On Friday I visited a local middle school in New Hampshire, gearing up to teach Brainstorming to five 7th grade classes in five hours. Until a few days before I wasn’t sure what I’d cover, how I’d entertain the 12 and 13 year olds for that long.
Last summer I took my dog and puppy to a park to play, and ran into a woman who was there with her husband and new baby. We got to talking and she said “I teach 7th grade English.” I was all over that and told her I’d love to come talk to her students in the fall. It took us this long to coordinate the visit partially because my book wasn’t coming out until November and also because I was a little paralyzed by the idea of teaching anything to a whole bunch of kids.
I’m a mother, so I’ve done my share of one-on-one teaching. And I’ve spoken on several panels at writing conferences and at work events. I’m fine with public speaking. But knowing what to say in this situation? Highly intimidating.
I walked into the classroom a little past seven A.M. on Friday and instantly felt just fine. The kids were all excited to meet “the author.” They were all so polite and nice. We said the Pledge of Allegiance, which was a routine I’d forgotten was still practiced. It was kind of neat, saying it again with them.
The first class went off without a hitch, and even the students I expected to feign disinterest, had their hands up to volunteer ideas as we co-wrote the story up on the board on a brainstorming map. At the end of the class, the teacher took a photo of the white board. Next week, she’ll put the map up on an overhead and the students will each write their version of the story we started.
After each class was over the teacher photographed all of us together, which was SO FUN. I had no idea how enjoyable the day would be. In the midst of photographing the second class, there was a LOCKDOWN. I was confused at first, because we didn’t have that kind of drill when I was young. We all walked, in orderly fashion, back to the room. We sat on the floor in the corner, silently, for about fifteen minutes. It may have been longer or shorter, not sure. The shades were drawn and at one point someone in the hallway tried to turn the doorknob to confirm it was closed. The experience was a little unnerving but I was truly impressed by how quiet and well-behaved the students were. No one made a peep.
After that, we continued on with the next three classes. For each one, I chose a different main idea, supplied by the children. It was impressive seeing how quickly we could go from a blank white board to one housing a fully fleshed out story and characters. I was as thrilled as they were even if I acted all matter of fact about it. The pupils were amazingly creative. One of them said “This is really fun.” I said “Isn’t it? I do it all the time.”
I sold and signed some books, which was great, but honestly, the best part of the day was knowing I inspired these middle schoolers and showed them how much fun creativity can be. I’m hoping in 5-6 years to see some of these young adults send in requests to join the New England Horror Writers.
After this experience, I am enthusiastic about visiting other schools in the area. If you are a teacher or parent in New England and would like me to come to your school, please contact me. I’m happy to come in to meet you and outline my lesson plan.