Sunday, December 3, 2017

North Carolina Tech "Gem" Had Pervasive Demoralizing, Womanizing Work Environment

Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings. Recently, I have been closely watching all the male entertainment icons fall from grace due to sexual harassment complaints.  I shed no tears for these men who preyed upon female employees who they most likely believed they could intimidate, control, and abuse.  I applaud the female employees for coming forward and reporting to their respective companies that they were demeaned, demoralized and harassed.  Fortunately, we have seen some powerful companies take decisive action once the sexual harassment was reported.  I'm glad because for me, I never felt any action was taken once I reported my own experiences working in a very fraternity-like, chauvinistic workplace except maybe mandatory sexual harassment training classes for all employees. Later, I heard rumors that male employees at this tech company routinely referred to this mandatory class as "a joke".

I worked for a startup technology company in North Carolina years ago that was referred to by media in the local area as North Carolina's up and coming technology "gem".  Trust me when I say that it was no "gem" of a workplace environment if you happened to be a female.  I was low on the totem pole in terms of rank within the company as I was employed as a switchboard operator and receptionist.   In those days the company was spread out among three buildings in an office park.  I was stationed in the first building housing engineering and lab testing.  One of the first events I found totally appalling was when a strip show was held in the engineering lab in the building in which I worked.  Supposedly, it was for one of the founder's birthdays and I was informed a local strip tease artist from a gentleman's club would be arriving to perform.  And she did.  I knew at least three of the original company founders attended this event along with what appeared like most of the male staff.  I had heard the rumors that when engineering leaders at the company hosted customers, they would routinely take those customers to the same gentleman's club.  Later, I believe it came to light that male staff at the company had been using company credit cards to have their vehicles washed at the local gentleman's club that also housed an exotic car wash.

Eventually, I had one engineer who would come up to my work station and place his hands around my neck while I was answering and directing calls at the company's reception area.  This same engineer once walked up to me and said he needed to measure the length of the split in my skirt and proceeded to open the split in my skirt while I was in the midst of trying to do my job.  He also decided that his business cards should not read "Design Engineer" under his name, but rather he wanted it to read, "Engineering God".  Needless to say, I was incredulous.  Additionally, I went to deliver a piece of mail to a male employee in the company's operations building only to find that his screen saver contained squares of nude women in various provocative poses.  At this point in time, this tech company had no real human resources department.  One male staff member left to take a cruise vacation and mailed a tube to the front office addressed to me and containing a poster of tribal men in what appeared to be sumo wrestling gear.  I remember me and the female backup switchboard operator opening the poster and looking at one other with annoyance.  To say I was disgusted would be an understatement.

Meanwhile, this tech startup was growing by leaps and bounds.  It needed staff in all areas of the company and fast.  We had one young woman arrive for an employment interview and she was seated in the reception area waiting for the department manager to arrive for the appointment.  One of the company founders walked out of his office and up to my desk saying, "Well, someone needs to stop with the heavy-handed perfume"  I was mortified because I had noticed the female job applicant's perfume when she arrived, but I sure did not expect a company officer to say anything about it in the office reception area.  The company was trying to obtain incentives to place its headquarters in North Carolina and received some bad press about not employing many African-Americans.  One day my manager met me in a conference room to tell me I was receiving a new "opportunity" and that I would no longer be the lead receptionist and switchboard operator because the company had hired someone to take my place.  I would now be backup switchboard operator.  It was not a promotion in my opinion.  Turns out, the company had hired an African-American woman to take the lead switchboard and receptionist position.  I went to inform one of the company founders that I would no longer be right outside his office as he often asked me to page him when investors called and wanted to speak with him.  He always wanted to be at their beck and call so I made sure wherever he was on campus, he was always able to receive those calls.  I informed the company founder that I would now be backup switchboard operator and my manager was escorting the new lead receptionist around each building introducing her to other staff members.  I almost dropped my teeth when he said to me, "Well, as long  as she doesn't chew pencils and spit them out, we should be okay."  Excuse me?? 

One of the more uncomfortable aspects of being the lead receptionist and switchboard operator is that you were never allowed to leave your desk for any reason including to utilize the bathroom that was not but five feet away unless someone arrived to maintain the switchboard while you relieved yourself.  Seriously, I had to wait until someone came to sit and answer calls at my desk before I could leave to go utilize the bathroom.  Additionally, I lobbied for the receptionist position to have a pay increase from $7.35 an hour to a more realistic wage of $10 an hour. Inevitably, a decision was made and I received a twenty-five cent raise per hour instead.  Additionally, I opted to attend the company Christmas party being held in a ballroom at a local major hotel.  There was food, a live band and dancing.  Meanwhile I had to cope with the reality that a company founder had seated himself at a chair beside me at a table and placed his hand on my leg and thigh. He did not remove his hand so I excused myself and left the table.  Talk about unprofessional behavior. 

Later I watched as a female lab manager was hit over the head with a rolled up magazine by one of the engineers in that department.  Another engineer emailed me something completely absurd about how a woman always stands way behind a successful man  How crass I thought to myself.  When I did leave the company to move on to work as a teacher, I learned an engineer was passing around photos from a vacation he had taken in the Caribbean at a nude resort.  It did not surprise me. Later, I learned that one engineering group was holding Friday keg parties on the company premises.  Ridiculous and quite reckless behavior continued to occur I am most sure.

After leaving the company and accepting a new job as an English teacher, I later contacted the tech company's new Human Resources director.  I set up a conference with her and typed a list of all the harassment and abuse I witnessed during my time at the company.  She listened and then said, "Though I'm sure we would both like to horse-whip these male colleagues for their behavior, what had to be done was a thorough investigation."  To my knowledge the only change that occurred due to my reporting what I witnessed and endured was that the company implemented a mandatory course for every employee on sexual harassment. I subsequently filed a report with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which never amounted to anything as far as I know, but I felt I should take the action hoping that other females would never have to endure what I did as an employee.

So no, I never saw any form of justice implemented against male colleagues who routinely thought it was perfectly acceptable to contribute to what was a very demoralizing, patriarchal work environment in which numerous acts of sexual harassment occurred.  But I do not regret standing up and reporting what happened.  Someone at that "gem" of a company should have done right by me and the few other females who worked at the company during that period of time.  Sadly, I felt my effort to bring to light a profound problematic work environment for women was just swept under the rug and dismissed by the Human Resource department at the tech company.   And that is a slap in the face to me and all professional female employees.  Ladies, we deserve much better.

Till my next post,

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Goodreads Now CHARGING Authors And Publishers For Book Giveaways... Greedy Decision.

Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings one and all!  I received an email from the powers that be at Goodreads yesterday indicating that beginning January 1st, 2018, if authors and publishers wish to utilize a book giveaway on the Goodreads site, we will now have to PAY for that opportunity.  I for one thought I must have misread the email so I sent an email to Goodreads asking for clarification.  Sure enough, I was informed that both self-published and traditionally published authors will have to choose between a standard package for a book giveaway at a cost of ($119) or a premium package at a cost of ($599).  Outrageous!  Are you kidding me?!!! 

You know who this hurts?  This is an effort to eliminate promotional options for self-published authors and authors published by small presses who do not have the promotional budgets of the big traditional publishers.  Self-published authors like myself who have been utilizing book giveaways on Goodreads were already having to not only offer free copies of our books, but also pay postage and shipping to get those giveaway books to the winners.  Everything about this new concept screams corporate greed to me and frankly, I am disgusted by this change in giveaway guidelines. 

Also, the book buying public loses access to discovering new indie authors with this giveaway rule change so the readers are losing as well as those of us who remain committed, indie authors.  I am reconsidering whether I wish to have any connection to Goodreads period as the entity appears to want to flush indie authors and publishers and cater to the high and mighty traditional publishers with their larger promotional budgets.  Shame On You Goodreads!!!   The next thing you know anyone wishing to even utilize the Goodreads site will begin having to pay to have access to the site and that is a damn shame in my opinion.  Goodreads, you are biting the hands that feed you and it is a slap in the face to those of us who helped make you the popular entity you are, or should I say, used to be.

Woman And Writer Not Afraid To Speak Truth To Power,


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Help! My Neighbors Have Gone Overboard With Horrendous Holiday Decorating!!

Dear Lit Loves,

Lord. Help. Me.  Please.  I honestly have not put up and decorated a Christmas tree in three years.  When my father died I just could not muster any joy.  Thanksgivings since his death have been held with my mom, my husband and my brother at my childhood home in a small North Carolina town that you would miss if you blinked an eye at just the right moment.  We lit a candle at his place setting while sitting around the dining room table for the big turkey day meal.  It was more quiet than usual.  Conversation around the table consisted of complementing the food, chat about the weather and all of us swallowing hard trying our best to be thankful for what we still had left without my jovial father who never was without a curious subject of conversation.  He always kept us laughing even if someone brought up politics during the Thanksgiving meal.  During the past two years after the Thanksgiving traditional meal, we would all clean the kitchen, pile into my mom's sedan and make the drive to the cemetery to pay our respects to dad.

I have driven home for the past two Thanksgivings trying to see the road and cars through a fountain of tears.  I still don't understand why God, Christ or whoever the higher power in this world is would take my father from our family when he was the thread that weaved us all together and kept us emotionally strong.  It was gut-wrenching to then see folks running about acting all holly and jolly.  I just could not muster any joy whatsoever. I would gladly walk through the mall and shout, "It Most Certainly Is Not The Most Wonderful Freaking Time Of The Year!"  The holiday season appeared to bring out the worst in people:  trampling over one another in search of Black Friday deals; getting into shouting matches over parking spaces at the malls or grocery stores; complaining about being forced to spend time with various family members; having packages stolen from the trunk of your car or front porch, getting injured while attempting to decorate furiously in order to be anointed the house in the neighborhood with the most incredible light display, and to top it all, I was almost taken out completely in the post office crosswalk by a driver who was incensed at the amount of time she had to wait to mail packages. Don't make me want to go all "Atomic Blonde" on you dear people of North Carolina. I am trying to maintain my composure, but even I have my limits.  I'm not sure I have the strength or stomach for another holiday season, folks.

And then my husband and I bought a house last year for Christmas.  We had just moved back to North Carolina six months before my father died and had been residing in a less than optimal apartment.  (The recycling dump was just steps away from our apartment door, water was leaking down the walls toward electrical outlets, and then the water in the tub one day turned brown and appeared  as if it came from a septic system, but it actually was because the water heater was nearly 19 years old and the apartment manager refused to replace it until I turned him in to the city water commissioner).  This red-head knows the laws of the land mister and I'm not afraid to blow the whistle and have someone cited for negligence.  Naturally, I was more than thrilled to be moving into a real home once again and being a stone's throw away from my favorite place:  UNC-Chapel Hill. 

This year I truly wanted to just not attempt anything for Thanksgiving except maybe a movie marathon with my husband.  He asked me to think about us hosting Thanksgiving here at our new home.  He offered to cook the entire meal as well.  I thought it might be a good change so with a great amount of coaxing and reassurance, I consented.  We hosted Thanksgiving at our new home.  I must say it was a definite change, but we had brought the family together and the appetizers, meal and dessert included a contribution from each of my family members.  Whew. 

And now I face the Christmas holiday.  I have yet to know whether I can summon the courage and effort to trim our artificial Christmas tree with ornaments I have collected since birth.  Since my old holiday wreath was destroyed by movers with little respect for our belongings, I did go with my husband and purchase a pre-lit wreath for the front door of our new home.  In addition we purchased artificial holiday pre-lit candles to place on the window sills throughout the house.  I still have not summoned enough bravery and gumption to go through our home storage area and locate our Christmas tree.  And for the past three days I have watched as my neighbors practically turn their homes into what appears to be the home of a sugarplum fairy, the gingerbread man and quite possibly Santa's North Pole headquarters.  Honestly, if my mail arrives after the sun goes down, I don my sunglasses to walk to the mail center lest I be blinded by the virtual amusement parks surrounding my home.  And one home has some sort of speaker system blasting holiday music.  As I look around at what appears to be a Fourth of July fireworks spectacle in December, I can't help but remember my motto when it comes to holiday decorating:  Be Classy Not Trashy.  Meanwhile, my goal for this week is to attempt to locate our artificial tree in the storage area of our home.  I haven't seen it in three years so I hope it survived the move as well as the movers.  I am not out to create a virtual winter wonderland on the outside of my home or win some ridiculous home decorating contest.  I simply want to find enough joy in my soul to encourage me in my efforts to decorate a Christmas tree with ornaments given to me by good people from my past and present.    I simply want to know if I will ever find the peace I used to obtain when I trimmed the Christmas tree and if I will ever once again find joy in celebrating Christmas in my own simple, low-key way.

Stay tuned,

Monday, November 6, 2017

Whole New Meaning To All Saints Day

Dear Lit Loves,

Yesterday was the official celebration of All Saints Day at my home church, Bunker Hill United Methodist.  I never really paid much attention to this honor program at the church where all the church members who have died in the last year are remembered with a candle lighting ceremony.  The ceremony became personal for me when my dad died after battling Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma successfully for twelve years.  In the end, it was not the lymphoma that killed him. Dad actually died of pneumonia, a collapsed lung and his heart ceased to function properly.  I will never forget the day a week before he actually died when an ICU physician came to my dad's hospital room to inform me there was noting more that could be done for my father.  It was the physician and ICU team's estimate that my dad had maybe a week to live.  Talk about a hard slap across the face and a sucker punch to the gut.  I stopped breathing at that moment and the room started spinning.  I found the nearest chair in dad's hospital room and sat down trying to absorb the unthinkable.  On top of it all, that particular day was my birthday and I usually spent it with my dad as was the case that day.  I remember looking up and saying to God, "What the hell kind of gift is this?"  Why would God decide it was time to take my Dad, my rock and the person I went to in serious times like this?  I still do not have an answer to that question.  Additionally, I had been instructed to pass the information about my father along to my mother and brother as the ICU doctors wanted to meet with them as well.  I did not want to have a full meltdown in front of my dad while he lay in an ICU hospital room fighting for his remaining last breaths.  I walked to a floor of the hospital that had been vacated for remodeling, found a small conference room, shut the door and wondered if I was going to die right there myself just from the pain and panic and emotional upheaval I was experiencing after being given the news about my father.  Dear God, Mother Mary, Whoever.  I had a week or less remaining to be with my dad.  Dad died five days later at a Hospice near my parents' home.  My mom, brother, me and my husband had been sitting with him in his Hospice room.  I had been holding his hand and I realized I could no longer feel his pulse when I pressed on his wrist.  I checked for a pulse on the side of his neck:  nothing.  Mom checked for breathing:  nothing.  A doctor and nurse arrived and officially declared dad gone. 

So my first experience of being physically and emotionally involved in the church's All Saints Day ceremony was that year about four months after my dad's death.  I heard the pastor say my dad's name and a picture of him appeared on a screen at the front of the church.  My mom rose from the pew first and somehow I followed behind her.  When mom and I made it to the front of the church, we were both given already lit candles by the ushers.  Together we lit a candle in dad's honor.  That's about all I remember as I completely lost it emotionally, went back to sit in the church pew and witnessed other families do what we had just done to honor Dad.  Losing dad was and still is gut-wrenching.  No one ever knows what it's like till it happens to someone in their family. 

