I’ve been writing about teaching for twenty years. This blog post has a chronology of all the published writings, radio, and TV I’ve done. With a recent publication, I realized that I was starting to lose track so I’d make a page with links like this which I can update in the future so there will always be one place to refer people to if they want to read some of the older stuff.
I see my writing spans three stages: The first is from the beginning of my second year in TFA (1992) to the end of my fourth and final year in Houston (1995). In that time, I started writing a column for the Houston TFA newsletter. By my third year, this was nearly monthly and I called the column “I didn’t do nuthin'”. In the days before the internet, the newsletter was mailed out to all the corps members and it was something that everyone read. Unlike my writing now, the idea of these writings were to entertain and, maybe, make people think. I’m most in my element when I’m writing humor, and these early works are pretty funny, even after 20 years.
Stage two began in 1995 I left Houston to “become a writer.” I did this for exactly one year before running out of money, teaching for one more year, and then going to grad school for computer science and becoming a computer programmer until 2002. In that time, though, I got a bunch of ‘real’ publications in Education Week and Teacher Magazine which I was able to parlay, along with my TFA columns, to get my first book published in 1999. Between 1999 and 2009, I did not do much writing about teaching (though I did write a bunch of unpublished essays about my life story — maybe those will be published one day, I hope) until I was offered one more book contract in 2008. That was when I started this blog as a way to try out some ideas.
Stage 3 started right after I attended the TFA 20 year reunion in February 2010. This was when I had my eyes opened about the destructive influence of TFA alumni who are leading the modern ‘reform’ movement. For the past two years, I’ve been working on this and it has led to a lot of publications beyond these blog entries, which I’m pretty proud of.
Here’s the list with links for most of them, along with a few words about each.
Stage I: The TFA Years 1991-1994 (These are pdfs scanned from the originals. May get saved to your computer rather than displayed in your browser.)
December 1992 TFA Houston newsletter, First submission to the TFA Houston newsletter — about my first year. I wrote this piece during the summer between my first and second years. This was a summary of my first year which was eventually republished in a few actual magazines and served as a starting point for my first book. This essay, like most of my early writings, was meant to be funny and entertaining.
January 1993, TFA Houston newsletter, Social Life About how teachers are not respected enough.
February 1993, TFA Houston newsletter, Why Teach? A somewhat absurd slapstick account of my experience in traffic court that made me want to join TFA instead of going to law school.
June 1993, TFA Houston newsletter, Ed School Course Descriptions Another somewhat slapstick piece about bogus ed school courses. Ironic that I was implying, back then, that TFAs training was probably sufficient given how ‘soft’ ed school courses are.
September 1993, Teaching Today, A Loss For Words. My first actual published essay. I sent this piece about a student of mine who was murdered to a Canadian teaching magazine, which no longer exists. I got paid $50 in Canadian money which after paying $15 to convert, ended up giving me about $20 in U.S.. Still, it was my first time getting paid.
October 1993, Teaching Today, Stand and deliver … a lot of kids to the office (adapted from first Houston column) Teaching Today accepted three of my pieces altogether. Aside from my two books and my Chicken Soup For The Soul essay, these were the only times I’ve ever been paid for writing.
October 1993, TFA Houston newsletter, Multicultural awareness This is a bizarre politically incorrect essay about cultural sensitivity. It would never get published anywhere nowadays. I can see how I tried to soften the tone by putting in some awkward explanations, after worrying about what people would think. It does, though, have one great line in it, I think.
November 1993, TFA Houston newsletter, The teachers’ lounge I really like this one as it gives a flavor for what it is like to be a teacher and how to interact with colleagues. This eventually made its way into my second book in 2010.
February 1994, TFA Houston newsletter, Why I stayed for a third year Another funny essay claiming that I stayed teaching to avenge my family name.
Spring 1994, Who Cares Magazine, Stand and deliver … a lot of kids to the office (adapted from the first Houston column) This magazine doesn’t exist anymore, but it was my fourth magazine publication. I have to scan it in since it has great artwork to accompany it.
May 1994, TFA Houston newsletter, Dating in TFA (note the announcement on the second page of the creation of KIPP!) This essay is pretty daring and even explicit. Would never be allowed to run in anything officially TFA today. Contains the funniest line (the manipulatives line) in all my writing about teaching.
May 1994, Teaching Today, Confessions of a lounge lizard (adapted from ‘The teachers lounge’
September 1994, TFA Houston newsletter, The Houston road system This will only make sense to you if you lived and drove in Houston in the early 1990s!
November 1994, TFA Houston newsletter, Healing the inner-city child This was my first ‘serious’ writing about teaching and I wrote it specifically to submit to Newsweek’s ‘My Turn’ column. I felt like if I could get this into Newsweek, I could get a book deal about it. It never made it to Newsweek, but eventually would get published in Education Week.
December 1994, TFA Houston newsletter, My advice This is the first time I wrote about advice for new teachers.
