Crazy Things Students Say

I’m a full-time author. At least two days each work week (when school is in session), I substitute teach at the local middle and high schools.
Due to a shortage of licensed substitutes, my state allows any person with a Bachelor’s Degree to go through the training and application process and attain what is called a Restricted Substitute License. Although I hold no teaching degree, I have more than a decade of experience in education.

Why would I subject myself to such a topsy-turvy schedule? Two reasons:

  1. It’s not conducive to creativity to spend everyday in an office without interacting with other people (and social media doesn’t replace actual human face-to-face contact)
  2. Most of my publishing contracts are “royalties only” and the schools give me a much more regular (and at this point, substantial) paycheck

Since my dream is to write fantasy novels for young adults, this subbing thing keeps me engaged with their worldview and voice.


Heard at the Middle School

“If you’re an author, why would you be a sub?”

Why indeed! I generally give them reason number two as outlined above. I have been known to use other reasons, as well, but not to the same student.
Yes, this is a common question. For some reason, they think a published author should be SO famous and well-paid that they wouldn’t submit themselves to the degradation of being a substitute. (I don’t find it degrading. I actually enjoy it…most days.)
“Are you the sub?” Isn’t this obvious? I’m always amazed by this question.
“YES!” I never know how to respond to this unabashed joy that they have a substitute. It would be ego-affirming if it was because they liked me so much, but the reality is much darker. Any sub is preferable to the regular teacher.
What does that mean? Is the teacher mean? Are subs easy? What?


Heard at the High School

“Do people ever call you Miss Texas?” (Do you need context for this? My last name is often mispronounced as Houston by students.) “I’m from Texas, and I’d like to call you Miss Texas.”
Well, thank you, freshman male student. Now I can feel like a beauty pageant contestant–for an hour of my life.
“At least I had a dad.” I’m not sure this one needs any explanation. FYI, the student was laughing in a pleasant manner when he said it. (And no, it wasn’t directed at me.)
“You look familiar” (and after I say I’ve subbed often in the building) “No that’s not it. I think it’s from Facebook.”
Just when I’m wondering if my author page is blowing up with my young adult audience, the bubble is burst.


“You were one of my suggested friends.” (What does that even mean? I know she meant FB suggested me as someone she might know, but what is a suggested friend?)
“Hey, I know you!” I’m squinting at the skinny junior boy at my old alma mater. I definitely know the kid in the back of the row beside him.
I try the, “I subbed here two weeks ago” response.
“No, that’s not it.” He gives his forehead an exaggerated pound. “The middle school. Right?”
“Are you sure you can remember that far back?” Three years is a lifetime for teenagers. But I smile and assure him that he’s nailed it. Too bad he doesn’t smile so proudly when I hand him the essay assignment a few minutes later.
There are priorities. Writing class is rarely one of them for high school students.
These teenagers offer me plenty of smiles. And eye rolls. But best of all, their vivacity contributes fodder for future fiction. (Yes, I do love my alliteration.)
So, I’m glad that the state hasn’t changed the substitute teaching requirements just yet. I’m on my way to being licensed for three more years of inspiration from the world of public school.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve heard lately?

The Author and the Creative Writing Class

It’s rewarding to walk into a classroom and have a student say, “You’re the published author.” For someone whose dream is to write for the young adult audience, it’s especially thrilling.
I would know. I do. And it happened to me.
The next words from this thrilled student’s mouth? Care to guess?
“What did you write again.”
Yep. The face was memorable but the book title was not.
Although, several students recognized the cover of the book I had discussed with them in November, months before.


And then there was the creative writing class.
What I Expected
When the middle school English teacher gave me “freedom” to teach whatever I wanted to her creative writing class, I smiled. Maybe I sent the clouds scurrying from the radiant beams of joy.
“We’re finishing up a unit on mystery and suspense,” she wrote. “They have stories to read to the class.”
Long stories. I was impressed.
The fact many of the stories read more like horror? Not as impressive to my anti-scare self.
Based on the reaction from the regular English students (noted above), I expected the writers to fall all over me.
Not even a smile when I mentioned I was a published author. Oh-kay.
I did get a positive reaction when I told them we wouldn’t be moving on to the poetry writing unit. Cheers all around.
When I offered to comment on their rough drafts to see if they might want to make changes before they turned the story in two days later? Not a single taker.
My published status meant nothing to these young writers.
“I would have flipped if a published author offered to read my stories,” a little voice inside me whined.
Reality Bites
The forum the teacher used for sharing the stories invited only positive comments once the author finished their reading.
“I liked the description.”
“Loved how real the characters were.”
“You did a great job building tension.”
Sometimes what they said was even true.
I itched to mark up these stories. Several of them had great premises. Others were a mashup of every police show and horror movie the student had seen.
My lips were sealed.
And I didn’t get to comment on even one story of the nine that were read over the first two days I worked in the room.
Happily Ever After
None of these stories had a happy ending. Apparently, suspense stories involve the narrator dying (in two cases), lots of minor characters’ deaths (in over half the stories) and fathers who were really mass murderers (in three instances).
Yikes! Should I report this to the authorities? Perhaps these stories had a hint of auto-biography in them.
I offered the class two choices for our Friday writing activity. As I expected, they chose the “finish the story” write around.
I selected nine young adult genres (not mystery or suspense), and wrote down a first line. Most of these I took from published books of that genre. A couple leapt from my imagination reservoir.
And they wrote.
But the suspense unit was still too fresh in their minds. With the exception of a few stories, the variety of authors chose to steer the contemporary diary toward suicide and murder. In fact, the actual horror story was less horrifying than some of the others.
On this occassion, however, a few of the students asked me to “finish” the stories that didn’t find resolution.
There were three. Two of them didn’t involve murderous parents or homicide in any form.
It was great fun pulling all their threads together. My favorite? The fantasy, of course. Although the steampunk story had a more interesting plot line.
An author teaching creative writing might not be the smooth fit you’d imagine. Even if imagining is what you do for a living.

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