Monthly Archives: September 2012

Upset about the Chicago Teacher Strike? Than this will really make you mad

 I am very proud of the Chicago Public School Teachers, and their recent strike. They were fighting for fair working conditions, fair evaluations, and the ability to question the restructuring and/or closing of “failing” schools.

Some of you may or may not already know this about me, but I am a teacher.

A public school Special Education Teacher who also happens to be National Board Certified, to be specific.

Teachers are not very popular these days in the media or in politics. Apparently, everything that is wrong with the United States of America is the fault of the public school system.

So let me share this with you – because of my special education degree, I have had the privilege of teaching in 5 different schools in 12 years, in 2 different counties.

I could tell you the stories about the five years I spent working with at-risk students from some of the worst housing projects in the city, and I could also tell you stories about my one year that I spent in a wealthy school where every classroom had state-of-the-art technology and each student had their own laptop. I will never forget the homeless student who slept in class because he had to stay awake every night to protect his mother and their belongings in the shelter, nor will I forget the rural high school kids who drove their farm tractors to school. This year, as part of my staff development, all of the teachers in my school had to watch a video about street gangs – but after the video was over, our principal turned to us and quietly said that the most dangerous gang we needed to keep an eye out for in our part of the county is the Ku Klux Klan. She wasn’t kidding.

I live in a right-to-work state. Do you know what that means? Technically, it means that unions are illegal and that all public employees (firemen, policemen, teachers, etc) do not have collective bargaining power or unified organization. What we have are human resources departments and due process. By the way, in the 2012 election for governor of my state, one of the leading candidates has announced that as part of his education reform package he will eliminate teacher due process rights, eliminate tenure, and initiate pay-for-performance. In other words, he is giving the green light for a teacher to get fired at any time, with no ability to question the proceedings, and tying high stake testing scores to teacher pay. What a guy.

I read this today from blogger Brandi Martin, and found it poignant and relevant. If you were already upset over the Chicago Teacher Strike, than here is another reason to be mad at those horrible teachers daring to stand up for their rights:


Friday, September 21, 2012

I Ruined Everything (& Why It Was More Work Than You Thought)… by Brandi Martin

Dear twitter users boiling with anger about forced subsidization of unionized teachers:

I’ve taught art for seventeen years. I’ve complained about certain things at work, but I’ve never regretted my profession. We all knew what we were signing up for when we chose our jobs; I knew I wouldn’t get rich, but I knew I’d have summers off, and a steady paycheck. So did you, actually. The summer thing is an antiquated agrarian anachronism, (read, not new), so please don’t act outraged at this fresh new insult. If you became a banker or waitress or IT guy or whatever job you have that doesn’t seem to mind your constant vigilance of pro-union tweets, you knew it had two weeks’ vacation a year. You knew the salary, and the risks of advancement. When i started teaching in 1993 my contract said $20,000. I thought that sounded AMAZING. I thought a bulldozer with a haystack of twenty thousand dollar bills was going to pull up and dump them all over me. When i started getting paid I had to take a weekend job at Carmen’s Pizza taking phone orders for delivery so I could pay my bills. But I had no complaint.

To earn this $20k I taught art on a cart to 850 kids at 3 different schools every week. Almost every kid was on free lunch. My budget was $1.50 per child per year. This is *actually* possible. My classes applauded when I entered the room every single time! I took up Spanish lessons again at my own expense, so that I could say “Quieres papel amarillo, o azul? Doblalo, y desdoblalo. Ok, cortalo. Bueno!” So that the new kid off the boat (so to speak) wasn’t terrified that he or she had to talk to the gringa teacher. We made puppets, paper mache, tissue snowflakes, and lots of chalk and tempera paintings. I loved going to work every day. I loved festooning each little school with the happy art. I enjoyed telling wide-eyed kids I actually lived in the dark, mouse-poopy art closet down the hall. I worked in the lowest paying district in a 300 mile radius, but I didn’t care. I felt needed, and I knew I was making some little soul’s morning, every time I went to work.

I feel less and less that way when I read angry tweets and newspaper comments about my profession. Maybe I shouldn’t read what angry tax paying trolls write and say on the internet, but I’m so appalled I keep checking to see if it’s still there. I’m told I’m ungrateful. I read that I am greedy, or a tool of greedy union bosses. I am a selfish “son of a bitch,” one guy informed me, when I was trying to explain the details and the facts of current legislation. I read that everyone’s life is going down the toilet, because I am breaking their backs. I have ruined everything. Everything is ruined.