February 1995, TFA Houston newsletter, The Plague Of all the columns I wrote for the TFA Houston newsletter (called the TFA two-step at this point), this is my favorite. This is different than the others since it is a parody of a gang memoir where the gang is the cranky teachers in the lounge. This one is also meaningful since it marks, somewhat, a separation from TFA. There are two sides, the young TFAers and the old veterans and the character in this chooses to go with the veterans. This piece is also meaningful to me since it marks my very first conflict with TFA administration. When I submitted this, they originally refused to run it. They said that since funders would not get the irony, it could be an issue. I flipped out and they eventually decided to run it, but it was my first conflict with TFA in that way.
March 1995, TFA Houston newsletter, Inservices This one contains the very best opening line of all my writing. I remember going with some friends to a hiking place and sitting at a picnic table while they hiked. I spent twenty minutes starting at the blank paper, then wrote this line, then passed out for two hours. It was one of the most productive two and half hours of writing I’ve ever had. This essay was eventually printed in Teacher Magazine and then reprinted in Education Week. It is also in ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian.’
April 1995, TFA Houston newsletter, My first year diary I had already decided that I was moving out of Houston and this pretty sad column had some anecdotes which I expand on in ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian.’ The last line of this was bizarrely unfunny. I was really trying to work out some issues with this one, like saying, “yes it was kind of funny the way the kids tortured me for my first year mistakes, but it also wasn’t really funny when you think about it.”
May 1995, TFA Houston newsletter, TFA parties This was a pretty unfitting way to end my three year run of columns. I had been rejected by two different younger TFA women in my final months in Houston and this column seems to be my way of trying to get their attention.
Stage II Teacher Magazine, Education Week, and books 1995-2010
October 1, 1995, Teacher Magazine, Natural Born Teacher My first ‘mainstream’ publication after I moved to Denver. My plan was to get a bunch of ‘real’ publications like this and then use them as a way of getting a book contract. I felt I needed to get about five like this before I could confidently send out queries to publishers.
April 17, 1996, Teacher Magazine, Let The Buyer Beware This was based on ‘Inservices’
August 1, 1996, Education Week, Buyer Beware They reprinted this in Education Week which was the big one, in that time.
August 1996, Self published, ‘You’re Not The Only One’ (later renamed ‘Schooled’) I was working at the 1996 summer institute and I ran into Wendy Kopp on the elevator in Moody Towers. I asked her if it would be OK if I were to print and sell my collected TFA Houston columns to the 1996 corps members. She got back to me and said I could, so I got 300 books printed up at Kinkos to sell for $6 each. I think I paid $4 each for the book so I shelled out $1,200 which was a lot for me at that time. I was overconfident thinking that out of about 800 new CMs that 300 of them would want to buy the book and ended up only selling about 100. I did manage to sell the rest eventually but, more importantly, this is what I sent to Cottonwood press, along with my magazine clippings, to get their attention.
July 8, 1998, Education Week, Did You Bring Enough Ammo For Everyone? I finally got the ‘Healing the inner-city child’ published. It wasn’t Newsweek, as I had hoped, but my plan, all along, was to get this one in print and then use it as bait for a book deal.
August 1999, Cottonwood Press, Book: Reluctant Disciplinarian You always hear stories about writers who wallpaper their walls with rejection letters. I’ve been pretty lucky and, I like to think, strategic about my publishing. I researched publishers who had books that had a sense of humor about teaching, sent out to three publishers, and two out of three offered me deals. Cottonwood said that my anecdotes would not be enough to make the book marketable, but would I be willing to turn it into a book about classroom management. I did this, basing the classroom management advice on what I had been saying in my classroom management workshop that I had done in 1995 and 1996. The book came out just before I went to the 1999 institute. Again, I purchased way too many books, about 300, to sell. Again, only 100 people bought it and I was stuck with ten boxes of books which took a while to sell. Over the years ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ has sold about 100,000 copies. It has had steady sales for 13 years, but for whatever reason, is rarely carried by places like Barnes and Noble. It is actually pretty thin on actual advice, more about the importance of being comfortable being in charge of a class and how to fool your classes into believing you know what you are doing.
June 18, 2003, Education Week, Teacher Boot Camp A few years went by. I was a computer programmer in Denver and not liking it. So I moved to New York City and while I looked for work in computers, I took a job at The New York City Teaching Fellows which Michelle Rhee was the boss of and Tim Daly (now the head of TNTP) was one of the managers. I worked for them and trained about four groups of new teachers. In the summer of 2001, I was the only trainer whose teachers I trained had a 0% quit rate. I still think that it is possible to train middle and high school teachers to not get blown out of the water in five weeks. I wrote this for Education Week and got a nice email from Harry Wong (The First Days of School) and he invited me to meet him when he was in New York. It never went anywhere, professionally, but it was nice still.
September 1, 2003, Teacher Magazine, Mixed Media After I was invited to make a speech at a TFA event screening of a documentary about teaching (see speech here), I sent this adapted version of the speech to Teacher Magazine.
