite clear that Latinate was a model of school reform, and I quickly realized we were there to enforce that idea. 

In John’s school, he…

  • was told to “get together and figure out how to bring [a student] up to speed in [their] “spare time“” by the principal
  • had “observation reports and other alleged evidence that any shortcomings in [his] students’s academics or behavior was solely” his fault
  • had to insure that all of his students received passing marks on each failing assignment for each grading period – absolutely no failing grades on anything
  • was constantly berated for lacking classroom management skills, when conflicting instruction about it was presented by the principal and the hired mentors
  • was expected to teach in the poorest area in the nation, where students didn’t receive any special needs assistance due to budget cuts
  • was blamed for all the happenings in his classroom, due to him being “a bad teacher”
  • reported to the police by the school principal for holding his students 10 minutes after school for deplorable behavior
  • was threatened at every turn to receive a U (Unsatisfactory rating) by the principal (which, for first-year teachers meant he wouldn’t be allowed to teach in NY ever again)

If we are not willing to pay, we will have to leave some children behind. 

really want to discuss this book, with teachers vetted and new, and share the content and commentary I experienced while reading this book. But we’d be here for days, maybe weeks. Once I’d reached the halfway point in this book I realized my highlighting and noting in my e-book had significantly increased, indications of all the vital pieces of this book I wanted to share in this post. Unfortunately there are just too many, so I’ve tried my best to showcase what I found most important about Confessions of a Bad Teacher.

If you are a teacher or a parent of public school children, I urge you to read this book.

If you are a school paraprofessional/administrator (ahem, superintendents) or you sit on the school board, I urge you to read this book. It will shed more light on the workings of your teachers – and might be an eye opener to your high vantage perch.

If you pay public school taxes, volunteer in a school or other community events, take a look at this book. Perhaps you can find a place in the public school system that could utilize your skills as a community member and volunteer.

It seemed quite a lot when I first started (probably because I had to start and stop constantly), but it is well worth the read and provides insight into experiences and similar aspects that teachers all across the country are dealing with in their classrooms, with their principals, on their campus, and in their district. For parents, it will give a whole new meaning and definition to the job and duties of your child’s teacher, and the conflicting dilemmas they are often put in.

Owens doesn’t just spout off the shortcomings and cheating, from students all the way up the ladder to the principal; he provides evidence from various, related  well-publicized studies that have documented the particulars in classrooms and campuses across the country. Most of his students should have qualified and been tested for special education or other learning and behavioral disorders, such as dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder). “But dealing with these students as the law required would have meant employing a school nurse and many more special-education teachers.” Our federal government has made it clear over the last 15 years or so that education is not an important concern for our country, with massive budget cuts every legislative session, usually with states following suit. Cutting corners is as old as time, but cutting out necessary positions for students with very strong needs, that is mandated by law they be given the option to receive, shows the absolute devaluation of our children and their education. And often, these are children of poverty. And they are the ones who experience the brunt and hardship of budget cuts.

So, instead of directly addressing the problems of these kids, the administration made the students’ problems the classroom teachers’ problems, pretending that they weren’t really special-education students at all. 

It’s a tough message to hear in today’s tight economy, but high needs schools are called that for a reason, and it’s time we started helping them,  not hurting. 

This book is filled with humor and sarcasm, with stories that I think almost anybody, regardless of your attachment to public education, can probably relate to with the evolution of the teenager over the course of the last few years. Indeed, one thing that struck me absolutely funny yet honestly true was a statement John received in the tonnage of paperwork for his New Teacher Orientation: We must never count on the copier working. So, so true. At least Latinate had the decency to warn him of that often occurring mishap.

Like Ms. P, America is demanding too much from its teachers without giving them the proper support to educate students effectively. 

