Saturday, November 5, 2011

November NaNoWriMo Update

My students are off and running.  Many have come to me and asked if they could increase their word count.  They are so excited.  I am looking forward to next year when we start our entire sixth grade with the workbooks and go from there.  They will all be participating in NaNoWriMo.

I on the other hand am working hard.  I am a little discouraged to see I am not making my daily word count.  We just had another district test come up and are looking at another one in about two weeks.  Between that and grading papers, my writing has slowed down.  So has everything else, my blogging, reading and even spendng time with my family.  My students asked me if I will be okay if I don't win NanNo and I told them yes.  I will be __?___ number of words closer to finishing my story than if I'd not joined NaNo.  I don't believe in saying I won't win.  Until the 30th, anything is a possibility.

Just a heads up for my readers.  In the next few weeks my students will be writing poetry and I will be sharing some of it with my readers.  There is a reason for this.  One it encourages my students to write more and two, I have some very talented students that I like to showcase.  Have a great week.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Countdown to NaNo

I was happy when I talked five of my students into entering NaNoWriMo.  Then I was excited when I had 16 students sign up.  I talked to each of the Language Arts teachers, Reading Teachers, and our Media Specialist.  Today I left school forty-five minutes late.  I stopped by the office on my way out and was stopped by two students who needed to sign up for NaNoWriMo.  Then they started bringing their parents and their friends  in.  By the time I left I had papers everywhere.  I went home and started the process of signing them into my virtual class and realized I have 36 kids and an email from a teacher who said they would send five of their students down tomorrow.  I need a bigger word than ecstatic to describe how I feel.  This was a type of trial this year.  We are an IB school and I was given the go ahead to have all of the sixth graders participate next year as part of their curriculum.  I informed the other sixth grade teacher.  I will encourage the 7th and 8th grade teachers to do the same but I can't handle NaNoWriMo for 800 Students.  Now I have to finish preparations for my own novel.  Oh yeah, I think I hear papers calling my name to be graded.

Friday, October 21, 2011


NaNoWriMo is almost upon us.  I am excited.  In the past I have wanted to join but had other commitments such as judge for CYBILS.  This year I wasn't chosen as a judge and I took it as a sign that I needed to join NaNoWriMo.  As a teacher I have wanted to use it in my classroom.  We have a core curriculum and we are an IB school.  I've tried to figure out how to work it into my program.  I talked with my assistant principal and she backed me up on this idea.  I will be able to do it next year with ALL of my students.  This year I offered it to my students kind of late in the year.  So far I have five students that have signed up.  Austin was the first to sign up and he has been a great promoter at the school.  His exuberance spreads.  I have set my goals for writing this novel.  I have 2 in the works as far as planning goes.  I have only a few more days to decide which it will be and to get it ready to write.  I know I will need to write close to 1700 words EVERY day if I am going to reach that goal.  I will do this.  I must succeed not only for me, but for my students who are watching me.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Never Forget

I have agonized over this blog for quite some time.  Should I keep it, or get rid of it?  I was never real sure what I wanted to do with it or if I had time for it.  Every now and then something hits me and I have to go with it.  I asked myself what would be one thing I would tell my students.  It would have to be this message, "Write What You Are Passionate About".   Why?  They are always asking me why I wrote "Steps to Courage".

After 9/11 I was passionate about letting future generations of students know what it was like on that day.  As we have new generations of students who were not yet born then it becomes more important that we not only tell the events of that day, but share our knowledge of the causes.  We need to teach our children tolerance.  It is the lack of tolerance that led to this event.

I remember for the one year anniversary of 9/11 I had my middle school students write an essay about how they saw people showing compassion through adversity in the year that followed that tragic day.  I asked them not to look at the obvious, those who worked at ground zero.  I asked them to look in their neighborhoods, at school, and church and see how they and other's showed compassion.  It was important that we start it off with a discussion of how we had become a nation that had trust issues.  It was important to put into perspective how hate crimes begin and grow.  I was amazed at how my students responded.  I was amazed at how they looked at their fellow classmates and wrote about ways they saw them showing compassion.

