I hate to sound like a cliché but I served tables while in art school. Between customers I would work on my art history class at the staff table. I would leave my notebook open while I worked. The regulars, who were on a first name basis, would sometimes sit at the staff table. If I was gone too long they would doodle in my notebook. Keep in mind this was pre cellular devices so finding a way to entertain oneself was a creative act in itself.
Making them doodle
Simultaneously I was amused and annoyed by the drawings and the comments in the margins of my notebook. I took the loose papers and put them in a duo tang to save my homework. Soon after, coffee-drinking customers would come in ask for their usual and the notebook. They gave the notebook a nickname. They called it whiskey. So orders would come in—two coffees, two waters, and a whiskey. Small cheese pizza, two cokes, and a whiskey. The place wasn’t licensed for liquor and a lot of these customers were just teenagers. It was soon full of writing and drawing and rants, comments, letters, and doodles and some full on beautiful art work. It just occurred to me that was the outset of today’s social media. Like a text replacing a paper note passed in class, my book was like a cave painting before the internet was around to share everyone’s thoughts, anonymously or otherwise. Man, have things changed.
Making it formal
In a break between rushes I stood near the dish pit looking at the latest expressions in the notebook. The dishwasher took it from my hands and flipped through the collection of raw art. “You know, you’re getting them to do stuff their teachers are beating them over the head to do in some classes. How ’bout that?” She put the duo tang down and got back to the dishes.
This was the moment I considered that maybe I could teach. I was never sure and I was certainly not confident enough. But it was that moment that solidified that teaching was an option. It seemed I only needed to point the learner in a direction. I still had several semesters of my Bachelor of Fine Art degree but an education degree was now on the table. After my graduating exhibition at the MacKenzie Art Gallery I applied to get into the Faculty of Education. I wrote this very story of the duo tang in the coffee shop in my ‘please accept me into the faculty of education essay and let me be a teacher…I promise I’ll try my best not to screw up our future youth too badly.’ The premise of the essay was that I could get kids to do work, make it fun, and make them want it. And guess what, I was accepted.
I became a teacher. I am at the tail end of my career. I’m pushing into my writing career. I don’t waitress anymore. Thank God. Things are very different. And that’s a good thing.
Making kids read
My friend and colleague took her English class to the library to get a book for silent reading. One particular student couldn’t find anything that interested her. The teacher pointed out Along Comes a Wolfe only because her last name was Wolfe and “Ms. Counios wrote it.” She begrudgingly took the book because she was running out of time and had to have something for class.
A few days later I walked in to my colleagues class to ask her a question and saw this girl at the back of the room leaning into the book. Absorbed. It made me smile. I’m making her read. Cool.
About a week later, the class had to attend a presentation in the auditorium during English class. The girl with the last name Wolfe looked at her teacher, “But we will have time to read won’t we?” The teacher told her she wasn’t sure if the presentation would take the whole class or not. “Seriously! I want to come back and keep reading.” My author heart grew three sizes! And my teacher heart grew too! How cool is that! Dave and I are getting teens to read-because-they-want-to! And we seem to be getting them to do what others may beat them over the head for and they seem to be enjoying it.
I shared the story of the student who loved Along Comes a Wolfe with Dave (my co-author) and we high-fived each other on the couch in his office. That is exactly the result I want. I want people to want to read it and to be a little bit miffed if their plan to read has been disrupted. On a side note as a teacher, it completely pleases me to know that I am covertly getting kids to fall into literature!!
*Portions originally posted April 4th, 2016