Celebrity Status

At a recent presentation to a group of 4th and 5th graders, students had the opportunity to ask me questions. The question that blew me away was a one posed by a young man who seemed thrilled to be in the same room, breathing the same air as the person who wrote the book he just read. "When did you decide to be a teacher?"

This may seem like an innocent question, but for me, it was a profound one- the kind where all the puzzle pieces come together. See, this group of kids was not simply a random group of kids. They were students from the school I had been teaching at for the last month. Half of them were my own classroom students and the other half was the fourth graders across the hall. For the last several weeks, the fourth grade teacher and I had been reading aloud my book, Ordinary to Extraordinary: The Beginning, to them. Because the fourth graders had a different lunch time as my class, I was often on my lunch break in my room preparing for my next class when the fourth graders were being read to. Our doors are often open and I heard her on the first day that she introduced my book. It was "March Is Reading Month", which means a month long calendar of activities to get kids excited about reading.

The introduction went something like this.

"Class, today I want to introduce to you a book that is very special." (She said it in such a way that all the quiet noises in the room, like kids settling into their desks, sharpening pencils, wiggly bodies, and coughing suddenly ceased and she had their full attention.) . "See this book I am holding? Someone that you know and see every day wrote it." (She paused for dramatic effect. I imagined their eyes opening wide with anticipation.) "Mrs. Southwell, the new teacher across the hall, wrote it." (From across the hall, in my room, I heard many gasps.) . "Yes, it's true. She wrote this book. And...I'M GOING TO READ IT TO YOU!" (They were all excited now.) She went on to talk to them about how my book is based on my two kids and proceeded to read it.

My own fifth graders were amazed that I had an actual book in my hand that I had wrote. At first they didn't even believe me and I had to show them my website and even the Amazon posting to convince them. Every day they would ask me questions about what was coming next , how I came up with my ideas, who designed the cover, if there really was a person or place that existed like it was in the book. One particular student asked when I wrote and then published the book. When I told him, he said, "NO WAY." I responded, "Yes way." He then said, "You. Are. A. Mind. Reader," and took his hands and gestured like his brain just blew up. I was confused must've looked it because he said, "You knew about the iPhone X before it even came out." All the other kids gasped and looked at me expectantly. I smiled, shrugged, and continued to read. My secretive response just made them all decide that I had my own Extraordinary Talents, like the characters in my book. Because I was mostly the teacher figure, leading lessons as teachers do, and because I used the time reading to highlight mistakes that needed to be fixed on the next printing, my students got over their starry-eyed fan-phase very quickly. Every time I stopped and highlighted something they would say, "Anther mistake." just in case someone in class missed it. I mean, the person who will call you out on your poor choices, make you stay in for recess to finish work, and has the power to call parents can make life difficult.

The fourth graders were a different group all together. I would be walking in the hall before school started and smile and greet the passing students like I had since I started, only now they acted star- struck, with a gigantic smile and many even addressed me by name in the hall long before I was in a comfortable range to talk to. "HI, MRS. SOUTHWELL!" A few even were too embarrassed to look at me, when a few short days ago they thought I was just another teacher, and addressed me kindly with a smile and good-morning greeting. Kids who were younger siblings would come up and introduce themselves as "so and so's brother or sister" and look at me with wide eyes.

And then the day came where the fourth graders joined my fifth graders for my Author Presentation. I had tweaked a slideshow that I gave my son's third grade class, and unusually wore a skirt that day because I had run out of clean slacks and needed to do the wash. I thought the presentation would help to clear up questions, as I based it around questions I had my fifth graders write the day before. Wrong. Everyone had questions, but mostly the fourth graders, who, unlike my own fifth graders, thought of me more as a celebrity, instead of the same ole teacher.

It was in this setting that the question, "When did you decide to become a teacher?" came out. I laughed, but instantly realized by the wide eyes that all of the students were curious. I mean, in their young minds, why on earth would someone who wrote a book become a teacher? In that moment, I realized what I had not put into to words for the last several weeks. What this student meant to ask was, "Shouldn't I be out there in an undisclosed private location, with armed guards guarding the entrance, should anyone dare to disturb me, or at a Hollywood event that will be televised for others to see?" My response was a bit of a let down, "I have always been a teacher. It's only recently that I decided to write books, too."

Since that day, I have often asked myself why I didn't start with being an author. I believe whole heartedly that God has plans for me, so who am I to question? But that's what I do. So, why? Then I get another bill in the mail and I know, at least partially, the reason that I am still teaching. Teaching, like writing so far, does not pay for the time and energy that I put in, but right now it's more that writing. Plus, I love writing. It's just making it pay that is the hard part. Until the time comes that being an author can support me full time, I'm going to continue to share my love for writing with students. The celebrity status has worn off, but I hope my passion for writing as encouraged the young people I have touched with my book.


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