Please know it did not feel like ruining everything. It felt like sitting in a tiny plastic chair at a tiny table, cajoling an autistic preschooler into brushing watercolor across a white wax face i had pre drawn, then watching him laugh at the big reveal. It felt like receiving a drawing as a gift from a talented little boy who drew like an adult, but suffered crippling arthritis in his hands and for whom i had arranged free classes at SAIC. It felt like crossing a name off a roster because she and her grandmother had been raped and killed in their house near the school. It felt like a million little notes shoved into my hands and pockets from eager little people who only came up to my waist. It felt like tamales from mothers who could not speak much English but beamed widely as they handed the foil package over.

Now at the high school level it feels like alarmed inquiries following my every absence, it feels like a crowd around my desk, like emails during the evenings and weekends. It feels like a 6’2 kid standing up from his computer animation to announce loudly “I AM AN ARTIST.” It feels like kids who come back during their lunches and study halls, spending half the day in my room, and sometimes come to school only for my class: this according to parents. It feels like emails and letters, even years later, saying I was the best teacher they ever had. It feels like all my letters of recommendation, begging for college admission or a scholarship for another fine young person. It feels like trust, or just relief that I listen.

So guess what? I am rich, you miserable, bitter harpies. But you have it all wrong. Just because your job sucks and you can’t wait to get out of there every day doesn’t mean that’s how I feel making my living. It’s a shame, but it’s a world of your own making. If you loved your job, I doubt you’d be investing this kind of time degrading mine. In contrast, I enjoy the luxurious power of changing kids’ minds about school *every day*, even on eight-year-old computers that run on my sheer will alone.

So do it. Reduce my pension. Make me poor, since I don’t qualify for Social Security. Make my medicine unaffordable. Make my raise contingent upon proof that my art lessons somehow improved state math scores. Continue firing at my feet to see how long you can make me dance. It still won’t change the fact that life did not work out as you planned, and you’re now a bitter little turd. AND I will STILL… love my job, because I am rocking this for all the right reasons. After you take every tool and incentive and support away from me, and millions like me, you won’t suddenly have anything great that you don’t already have. And then you will be terribly disappointed to find out that this isn’t a scam after all. Whether decorated or destroyed, inside every school we run on something you can’t legislate, isolate, measure or destroy. Much to your inarticulate all-caps despair.

It’s love, dumbass. If you’d bother to volunteer at the little school down the street you could have a sample. I won’t even tell the kids what you wrote about their teacher.

Brandi Martin


Toby Bennett: Musings from a cigar smoking dyslexic horror writer

I am very pleased to introduce Toby Bennett to guest post on my blog today. Welcome, Toby!

Toby Bennett was born in 1976 in Cape Town, South Africa. He holds a degree in philosophy from the University of Cape Town. Like many writers he has had a varied career that has included graphic and web design, database administration and technical writing. His true passion lies in creative writing and to date he has written six novels and a fair-sized collection of short stories. Find him on Amazon or visit: for more info.

Want more information on Toby’s books? Check out the list here!

Toby Bennett is one of the novelists featured in Bloody Parchment: Hidden Things, Lost Things, and other stories

It’s all very well guest blogging but when the initial glow wears off you realise that you’re actually going to need something worthwhile to talk about. So here I stand before the metaphorical microphone, “Tap, tap is this thing on? Am I glad to see you ladies and gentlemen, I’ve only typed fifty five words and boy are my arms tired!” Drum roll please.

So I thought I might say something about writing. I am a writer after all, or at least that’s what I answer (rather than feckless lay about) when people ask me what I do. I’ve sold a few books, not bad for someone that people thought might never learn to read or write. Yup, with any luck the spell checker is hiding the fact that I’m terribly dyslexic, or whatever they are calling it these days, (yes, I still use the term dyslexic, I spent long enough learning how to spell dyslexic without them re-naming the syndrome, sadists! What’s next —  a hurdle race for the blind?). I’ve always wanted to write, I’m not sure if part of me knew that I could do it despite everything, or that I wanted to do it so much because some people thought I couldn’t, all I know is that these days I have to write. I’m pretty laid back by nature but there is something prickly in my soul that prods me with lit cigars until I sit down and write something (“Oh for a muse of fire…” sounds nice till the abuse sets in). My cigar-happy passenger’s promptings have meant that I have six titles on Amazon and another two in editing, and somehow it still doesn’t seem like enough.