I could not get the looks on my student's faces out of my mind after 9/11.  I could not forget Alyssa running down the hall screaming my name and begging me to turn the TV on because she had heard a plane had hit the Twin Towers.  I will never forget the questions asked and the discussion in class as we repeatedly watched the news footage of the attacks in Washington, DC and New York City and finally the plane in Pennsylvania.  My students put on a brave front trying to one up each other on what they would do if they were in the Twin Towers.  The topic became such a burning issue that it became a passion I had to research and write about.

It is important that I teach my new sixth graders, many who were not even born, about this day in our history. As a school that promotes cultural awareness it is important that we teach tolerance right in our classroom.  There are so many lessons to be learned from the 9/11 events.  How will you teach them?  What is your passion?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Great News

It is finished.  I have worked for almost three years trying to finish, and get published my book Steps To Courage.   This year I made a decision to  self-publish my book.  I sent it to a friend  of a friend to read and review.  She wrote back that she would be happy to put her name behind it.  She asked me to call her.  I still didn't understand what she meant.  I had friended her on Facebook, and I was reading books she recommended by others.  It wasn't until that phone call that I realized she was an agent and was offering to represent me.  Sometimes I feel like I am on the slow track when it comes to publishing.  She asked me if I had a second book.  Everyone thought there should be a second book.  It was already short on words.  One question made all the difference in my life.  She asked, what happened to my characters.  I spent my Spring Break writing that second half.  I've been editing for the last month and it is finished.  I received my proof and realized it still had some mistakes.  I am awaiting the time when I approve my proof and then can order my books.  I have started the promotion process.  My book trailer is ready.  Only a few more days I and will be able to put it up.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Poetry Month

One of my students, Charles, who goes by the nickname Skywalker sat in our writing class today and came up with a poem.  This is a student who is very good at hiding his facial emotions, unlike his teacher who shows them all.  Here is his poem.  Enjoy.

The Code

Do not show emotion, for emotion is a weakness.
Others exploit emotion and use it against you.
Keep a straight face for you may even earn respect.
do not show emotion so that others may underestimate you.
Emotion is a weakness to be exploited.

Sometimes being underestimated is a good thing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Student Writing Myths

Our sixth graders are currently working on myths from different cultures.  One of my students shared a Greek myth he wrote for his World History class.  Ryan has given me permission to share it with you.

Greko's Great Adventures and Misfortunes by R.B.

Today Greko of Athens is told by his mother to go to the agora, or market, and get one slice of fish and two cakes. "Okay Mother!" says Greko.  Greko skips along the way to the door and grabs the papyrus basket and the red hooded cape that is waiting beside the door.  As he leaves the house, his mother shouts after him, "Go around the forest! Don't go through it."  He nods and continues to skip along the way to the agora.

A few minutes later Greko arrives at the agora.  He looks for the bakery for a few seconds, and then he finds it and skips along towards it.  He asks the baker for two cakes then leaves when the baker gives them to him.  "Avtio, Greko!" shouts the baker.  Greko looks at the sky and sees that the sun is setting.  Greko hurriedly runs over to the fish stand and asks for a slice of fish.  The fish man can sense that Greko is in a hurry so he quickly gives him a slice of fish.

He remembers mother saying not to go into the forest, but the sun is almost down and he needs to be home with teh fish and the cakes!  He runs through the forest, and snags his red hooded cape on a twig and rips the part of the hooded cape off and continues to run through the dark, scary, and haunted forest.

As Greko gets deeper into the dark forest, he starts to slow down.   Greko hears a voice that seems to be coming very close but he cannot see where it is coming from.  "What's in the basket, kid?" asks the voice.  Greko answers "Fish and some cakes." The voice speaks again, "Give me the basket then, I'm really hungry." Greko locates the voice and looks down at...

A head!  Wow, Greko thinks,  It isn't like blood and gore and broken bones as most people would think.
"Where is the rest of your body, Mr. um, Mr. Head?"
The head sighs and mumbles something to himself.  "I never had a body, or a neck.  Now give me the basket!" the head  snarls.  "Or what, you'll bite off my toes?" Greko returns.  The head gasps.  "How did you know?"  Greko looks down at his feet, then the head, then back at his feet.  "It was a random guess."  Greko replies.  "Just give me the basket!" the head snarls.  Greko takes a few steps back.  "Get back here!"  the head yells.  The head starts to use his tongue to 'paddle' over to Greko.  When the head gets close enough Greko kicks the head over the canopy of the forest, screaming all the way.