John describes some things that were handed down during his New Teacher Orientation…and they are still handed down in teacher preparation courses, or in district policy. I experienced some of the same things during the course of my two-year teacher prep courses and field blocks (classroom field experience prior to student teaching). I was told in my middle school block (spring 2012) in a Central Texas consolidated school district that I “must support the social, emotional and academic needs of [my] students” just as Owens was instructed – but I had to go several steps further: I also had to support their physical and psychological needs – and all of this “support” must be documented in each lesson plan, and exactly how this support is provided. For example, if students would be out of their desks and moving around, I would have to include something to this effect in my lesson plan:

According to the NMSA, this lesson addresses student’s physical needs by allowing movement throughout the lesson. This alleviates the discomfort of students experiencing growth spurts and….

The kids, the teachers, and the administrators in the American public school system are awash in a sea of corruption. 

Also in the district that hosted me for my field blocks and student teaching, it was policy that students receive nothing below an 80 for all non-test grades, and nothing below a 70 on test grades. And the kids knew it too! When some found out they received a test grade between the 70-79 range, they immediately asked if they could retake the test for a higher grade – and they did this because the previous school year it was that way. Essentially, the administration gave unlimited number of attempts to have the highest grade possible on all assignments and tests, setting up students for an unrealistic outlook of the real world and life as they will experience it outside of the public education system. Students were sent to ZAP, an ineffective lunch program where students were responsible for getting their lunch and reporting to a designated classroom to complete their assignments, make-up work or corrections. A teacher volunteered her free period to act as a monitor and allow a space for students to complete their work. No administrator or other designated teacher on duty received a list of ZAP students and escorted them to ZAP. Only the student who cared about their work went to ZAP.

The same was the case with John Owens when he taught at Latinate: he could not give students less than a 65, to allow a 10 point range for students to bring up their grade to slightly above the fail line, which had been pushed back to 65 to reflect better passing rates. If he failed a student, he had to “insure that each failing mark for each marking period [was] reversed to a passing mark via makeup work.” In other words, doctor the grades; the grown-up form of cheating on a test. And it’s not just the teachers who must fudge the numbers, principals and administrators do as well, with several documented cases of school districts falsifying standardized test scores over the last several years. Obama’s Race to the Top, “which got underway in early 2010,” passes out rewards to states via federal funding – and the biggest way to do this is set up a measurable system where teachers are directly held accountable for their students’ standardized test scores. This has done nothing to help decrease the cheating epidemic in public education. Our educational system is “massaged, manipulated and invent[s] data [as] part of an even wider systematic failure in education evaluation.”

John discussed the two largest pieces of legislation that have effected education policy: George Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barrack Obama’s Race to the Top. He explains exactly what NCLB was, how it was structured, and the aims of the act. It is quite a parallel to Obama’s Race to the Top, which he also discusses, but with one very distinct difference: NCLB measured school districts as a representative entity of its students based on their test scores, and Obama’s “Race” has given school districts and principals to fire teachers based solely on their students’ test scores. He talks about how policy makers and district officials are looking for a instantaneous miracles overnight, which we all know is impossible. Yet people keep trying to “fix” education and see immediate results. If not, you’re a bad teacher.

Perhaps the greatest miracle of all would be America recognizing that saving our educational system would be a long-term, big-budget project similar to the way we tend to look at things like wars

Like with John, classroom management was thrown around A LOT in my own teacher-training courses, most notably in my middle school field block. The topic of classroom management was grazed, but never discussed. Just that “it is all about your classroom management.” Your kids need to have routine and know your classroom management style. If you have classroom management, your kids won’t act up because they know what you expect. (I have three younger  brothers who not only push the envelope of my mother’s expectations, but tear it wide open, and have also done that in their classes, a most obvious observation that whoever says this is not truly in touch with the youth of today.) Like John, I’m still confused about classroom management. What exactly does it mean? How do you do it? Where’s the Teacher’s Instructional Manual to Classroom Management? Why isn’t there a rule book for this? Why does something Coach Jones uses in his classroom not work for Ms. Smith’s students?

The nuts and bolts of classroom management and instruction are essential to a teacher’s success, yet from what I could see, the people in teacher training and licensing haven’t’ gotten that message. 