January 2010, Cottonwood Press, Second edition of Reluctant Disciplinarian
Cottonwood had told me that the only way ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ would make it onto the shelves of Barnes and Noble would be if it had a newer copyright date. They said I’d have to write a new forty pages to make it a second edition. I took the ‘Mixed Media’ article and expanded that for about ten pages and then wrote an epilogue about how I came to work at Stuyvesant and some new reflections on the original text. Right after this came out, Cottonwood sold the company to Prufrock Press who have not been aggressive about pursuing getting my book into bookstores. Apparently it isn’t always profitable to have the book in stores. Often the books get returned by the stores since they get opened and can’t be sold. That’s what they say at least. The second edition continues to sell the way the first edition did. Sells about fifty copies a month and brings in about $1000 a year. Nothing that will change my life, but over the years it does add up, I guess.
February 2010, Chicken Soup For The Soul: Teacher Tales, A Loss For Words I read that Chicken Soup was calling for submissions, so I sent this piece about my student who was murdered my second year, and how that affected me. When it came out I sent a copy to the girls family and to her best friend. I have to admit that I feel a little guilty capitalizing on this tragedy. I hope her family doesn’t see it that way.
February 2010, McGraw-Hill, book: Beyond Survival In 2008 I was offered a book contract to write a nuts-and-bolts guide for new secondary teachers. It took about two years to write, much of it over the summers. I started this blog as a way of testing out some of the ideas and if people read through the early entries, they can get most of the content from the book. I’m pretty pleased with the way the book came out, but this book has not been a great seller. I think one problem is that it sells for almost $30 and the font is really really small so that the book is only about 200 pages, despite being big thick manuscript I submitted. Still, it was once reviewed by a blogger on teachforus as the best book for new teachers, above even ‘Teach Like A Champion.’
Stage III: Opponent of school ‘reform’ 2011-present
February 19, 2012, New York Daily News, New teacher evaluation system is all flaws This was surely my most read piece of writing, appearing in the Sunday Daily News. Almost a year to the day after ‘switching sides’ and becoming an opponent of the type of reform that TFA supports, this was a big deal to me.
March 2012, The Journal of School Choice, Review of Class Warfare On this blog I had written a huge rambling ‘fact check’ of Brill’s book. This was a much more efficient take on it. Of all my writing that has been championed by my friend and mentor, Diane Ravitch, this is the one she seems to have liked the best since she once wrote a blog post about me and used this as the culminating example of what people should read of mine. I’m proud that in less than two years I was able to win this kind of praise from such an amazing person.
April 12, 2012, CNN Blog, My View: The other types of cheating After the Atlanta cheating scandal, CNN asked me to write about the reform movement. I was kind of hoping to be invited to be on camera after this, but never was.
May 12, 2012, Educational Leadership The Don’ts and Don’ts of Teaching. An editor at this magazine had somehow read ‘Beyond Survival’ and asked if I’d summarize my advice for new teachers. It was nice to get back to my ‘roots’ with teaching advice.
October 5, 2012, The Journal of Applied Research on Children, The problem with value-added
This publication is an informal summary of value-added. In the same issue of this journal are pieces by Michelle Rhee and Mike Feinberg (KIPP co-founder).
June 11, 2012, NPR, Is Teach For America Failing? After my one real ‘viral’ post on this blog ‘Why I did TFA and why you shouldn’t‘, NPR invited me to record this 8 minute interview. I messed up a little in one part, but it was generally pretty good.
July 15, 2012, MPR, Is Teach For America improving public education? After hearing me on the NPR national thing. Minnesota NPR asked me to have a live forty minute ‘debate’ with TFA. TFA refused to send an actual staff member, so I debated a charter school guy who was a TFA alum. The poor guy didn’t really deserve the aggressive preparation and tone I had during this discussion. But for that time, he was representing TFA, even though he really wasn’t. I wish they had put someone else against me since the guy seemed to be pretty upset afterwards. I really have nothing against his charter school, but the discussion was not about whether their school report card was valid or not, it was about the general use of data and how TFA spins the data, so he and his school had to become collateral damage in this discussion.
September, 2011, Dialogue with John Milewski, Education Reform: A view from the trenches I was on one TV show about ed reform. I’m happy with my performance. I was clearly the ‘main’ guest, if you watch it. I just wish I had challenged the educational ‘consultant’ guy more with his miracle program.
Gary, I have the first edition of Reluctant, which I go back and read often. However, I have long been curious how you came to work at Stuy. Could you talk about that a little?
In 1997 after teaching for 5 out of 6 years, I ‘retired’ from teaching for the first time. I went and got a masters in comp sci and spent about 5 years working as a computer programmer. I moved from Denver to NYC in March 2001 to look for computer jobs here. When I didn’t find a job by June 2001, I took a summer job training the NYC Teaching Fellows. After the summer I continued looking for work, but after 9/11 nobody was hiring since there was so much uncertainty about everything. There was a winter session of teaching fellows who were going to start in february, so I taught that group. One of the people I trained had gotten a job at Stuyvesant. In April, that teaching fellow was fired because he refused to attend his mandatory meetings for the teaching fellows. They needed a long term sub, and since I was his trainer, they asked me to fill in, which I did. I thought it would be temporary — I was trying to start an SAT test prep business at the time. Anyway, that was April 2002, so now I’ve been there for over 10 years. It was never really my plan, but I do like it there, especially as it gives me an excuse to research math for enrichment topics for my students.