Have you ever wondered whether you should write about your school experiences? What about writing a teacher memoir?
You know, all those hilarious stories about the interesting things kids say and do, or the demanding parents who drive you to the brink?
Or to celebrate your successes with the challenges that you face every day?
This guest blog post is written by a former teacher and school administrator turned author Lenore Hirsch. This blog post contains affiliate links that are of no cost to the reader. If you make a purchase through the provided links this blog will receive a small commission to help with the financial costs of maintaining the site.
Writing A Teacher Memoir
I taught middle school students with learning disabilities for years and then became an administrator. I was an elementary school principal for 17 years. Boy, did I have stories to share. Of course, when entertaining friends, I didn’t reveal names, for the sake of confidentiality.
When I started writing – first my dog’s memoir, then poetry and humorous essays about ageing – friends always asked me why I didn’t write about school. I tried, penning stories about the snake in the girls’ bathroom and the day I had to clean up the projectile vomit from the office entrance, but those stories did not thrill anyone.
Turning Reality Into Fiction
In 2019, as I wrote more fiction, a new idea dawned. I could write a novel about a female middle school vice principal and include the wackiest things I had experienced in my long career. I’d put them all into the first year of my fictional character’s introduction to administration. That would make quite a tale!
Write A Little Bit Each Day
On a retreat in rural Montana for a month, I used quiet times to write the first draft. A little bit every day. By 2020, when Covid hit, I had a rough idea that Cynthia Walker’s first year as vice principal would make for a good read. It began with the start of the school year and described school events through graduation in June. It included classroom observations, misbehaving students, and interactions with staff, especially the principal, Cynthia’s boss, who dumps all the work on her and tries to get too close. I wrote about middle school events I knew well, like outdoor education, picture day, a Valentine’s Day project, dances, and spring testing.
Keep A Journal
Teachers and administrators have a plethora of experiences to pull from for a novel. Keep a paper or digital notebook to write down particularly humorous or unique events that occur during your teaching career. These stories will be useful should you decide to write your own novel. If you don’t have time now to write a novel, keep notes about the special moments and the crazy things kids say and do, because, believe me, no matter how hilarious they are, you’ll forget. I’m still remembering things I could have put in my finished novel.
Join Writing Groups
I should mention that I am in two writing critique groups. We meet weekly to share our work and get feedback. This is a great way to learn whether what you are writing is hitting home with readers. Are they “getting” what you’re trying to say? Do they empathize with your characters? Look forward to turning the page? Or do they find the details boring? I was lucky to have non-educators read what I was writing, and to my amazement and pleasure, they found the classroom scenes to be interesting and amusing. Joining a writers’ group is the best way to get motivated and stay on task.
Attend Writing Conferences
Another reason to connect with other writers is to learn the ins and outs of book publishing and marketing. Do some research to find writers’ groups in your area. My state has the California Writers Club; my friends and I started our own branch in our area, which has monthly meetings with speakers. Attend writers conferences to connect and learn about writing programs, agents, and publishers. The magazine Poets & Writers is a great source as well. Try Googling “your state or province name writing groups” or other combinations to find writing groups local to you. You could also join virtual writing groups. Search places like Facebook groups or Twitter to connect with other writers.
Have Several People Read Your Draft
Once I had what I thought was a solid draft (maybe the 4th or 5th iteration) I gave the book to several teacher friends to read and I asked a professional editor for a review. Boy, did she give me advice! As in, rework the whole thing! She advised me to leave out some of the minor stories (the snake and the vomit), amp up the development of several students, and put more emphasis on Cynthia’s relationship with her boss and the blossoming romance between Cynthia and the handsome history teacher.
The Revision Process
I spent the next six months with outlines for each chapter taped to the wall of my little office, charting where I could add something to each chapter about the main characters. Once that was done, I had another editor look it over. I got more suggestions for making the “stakes” higher. Actually, a couple of pros told me I needed a big splash of dramatic action at the beginning for my protagonist to be daunted by, then fight her way out of, bit by bit. You know, like the best sellers that begin with murder or another catastrophe.
Know Yourself As A Writer
Here’s where the indie publisher in me took over. I wasn’t going to write a formulaic novel. I wanted to entertain but also to tell what it’s like to work in a school. Readers who know little about school life would appreciate teachers and administrators for the tough jobs we do. That may not make for a best seller, but it’s what I wanted to write. I made some additions to add tension, but the basic drama of the book is still, “Will Cynthia make it to the end of the year?”
The traditional way to get published, once a book is completed, is to send out queries to many, many agents, hoping someone will show an interest. There are great websites to help you learn about agents, what they’re looking for, and how to contact them (e.g. querytracker.net). I know writers who have queried more than one hundred agents over a long period of time before getting a nibble. If an agent takes you on, then you wait to see if the agent can interest a publisher in your book. It’s a long process, with no guarantee of success.
My impatience with the traditional way led me to self-publishing years ago. If you have tech skills, you can upload directly onto kdp.amazon.com and use their stock covers. I have instead found book designers who use software (e.g. Adobe InDesign) that created a professional interior, with the right fonts and spacing and verified margins. If you want bookstores to have easy access to print copies, you can also upload them at Ingram/Lightning Source, which gets you into their catalogue. No matter how great you think your writing is, you’ll need a copy editor to make it consistent and error-free. You can also check out websites like Upwork or Fiverr to find designers.
Designing Cover Art
In the past, I’ve used photographs or hired an artist to design the cover. This time, I used 99designs, which creates a competition amongst artists around the world, to produce the cover, in conversation with the author. I enjoyed my back-and-forth with the artist I chose and love the results.
So, Should You Write Your Own Stories?
Two and a half years after beginning, I published my novel. Was it worth all the work, expense, the many changes, sifting through the advice?
Absolutely. It is very satisfying to share my view of the world that was my profession for so many years. I guess I’m still trying to educate others!
If you love to write and can find the time, go for it. You could start with essays (a blog about teaching) or short stories.
Writing stories, like journaling, is therapeutic. Years later, describing difficult situations I handled as a teacher and administrator reinforced my knowledge that I did the best I could with what I knew at the time.
Teachers, thanks for all you do for kids every day! I hope you take the time for writing a teacher memoir.
Student Creative Writing Resources
Creative writing is important for students as well as teachers. Check out these creative writing resources.