Children always seem excited when they see their teachers in a different environment outside of school. They often wonder if teachers do anything other than teach and grade papers. They always ask teachers what they do in their off-time, because in the student’s mind the teacher lives at the school. Even though it really seems that some do, most of us lead exciting lives, married, raise kids, and work other jobs (is writing another job?).
What if teachers did do more than teach? What if the middle schoolers we worked with were actually alien rather than just acting as if they were from another planet? What if….?
The above is the proposed forward to my latest submission, Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers). Secret Lives is my first attempt at something like a novel or rather a story other than a picture book. We are always told to write about something you know or you are interested in. So I did.
Let’s see, I have spent ten months a year for the last eighteen years teaching in the same middle school. With that, I have worked around a lot of the same teachers and many new teachers that rotate through our school. Some of the personalities are unique. Sometimes the faces change, but the personalities stay the same.
I’ve taught close to two thousand students. I would try to describe the normal student, but who is to say what is normal. I have had parents ask “What happened to the sweet, little girl I used to have? It’s like some alien sucked her brains out and didn’t give them all back.” Or, they wonder why their sons stopped taking showers and why hygiene now means nothing.
So, I took a handful of experience (eight four-day trips to Washington, DC with four bus loads of eighth graders gives some experience), several teacher personalities, and a fascination with astronomy mixed them all together with a little humor and came out with something like a story.
God gave me a little leeway and allowed me to create a planet system around a known star. In that system is a planet named after an Englishman named Nigel that I go to church with. I got to determine what the people looked like and the environment in which they lived. I also got to develop worm-hole technology.
My aliens are called Nigelians (Nigel) and they are very humanoid. The only differences are their lack of noses and ears. While on Earth they wear assimilation suits to disguise their differences. They also have tufts of hair rather than a full covering. There are other differences, but maybe you can read about them later this summer.
If you have ever been to Washington, DC, you may have passed by the Old Post Office. I have been to the building once and even took a group of students up into the clock tower. Most of the story takes place in DC, but the Old Post Office became the home for our school and was the center for a lot of the action in the book.
I also tried something that I haven’t really attempted since I was a boy (and that was a long time ago) — free-hand drawing. In the military, I was trained as a architectural draftsman. I learned straight lines and right angles. This was something different. I did sketches, perspectives and some doodling. Eventually, I completed all the drawings except for one, which was submitted by a student. I did make some changes, but gave her the credit.
I have to admit that completing this book was a lot more fun than the picture books I’ve been doing. There was more freedom in writing, in the ideas, and my thought process felt more alive. I also got to learn a lot about DC.
When we continue to try something new we continue to grow in our art. And, as long as we enjoy what we do it is not a job. Keep an eye out for my new adventure. Read, write and enjoy.
***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure. He is also the author of the upcoming books Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers).