From Teaching to Writing
TeachingBooks asks each author or illustrator to reflect on their journey from teaching to writing. Enjoy the following from Ann Marie Stephens.
I began teaching when I was in elementary school. My neighbors and my younger sister were my first students. When they weren’t in the mood to play school, I taught imaginary kids. It was a calling I couldn’t deny. I also started writing and making books at an early age. I wrote a story in 5th grade that made my teacher tear up. That’s when I realized how powerful words can be.
When my students write something and claim their voices, I get to witness their transformations.
When I became a real teacher (with an actual degree), I wanted my class to fall in love with the writing process and how it feels to pass your words onto others. When my students write something and claim their voices, I get to witness their transformations. It’s pretty extraordinary. Suddenly, they want to share their creations with everyone. Though it took me years to learn this, I know the minute you start to see yourself as an author, you become one. It’s crucial to recognize your own talent. I communicate this to my students all year.
Believe it or not, I don’t get many ideas while teaching in my first-grade classroom. I think my brain is just too busy to go there when I’m with the kids. However, they constantly make clear what works and what doesn’t work in kid lit. I read a lot of other people’s books to my students. I know what makes them laugh or relate to a plot. I hear when they think a story is too long, or when they’re inspired to write a follow-up book based on a memorable character.
I’m constantly in a world of picture books, imagination, and creativity.
Finding balance in my two careers is difficult regarding time but quite compatible in the flow from one to the other. I have a 40-minute commute to school. During that time I brainstorm revision ideas or tweak words and phrases in my head. Instead of feeling impatient with traffic or rude drivers, I use those moments to make headway on my current work in progress. I call it Stoplight Writing. I have a few long traffic lights, so when I’m sitting at a red light, I jot down my changes or thoughts. (I input them on the computer or in my journal when I’m back home.) Then I get to school and I’m surrounded by the age of kids who read books like mine. I’m constantly in a world of picture books, imagination, and creativity. Squeezing in the time and energy after school to write is mostly impossible. I rely strongly on weekends and my Stoplight Writing.
My most recent books are stories that involve math. I have the ARITHMECHICKS series and the upcoming CATASTROPHE series. Plotting picture books and creating engaging characters, while also teaching math concepts, has been challenging at times. I think that’s mostly because I’ve never been a big fan of math. I was great at math at an early age, but by the time I got to high school and had Calculus and Algebra, it was a nightmare. Looking back, I think the problem was that this kind of math in particular didn’t feel relatable or relevant to me. I just didn’t get the purpose. I recently read a quote that expresses how many students and I feel: “Children don’t hate math. What they hate is being confused, intimated, and embarrassed by math.” Writing entertaining and even silly books about math, that help kids learn basic skills, has been therapeutic in a way. I’ve rekindled a friendship with math though we’ll never be BFFs!
I’m definitely privileged to be part of my students’ writing journeys while simultaneously being on my own. After 30 years of teaching, I still make it my mission to motivate and inspire budding authors. I watch the lightbulbs flicker on and heat up. Then I step back and become the proud, adoring audience. Where else can you watch this kind of magic unfold?
Books and Resources
TeachingBooks personalizes connections to books and authors. Enjoy the following on Ann Marie Stephens and the books she’s created.
Listen to Ann Marie Stephens talking with TeachingBooks about the backstory for writing CATastrophe! You can click the player below or experience the recording on TeachingBooks, where you can read along as you listen, and also translate the text to another language.
- Listen to Ann Marie Stephens talk about her name
- Discover Ann Marie Stephen’s page and books on TeachingBooks
- Visit Ann Marie Stephens on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Special thanks to Ann Marie Stephens and Boyds Mills & Kane for their support of this post. All text and images are courtesy of Anne Marie Stephens and Boyds Mills & Kane, and may not be used without expressed written consent.