No, indeed they haven’t. This is the number one issue for first-year teachers, because this is an area where teachers are left to their own devices…and often the reason those who had difficult first years leave the teaching field.

The Latinate Institute was “[F]ounded on the noble mission of helping kids who otherwise wouldn’t go to college,” and its primary responsibility was to “improve student achievement.”  Obviously you can see how that worked out, and how much we are failing our students. Owens left his first year teaching not quite half-way through the spring semester to go back into the publishing world because of the lack of support from his principal, and all of the corrupt and inane things he was required to do and ultimately blamed for. The principal and assistant principal were removed from Latinate at the beginning of the following school year by New York Department of Education officials. Owens also shares where his fellow teachers and some of his students ended up as the conclusion of this book. It is quite telling.

Owens gives 10 recommendations to start work on fixing our blatantly broken education system. But those recommendations, which are quite thought-out and excellent, are not going to go anywhere without a national conversation and push for a better education for the children of America.

If you want to help in some way, or want to find out exactly what’s going on in classrooms, Owens lists a few solid groups or individuals who have it figured out that you can partner up with to help, or just become more informed :

*Author’s Note: As a recent graduate, I’ve accepted my first teaching post in a Central Texas school district located in an area that has exploded over the last 10 years and is no longer considered rural as of this year. Based on things I experienced during my field blocks and student teaching, and the experiences John Owens had in his reform school described in this book, it’s a very real fear that I could be fired when my students’ test scores come in next summer. Indeed, both of the same grade-level, subject-level teachers I and my partner replaced were new teachers and are no longer with the district, and most of the teachers in my department from the 2012-2013 school year have left my campus and the district entirely. The fact that my district provides a first-year teacher mentoring program does nothing to ease my jitters of first-year teaching. If you are a veteran teacher, I would love to hear from you about your classroom management and all manner of other things! Email me at girlof1000wonders@gmail.com.

GUEST POST by J Daniel Parra

PiecesOfTracy
Available Now

Early last month I received an email from Angela Craft, a marketing and publicity manager for Diversion Books. She was sending out queries for those interested in participating in a book blog tour for a summer book about to be released, Pieces of Tracy.

Silly me, new book blogger who just jumped in feet first (which I don’t recommend!) had absolutely zero idea what a book blog tour even was! I fired off a response to Angela that I definitely wanted to be included…again, jumping in with my feet first. Don’t do it! So I asked a friend, my lovely co-writer at The Eclectic Bookworm, who’s been in the book blogging biz for a while. She explained about blog tours, and then I felt even sillier! I signed up for everything on this book blog tour: a review, a give-away, an author guest post and an interview with the author, J Daniel Parra. You can follow Daniel on Twitter and like him on Facebook for more about his debut novel.

I’ve guest reviewed on EBW, but I’ve never had a guest post on Girl of 1000 Wonders. J Daniel Parra, you hold the distinction and honor of being the first guest writer and the first author guest post! Welcome!

IMG_0214 copy
J Daniel Parra

Some of the things I outlined that I wanted Daniel to focus on were suggestions for potential authors, as self-publishing has exploded like the .com of the mid-90s with the invention of the eReader and other digital reading devices. Lots of authors are bypassing the traditional route of being published with a large, well-known publishing house and going with small, independent presses, or self-publishing. It is definitely changing the world of books. This is what Daniel had to say about it…

Sweet Rewards: The Path to Publication

The path to publication is a bit like playing that old board game, Candy Land.  You have to make your way through places like the Gumdrop Mountains, the Peppermint Forest, and of course, Molasses Swap.  The rewards are sweet if you have the courage to tackle the colorful obstacles in your path.

As you work your way to the ultimate goal of publication, none of the pieces will click unless you start out with a good story that’s told in a compelling way with an original voice.  This could take years to accomplish, but it’s important to focus on your writing FIRST and to create the best possible product to send out into the perilous world of publication.

