Why did you write Teaching Diamonds in the Tough?
The book is the product of five years of journaling while teaching. I started journaling to relieve the frustrations of the day and eventually realized how much emotion met paper.
What does TOUGH stand for?
What are problems and responsibilities about writing about real people?
There are ethical and legal considerations. Ethically, I do not want to exploit my students or their families for entertainment. Like physicians everywhere, I want to “do no harm.” I would not want to hurt or demean any coworkers or students because of my own perspective on a given situation. Legally, I considered issues related to writing about real people. All names are changed and the location is vague because these details do not matter. The emotional impact of a situation is the focus. Protecting privacy is paramount.
Because you change details, can these vignettes be called nonfiction?
The accounts in Teaching Diamonds in the Tough are called “narrative nonfiction.” They are not biographical, neither are they academic texts. They are simply accounts of personal experiences or memoirs with a privacy overlay. Having said that, the material is still about real issues, real people and real experiences.
How did you start teaching special education after teaching fourth grade originally?
After my three children were in school, a program opened at a local college, St. Xavier College in Chicago. Students were provided funds to earn a Master’s in Special Education while working in the Learning Disabilities Clinic. I jumped at the opportunity. The field of learning disabilities was still new and there had been so many puzzling students in my previous classrooms who did not fit into neat categories. This area of study promised to give me answers.
Isn’t it hard teaching behavior disordered children?
I look back at those eight years of self contained BD as the toughest job I ever loved. Teaching has always been a calling for me, never a career. Acting-out children are just persons who are crying for help to ease their emotional pain. Behavior has causes. Having lived with an alcoholic stepfather and in the foster care system, I knew the relationship between trauma and behavior.
Did you ever see results from the children you worked with?
Yes, many have gone to college and become model citizens. I even advocated for several students until they were admitted to gifted programs. But teaching is not a “numbers game”. Children are real people who live in broken worlds. I know that I have helped most students entrusted in my care. My heart broke for the ones who were incarcerated as teens or young adults. In our society there are thousands of dedicated teachers who positively impact classrooms every day. Collectively, over time, the efforts of all teachers that one student encounters will guide that child into a productive adult life. We all need to do our best every day. Education is a team effort.
How do you keep your faith separate when you are employed by a public school?
My faith is not compartmentalized. When I gave my heart to Jesus Christ in repentance at the age of 21, the commitment to live the Christian life was real. That is who I am at the core level. As a Christ-follower, my classroom bookshelves were filled with books that inspired, were fun to read, or motivated. Bulletin boards and other displays mirrored the beauty and creativity of a Creator God. Music played in the classroom was character building, singable and enjoyable. (Thank you to Rich Rubietta from Abounding Ministries for CDs that the children loved.)
One year, on the opening day in August, I sang “Getting to Know You” from The King and I and wandered up and down the aisles. Those fourth graders stared wide eyed with a look that could only be interpreted as “What have I gotten into?” Who I am is a Christian, and my faith permeates my total perspective on life. As St. Augustine once stated, “Preach the gospel, and, if necessary, use words.” I just try to be myself without overstepping boundaries.