Greko resumes running through the forest after he could no longer hear the head.  Thankfully he had arrived home. also before the sun is about to set.  But mother was watching him as he came out of the forest.  She also had her arms crossed.  Frowning.  With a really big paddle in her had.  There was a hole in the roof of the house.  Mr. Head was next to her.  The last thing I remember was mother walking toward me and raising the paddle and heard a loud crack!  Then everything went black.  I also remember drifting in and out of consciousness and hearing a voice that sounded suspiciously like Mr. Head saying: "Wake him up so you can whack him again!"


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Update on Steps to Courage

I now have an agent for my book.  I have been asked to add about 12,000 words.  Over the last two days I have added a total of 6,582 leaving me a minimum of 5500 words to go.  I am so excited.  My book cover and blurb are complete thanks to my good friend Marlayne Giron.  She is the author of The Victor and Make a Wish.  I feel privileged to have her as a friend and a writing mentor.  Looking forward to finally getting this book published.  Based on my summary here is the teaser she came up for the back of my book.

 Three teens with backgrounds which haunt them find themselves in New York's Twin Towers on the morning of 9-11. Each of them is a survivor of a horrific tragedy from their past and now face escaping the burning towers with all the odds stacked against them. How will they survive this ordeal when each of them feels guilty at having survived in the first place?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Poetry Day

I felt like posting some of my poetry.  I am getting ready to take a day off from school for a meeting of the minds.  I don't mind when we have a day where our department plans for the next year it is productive.  However some of the conferences we've had to go to have been horrible.  As I explained in my last post, I write out of emotions.  The following was a poem I wrote when bored and annoyed at a training.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Training   by Sandra Stiles

Screechy, nasal and high pitched
We’re not talking about a witch
The speaker here is a trainer 
Someone please try to contain her

On and on the speaker drones
We look around with silent groans
She starts to shout and walk around
My head is spinning round and round

How much longer must we suffer
Sitting here is getting tougher
Let me go back to my school
My students are way more cool

They tell me that I must be trained
I must improve my students’ brains
This class is boring as can be
Oh help me, help me, help me please!

The time has come that I may leave
I have learned nothing I believe
They just kept going on and on
And now my brain’s completely gone.

What’s that you ask what have I learned?
I must speak out, it’s now my turn?
I learned to sit and smile a lot
What have I learned?  A lot of rot!

I learned to look like I am writing
Sit and act like it’s exciting
Nod my head and tap the keyboard
Was that my neighbor who just snored?

It’s finally over and I may go
Back to my students where I will show
The knowledge that today I gained
That left me breathless and entertained.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reflections On My Writing Past

One of my students asked me where I got my ideas for poems I write.  They asked because I told them I don't write a lot of poetry.  They said they didn't understand that because they liked my poetry.  How and when do I create poetry?  When my emotions get the best of me. I didn't realize it until I took a trip down memory lane that I used to write when I was really sad, or frustrated, or very happy.   I grew up on a farm and often walked around with a book (almost all the time) and/or a pencil and notebook.  When I was real happy or feeling melancholy I would go to our swing.  My father had taken a real thick board and drilled two holes in it.  He had threaded a thick rope through the holes and tied the ends around a thick branch.  We would take turns as children pushing each other in that swing.  That swing was where I created or thought.  If my sister was in the swing I would sit on the large boulder that sat next to the tree.  Another favorite place to write or read was in the rafters of our corncrib.  We had one side that my father had put some old furniture in and we had turned it into a play house.  My mom would fix our lunches and we would eat out there, we had an old army cot and of course a table.  My sister was a singer like my father and would often make up songs.  I on the other hand often made up stories to tell to my sisters.  My imagination was wild enough that I often got myself in trouble for scaring them.  Hey, what can I say, a corncrib creaks and is kind of dark and musty smelling and is the perfect place for telling ghost stories.

