Supporting Teachers and Kids
Good morning, Inkpotters! Thank you for giving me an opportunity to take up a little time on the Inkpot. I graduated with the first class way back in 2009, and my experience at Hamline continues to impact me in profound ways, both in my personal writing and my professional life as an education writer and editor.
Today I want to blend both of those worlds and talk about engaging teachers and kids with the stories you create, whether they are published or not. I know the Inkpot usually focuses on craft, but I hope you forgive this temporary jump into post-writing, what-the-heck-do-I-do-now land because I think it is important.
Why is it important? Well, bottom line is that teachers, along with librarians, are some of the biggest advocates for children’s literature that you will ever meet. They’re the ones whose eyes will actually light up when you tell them about your MFA—unlike everyone else at the cocktail party. They’re the ones who are still buying actual books, made from paper, at independent bookstores. And they’re the ones putting books in the hands of kids every day.
Teachers are also, as I’m sure you’re aware, under tremendous pressure that unfortunately seems to be increasing by the day. Between shrinking school budgets, endless bubble tests, and an imperfect set of national standards being implemented in even more imperfect ways, it’s really something of a magic trick that teachers are able to play matchmaker between books and readers at all.
And yet they do. Every day. Which is why I believe that as writers, our job is to put on our apprentices’ aprons and at least help teachers out where we can.
There are a number of ways we can do this, and I’m always adding names to my list of Authors Doing Amazing Things in the Classroom. But today I wanted to cover a few of the basics, things that I believe are essential for growing a teacher audience, yes, but even more importantly for showing your support for those working in the front ranks with your readers:
1. Website with author bio, bibliography, and FAQ, and a way to contact you
This may seem pretty basic, but the first step in supporting teachers is to have a colorful and attractive website where students can easily find biographical information about you and your writing. Young readers of all ages have to do research projects about favorite authors, and instead of sending kids down a Wikipedia black hole, teachers would much rather have a clear destination to send their students.
Bonus points if you also have a “For Teachers” section on your site, where you house a teacher’s guide for your book(s) and information on school visits. More on those below.
Here are some author sites that I believe strike just the right balance in providing information to kids and their grown-ups:
2. Teacher’s guide for your book(s)
A teacher’s guide is a collection of resources designed to make it easier for a teacher to use your book in the classroom. As you may know, there is a lot of work involved in teaching a book for the first time, and a good teacher’s guide can help to alleviate that burden.
Sometimes publishers may pay to create a teacher’s guide for your book, but oftentimes it is up to you. There are services you can enlist to help you create a guide, but if you decide to tackle it on your own, here are some things you might consider including:
- Discussion questions for each chapter and the book as a whole
- Ideas for hands-on activities related to your book’s theme, setting, characters, or historical era
- Related books and websites, particularly ones that you used in your own research
- List of interesting or challenging vocabulary from your story
- Connections to the Common Core State Standards—while these standards remain controversial, many teachers are required to demonstrate how their curriculum aligns with Common Core benchmarks. You can make it easy by listing related standards under your discussion questions and activities.
Natalie Lorenzi’s guide for Flying the Dragon is a great model.
3. School or Skype visits
School visits are of course another fantastic way to connect with teachers and kids to talk about your books and the writing process in general. If you aren’t sure what to talk about, revision is usually a high-interest topic for teachers, who are always trying to push young writers to go past that first draft. Simply bringing in those marked up, red-lined printouts of your first draft—and your twenty-second—can be a compelling visual to help spark conversation.
One of the best parts of school visits is that you don’t necessarily have to be a published writer. Teachers at your local school may love to have you share your experiences in an MFA program. And of course, there’s nothing like spending a few hours in a classroom to give you writing fodder for days!
4. Show your support for teachers and education on social media.
This may seem trivial, but showing some teacher love on your social channels can go a long way toward building your audience and gaining educator fans for life. It doesn’t have to be complicated—just a few grateful words or memories of favorite educators will be much appreciated.
As an example, Patricia Polacco does an amazing job of connecting with and engaging teachers on her Facebook page—check it out here.
Not to be too dramatic, but these public declarations of support also help to shape the national conversation around teaching and those who dedicate their lives to working with kids. The unfortunate stereotype of teachers as overpaid babysitters is alive and well, and as writers we know how much more educators do for families, stories, and children.
With that, I will step off my soapbox and pass the baton to the next alumnus in the wings! Thanks for listening, Inkpotters!
Hannah Hudson graduated with the MFAC class of 2009 and is an editor for WeAreTeachers.com