I write fantasy and horror with varying degrees of success. I recently had over seven thousand people download my book “Heavens Gate”. Yes it has vampires in it but the story is actually about the man eating them. I’m hoping that so many downloads means I’ve done something right. we’ll see since I’m about to embark on the inevitable sequel “Heaven’s Guardians”. It’s really great to be able to have a platform like the kindle to let you get your work into other people’s hands. I can’t say enough about how this kind of opportunity has changed things for writers. It’s also interesting to note how the goal posts shift as one starts to be read more. When no one had read my work I used to say “If I can connect just one other person with my work then I will consider my efforts worthwhile”. Three days at the top of the free SF lists on Amazon gave me a very different perspective. I’ve had a brief taste of a wider audience and I sometimes find myself obsessively checking my Amazon sales figures. It’s then that I have to keep reminding myself to stay Zen and remember why I write.

As far as I am concerned, an author’s priorities should run as follows: Above all write what you want to write. Write to please yourself because if it is not something you have some joy and passion in the reader will pick that up and why should both of you be miserable? Your second consideration should be the reader, they have to take the trip you have prepared so next to your own happiness their enjoyment is the most important. You can’t please everyone but if you can put some of that joy or excitement you felt while creating the book in for them you should do alright. The absolute last consideration should be whether people will pay for it… that doesn’t go for you readers; don’t take your authors for granted. if you want them to be able to work you need to pay them… But writers you should know the deal, if you need to pay them… But writers you should know the deal, if you wanted to make money you might have had a better bet signing up for NASA training! Every year a million more novels hit the slush pile and only thousands of those will ever be seen by the public. Once again we have to thank Amazon and their Kindle for giving writers a better shot at reaching a wider audience. I started out to say something about writing but the more I thought about it I found I also wanted to say something about us as readers. What I want to say boils down to this:

“We should always be demanding more, both from ourselves and our authors.”

I’m a firm believer in reading whatever flicks your switches and I hate literary snobs who tell you what a good book is. That’s something that should be very much in the eye of the beholder. But we have to be on guard against the modern tendency to take our entertainment for granted. We live in a world of sound bites and instant truths. Modern literary wisdom holds that there’s no one out there who can digest a sentence of more than twenty words and more and more there seems to be no willingness to take risks or try something different.

I wouldn’t presume to tell you what you should read but I do believe that writers should at least be trying to create something new rather than just replicating things that have been popular in the past. It is individual readers and their personal tastes who provide the impetus for new idea’s and different types of story. Consider the difference between off the rack clothing and a designer suit. A book produced to a commercial formula will satisfy the greatest number of readers, but perhaps there is something to be said for that cult classic that reaches only a small audience. In the past commercial concerns often meant that simple ideas won out over the more exotic and complex concepts. The great news is that isn’t true anymore, writers can take a chance and you can get hold of their work because of sites like Smashwords and Amazon. I’m not saying every literary experiment will work, but there has never been a time when authors could have a more intimate relationship with their readers. It’s a great time to be alive and it’s a time filled with opportunities for readers if they are ready to take a chance and try new things.

So what should people be reading? Well, who am I to tell you?

Read outside your comfort zone. Look for less mainstream works that you might avoid if you had to pay the full price of a hard copy edition, and if you find a treasure for goodness sake don’t keep it to yourself. Get on review sites like Goodreads or post a review on Amazon and help others find something worthwhile. From personal experience I can tell you it makes an author’s day when someone actually gives feedback on their work, which if you enjoyed the book, seems like a fair trade.

Well, those are a few of my thoughts and the end of my guest blog, phew! It probably goes without saying that the opinions expressed here are very general and are meant as food for thought. It all boils down to this: you should demand more of your writers, go to places that scare you and make sure that you support the Authors you feel have delivered.

All the best and happy reading.

Toby Bennett

The Goblins will get you if you don’t watch out

Just a little something to keep in the spirit of the coming holidays…. I belong to the Horror Writers Association, and am proud to display their banner on my blog.

%d bloggers like this: