Recently, I was checking something on my Facebook page and noticed the self-description I wrote several years ago: “Former Teacher Turned Mystery Writer.” My mind went back to the first time I even thought about writing a book. I realize everyone has a story, but in my case, it was one of those incidents that make me realize there is a pattern in the universe going on behind the scenes. Karma.
Most people go to graduate school when they finish their undergraduate years, but I waited until I was fifty years old. I had children to raise and put through college first. So, having been out of the classroom as a student for almost thirty years, I went to the University of Illinois for three summers to get my M.Ed. in Secondary Education. It was a little scary at first, but once I got into the zone, I was fine. Most of my professors had not been born when I started teaching. I signed up for a class on Reflective Teaching. It was a decision that led me to become a writer.
Several of the assignments in that class called for me to connect my teaching career with what I believed long before I started teaching. How did my philosophy of teaching connect to who I was inside? My values?
I remember writing a paper in that class about growing up at the drive-in theater in my town. My great uncle had built that drive-in movie theater shortly after World War II. My dad managed it, and I literally grew up in that magical place. Some movies I saw seven or eight times, like “The Greatest Show on Earth” or “The Spirit of St. Louis.” That place and time had a profound influence on who I am. While my parents taught me many good values, I also learned from those movies. Teachers reflect who they are and what they believe when they teach, and their interactions with students also reflect those values.
Before that Reflective Teaching class ended, I’ll never forget my professor wrote on one of my papers, “You have a unique voice and a riveting way of telling a story. Have you ever thought about writing books?”
No, I hadn’t. She saw in me something I hadn’t seen in myself, an awareness of how my character developed through those earlier years, plus an ability to describe and connect those events and reactions to how I taught.
Her thought stuck in my mind, and a decade later I decided to write a book during the later years of my teaching. I began my writing career with a creative nonfiction memoir about my teaching life rather than fiction. My book about those four decades, The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks), has sold thousands of copies since it came out in 2010. The “voice” in that book became the voice in my Endurance mysteries, my first series. Grace Kimball, the protagonist, just retired from her high school teaching career in book one. In many ways, she was me.
Now I know I promised you karma, so here it is. After that first book about teaching came out, I received a letter from a student I hadn’t seen in probably twenty years. She had heard about my book, picked up a copy, and felt moved to write me a note. I must say this was a kindness I hadn’t expected. She’d been the first person in her family of eight kids to graduate from high school, something her parents hadn’t done either. Going to college was something she’d never thought of doing. But eventually she did, and now was finishing a PhD. She planned to teach on the college level [and is today.] But she remembered something I’d written on one of her papers in high school.
She’d been part of a group who had to explain something to the rest of my class. No one else wanted to do the speaking, so she did. Afterwards, I had written on her critique, “You have a gift for speaking and teaching. Maybe you should consider being a teacher.” She said I’d discovered something about her that she hadn’t realized herself, and now she couldn’t imagine doing anything else. She loved teaching.
See. Karma. My happy thought that some universal plan is still in place and helping each other keeps it turning.