 I can say that I enjoyed writing until I entered my junior year in high school.  I took a creative writing course expecting I would learn all  the nuances of writing stories.  At that time I had plans to be an elementary teacher and write stories for little kids.  The second part was dashed by that creative writing teacher.  Our first assignment was  to write an essay for her explaining our hopes, dreams and plans for our future.  She wanted us to bare our souls so she could get to know us before we started creating.  She wanted to know where our writing was coming from.  At this point let me interject something.  I have made it a point to take bad experiences I had as a student and use it to guide me in my teaching.  I interjected this here for the following reason.  After reading a piece of writing I had created I sat with her for my critique time.  I had my dreams temporarily dashed when she read my piece and said,  "It's a good thing you plan on being a teacher because you'd never really make it as a writer".  I was deflated.  I continued to write for her class but only to pass it and leave it behind.

I did become a teacher.  I've taught kindergarten through twelfth grade.  I love all grades.  I never stopped writing.  I wrote when I was frustrated and dreamed that maybe one day I would be good enough to write a book and have it published.    I tried to pass the love of reading and writing on to my students.  Then one day a student asked me a question.  He said,  "Mrs. Stiles, you have all of these books on your shelves that you share with us.  You are always talking about what was good and bad in the books.  Since you know this, why don't you write books and put them on your shelves for us to read?"   I will always be thankful to Jessie for that little kick in the pants.  He encouraged me in ways I had never been encouraged before.

I would love for you to think that I picked up an pen and crafted a beautiful story that was sold and placed on my shelves.  But that didn't happen.  I had ideas, one in particular.  I talked about it to my husband for quite some time.  One evening while sitting in our lawn swing, I once again began talking about that story.  He went inside to get us some coffee.  What he came out with forever changed my life. Along with our coffee he had a notebook and pen.  He looked at me and said,  "Stop talking about your story and write it."  That's the day I started down the path to create Steps to Courage.  So far I have been unable to publish it the traditional way.  This is the story of three teens who find their lives drastically changed on 9/11.   Their present situation intertwines with their past.  It gives them the courage to continue on.  It gives them the courage to make changes in their lives.  It changes those around them.  I did a final edit and then handed my manuscript to three of my students.  I asked them to read it twice.  The first time I wanted them to read it to see if there were discrepancies in my story.  The second time I wanted them to read it for the story itself.  Why did I pick three students?  This is the audience I am writing for.    My husband and I discussed the book and what I wanted.  Since this is the tenth anniversary of 9/11 I want my book in the hands of students.    My husband and I decided to self-publish the book.  If it becomes a good seller great.  It is what has kick started my writing again.  I may never make it as the next great middle grade or young adult writer, but I will continue to write for me.  I will continue to chase after the dream of having an agent and traditional publisher one day.  But I don't think people look down on self-publishing so much any more.  

So ask yourself,  why do you write?  Where have you come from in your writing quest.  Most importantly, where are you going with it?

Monday, January 10, 2011

A look at the new year.

It seems more and more time goes along between my posts.  Life happens.  I'm a teacher who also tutors two days after school, teaches a sewing club two days a week and will soon be teaching a 10 week Saturday test prep class.  The good thing about what I do is that I can change it up.  At the end of the month our clubs change and my sewing club goes bye-bye and I start teaching a creative writing club.  I love this because it is a way for me to spend time writing as well.  While students work on homework the first 50 minutes I can work on any writing project or I can work on grading papers etc.  After that I start my class, get the students started and then they write.  There will be time to share and critique.  I did this last year but the way the club was set up I had students who were in and out.  This year when they sign up they are with me two days a week for nine weeks.  We can get some work done on our own projects.  The enthusiasm is great.  Several teachers have talked me up and I currently have ten students I am aware of that are very excited.

So what are my plans besides working at school?  My husband and I have talked and we are looking at self-publishing my first book.  I am determined to complete my ghost story and my historical fiction.  I may even post some of my poetry here.  Poetry is what I write when I'm frustrated, angry, bored or when my students are doing a poetry unit at school and I have to model. Look tomorrow for a couple of examples.
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