Once that crucial component is in place, you have to decide if you want to publish traditionally or self-publish.  These days, there are many great arguments for self-publishing and various self-publishing sites (like CreateSpace on Amazon or Smashwords) to help you on your way.  Self-publishing is particularly helpful for those who like a “hands on” approach to distributing their work.  In many cases it creates a higher profit margin.  It also requires the author to wear many hats, as editor, publisher, and publicist.  A traditional publishing house will expedite all these things, distributing the workload among various internal branches.  However, most publishers pay a modest advance for your work and then provide royalties based on sales.  Consider the pros and cons, do your research, talk to other published authors.  If you want longevity as an author, you might publish in a variety of ways over the course of your career and these days authors have more options available than ever.  Best-selling author Sylvia Day is an example of someone who has successfully used all possible options, publishing on her own, through publishing houses, in print and in Ebook.

Another helpful component to getting published is the community of authors and readers available online.  I recommend joining Goodreads or a similar site to get involved with your peers, to see what’s being published, read, discussed, and reviewed.  On Facebook and Twitter, follow your favorite authors and see what techniques they are applying to spreading the word about their latest works.  They are all building a readership and so should you.  The days of merely writing something and expecting it to catch on with the use of a few well-placed ads, blurbs, and reviews are long gone.  These days authors are engaging with their readers like never before and that’s useful all around, so take advantage of this accessibility and use it to learn how to create the framework for a sustained relationship with your readers.

In Candy Land, you often have to step backward before you move ahead.   The road to publication also requires patience and a thick skin.  We’ve all heard the stories of authors like Kathryn Stockett (The Help) who was rejected 60 times before finding a literary agent.   It’s a tough industry to break into and that means you should prepare for criticism and rejection.  This requires deep reserves of conviction and self-esteem.  In my process, my first published book isn’t the first book that I wrote.  I worked on a couple of books that will likely never see publication before arriving where I am today.  But I don’t consider those other manuscripts a waste of time.  They helped me improve as a writer and to get a deeper sense of my voice.  Without them and the rejection they received, I wouldn’t have become a published author.  I also learned to appreciate any advice I received from agents along the way. The best agents will reject you creatively and offer constructive criticism.  Embrace this criticism and don’t let your ego get in the way.

Candy Land ends when you arrive at the Candy Castle.  It’s every aspiring author’s goal to achieve publication and arrive at his or her own castle of sorts.  It will not happen overnight.  It will require overcoming various pratfalls.  But I can assure you, if you stick with it and follow some of the guidelines above, it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done.

Here is my review of Pieces of Tracy – and you can enter the giveaway to win the book! Check out my interview with Daniel. 

Tomorrow’s blog tour stop for Daniel’s Pieces of Tracy will be with Cinta Garcia De La Rosa. Check out Daniel’s guest post at Indie Authors You Want to Read.  Monday, 7/22, the blog stop will be at Diary of a Mad Stitcher.

Author Interview: J Daniel Parra

PiecesOfTracy
Available Now

Early last month I received an email from Angela Craft, a marketing and publicity manager for Diversion Books. She was sending out queries for those interested in participating in a book blog tour for a summer book about to be released, Pieces of Tracy.

Silly me, new book blogger who just jumped in feet first (which I don’t recommend!) had absolutely zero idea what a book blog tour even was! I fired off a response to Angela that I definitely wanted to be included…again, jumping in with my feet first. Don’t do it! So I asked a friend, my lovely co-writer at The Eclectic Bookworm, who’s been in the book blogging biz for a while. She explained about blog tours, and then I felt even sillier! I signed up for everything on this book blog tour: a review, a give-away, an author guest post and an interview with the author, J Daniel Parra. You can follow Daniel on Twitter and like him on Facebook for more about his debut novel.

This is only my second interview, and I was uncertain what to ask, so I kept it relatively short compared to my interview with Linda Harley (Destiny’s Flower). I was very interested by the fact that this wasn’t Daniel’s first attempt at writing a novel. Find out more in our interview below!

J Daniel ParraTell me about yourself.

I’m J. Daniel Parra, author of the debut novel, Pieces of Tracy, available now from Diversion Books.  I live in New York where I love running in Central Park and sampling specialty cocktails, though not at the same time.

Why did you choose a female as the lead character? Was it difficult writing from a female perspective?

I’ve always loved fiction with strong female protagonists and have never had trouble connecting with a female perspective.  As Tracy’s story unfolded, I realized that the best way to tell it would be to involve a protagonist who embodied the qualities to make this journey.  It all happened very organically but I don’t think I ever imagined a man at the core of this story.  It just made sense to do it with a female.  The key to writing about a woman for me was not to get too caught up in the obvious girlie things like hair and makeup and clothes and although those elements are there, I tried to make Tracy much more fully realized than that.

It took four years to finish Pieces of Tracy. Did you go back to Rome during the writing?

I managed to do all of my research in one trip where I kept a detailed diary of my experiences. At the time I didn’t realize how much of my diary would work its way into the book. A few things are invented, but for the most part the places and locations are as I experienced them, although I experienced them on a smaller budget than Tracy’s, I should add.

Your agent prompted the title of your debut novel. What was your original title?

That title is still in the book.  Non Basta Una Vita, which translates to One Life Is Not Enough. I stumbled in this phrase in the preface to Henry James’ Italian Hours and this notion that one lifetime is not enough to get to know Rome stayed with me and caused the spark that prompted the story.  All told, I think Pieces of Tracy (Many thanks to Melissa Sarver, my amazing agent!) is a much better title but I still have a sweet spot for One Life Is Not Enough.

The cover features the Roman Coliseum with New York transposed in the background. Is this a hint to Tracy’s choice in the novel?

What I love about the cover is that it beautifully represents Tracy’s dual attractions.  Whether the outcome of Tracy’s dilemma is in any way depicted there is up to the reader.

Before your trip to Rome that inspired this book, what did your day-to-day life look like? How has it changed?

I think on the surface my day-to-day hasn’t changed much. I still love my work and writing. But, as anyone who’s visited Rome can tell you, it’s a city that stays with you.  New York is much the same and that’s why I enjoyed juxtaposing these wonderful cultural capitals in one narrative.

Pieces isn’t your first attempt at writing. What happened to all the attempts prior to Pieces? Will we see any of those works come to life?

I’ve been writing fiction since high school.  That’s a lot of years spent getting it right!  I’m focusing so much on future works right now so I’m not sure if my previous efforts will see the light of day but I wouldn’t rule it out.

How did you get into writing?

I have always loved stories and story-telling.  I created stories for my younger sister’s stuffed animals which I did episodically.  I learned in front of an audience (of one) how to keep a story alive and to create characters that would best embody that story.  I was also a journalist for several years and that taught me the mechanics of language, words, punctuation, grammar, etc.

What are your suggestions for struggling writers (i.e. writer’s block, lack of inspiration/direction, etc.) ?

In my opinion, a writer’s best tools are inspiration and discipline. Let those pillars anchor you.  Maybe conviction is another pillar. But be prepared to work hard and to take criticism. Also: read, read, read!  I seriously learned everything I needed to know about writing by reading books.  The answers are all there.

Goodreads tells us that you’re working on a new novel. Can you give us an idea of what to expect next?

(Darting eyes coyly)  The only thing I will say on that topic is that if you enjoyed Pieces of Tracy, you’ll want to check out my next book.

It’s been a pleasure spending time with you.  Thanks for having me!

Here is my review of Pieces of Tracy – and you can enter the giveaway to win the book! To read Daniel’s guest post about publication, go here.

Tomorrow’s blog tour stop for Daniel’s Pieces of Tracy will be with Cinta Garcia De La Rosa. Check out Daniel’s guest post at Indie Authors You Want to Read.  Monday, 7/22, the blog stop will be at Diary of a Mad Stitcher.