Even today I still go by my father's grave the week of All Saints Day.  Last week I went by Dad's grave with mom.  We cleaned the plate marker and placed new flowers at his grave.  I never can get over the many more people who have been buried close to my dad since my last visit to his grave.  Those families get it.  The parents of the one year old who is buried five feet down from my dad.  The family of the thirty year old woman who is buried seven spaces to the left of my dad's grave.  And this year, just the day before a funeral had been held adjacent to my dad's grave.  It was the burial of someone else's daughter.  The floral bouquets were still freshly covering the burial site.  I remember thinking, I know the agony that family is going through right now.  I still cope with the same extreme grief, overwhelming sadness, and loneliness that remains since my Dad left this world.  I'm glad I have a place to come and honor him, talk to him.  I don't know what people whose deceased are buried in mausoleums do when they visit their deceased.  Stand in front of a wall of shelving units, maybe?  That would be too impersonal for me. I sit on a nearby bench and talk with my Dad while visiting the cemetery where he is buried.

This year I was not present at the All Saints Day ceremony at my home church.  My mom still lights a candle in my father's name each year.  I spent the morning planting pansies, cabbage plants, and two rosemary trees in my front yard.  One of my neighbors came walking by and asked why I spend so much time working on my yard.  I told him it was something I had in common with my Dad:  a love of beautifying and taking care of my little portion of the earth.  It's my way of honoring my Dad now on All Saints Day.  It brings me more peace and ebbs the anguish a tiny bit more each year.  It's my way of still being with my dad.  One day you will understand.  You will discover your own means of finding some little bit of comfort, tranquility in regards to losing a loved one.  It's a whole different reality when All Saints Day hits a little bit more close to home and heart.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Greetings North Carolina! Cheers To Indie Author Day! I'm One Of Yours!

Dear Lit Loves,

HAPPY INDIE AUTHOR DAY!!!  October 14, 2017 finds me rockin' Indie Author Day in my home state of North Carolina.  I was disappointed more libraries in the Triangle region of North Carolina (I'm talking to you Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Cary) were NOT participating in National Indie Author Day as many libraries across the United States were hosting Indie authors for meet and greet sessions, author panel discussions, networking opportunities, and writing workshops.  So as a tribute to all Indie authors I am going to answer the most frequently asked questions I encounter when I present my book entitled Brave Soul Rising:  Tales From The Trenches of An Uncharmed Life to various book clubs, writing workshops, and book events. 

1)  What does it mean to be an Indie Author?

As an Indie author, I have taken upon myself the full task of publishing a book.  I decide what genre in which I want to write (memoir) and then I write, edit, revise, format, hire a book cover designer, and utilize either an independent press like CreateSpace or iUniverse or a small press or even a university press to publish my book.  In my case I utilized CreateSpace to produce my book.  I cover all costs involved in crafting and publishing the book that I then bring to you, my audience.  So Indie primarily stands for "Independent" Author.

2)  What is the difference between an Indie Author and a Traditionally Published Author?

As an Indie author, I produce and cover all costs of producing and marketing my book.  I create the idea behind what I generated as a book cover and then I communicate that to a book cover designer who then sends me five examples of how the cover may look.  I select the one I like best and then I upload my manuscript and book cover to CreateSpace/Amazon Publishing which then sells my work in e-book and paperback formats.  A traditionally published author usually is represented by a literary agent who shops a potential manuscript to a Big Five publisher like Penguin Random House, an editor agrees to purchase the book, and then the author and editor and a marketing team work simultaneously over a fairly long period to produce the book.  Traditionally published authors are often given a monetary advance and then earn royalties off the books sold.  The production and marketing costs are covered by the traditional publishing house.  In its final form, the book has been reworked by an editor and often the author has very little say in the book cover design. 

3)  Why did I opt to take the Indie Author route?

I produced four manuscripts in five years and shopped those manuscripts to literary agents.  After never hearing back from most literary agents or receiving numerous rejections, I decided when my father suddenly passed in 2015 to take it upon myself to fully produce and market my own publishing work. 

4)  Where do I obtain my subject matter?

Since I write mostly in the memoir genre, my subject matter is taken from my own life experiences.  In my first book, I write about leaving a marriage riddled with domestic abuse, a stint in a psychiatric ward, working full-time in the start-up tech world, and then landing my first job as a teacher in a volatile North Carolina middle school.  The odds of success were most definitely stacked against me; however, like someone famous we all know, I persisted and that made the difference for me.

5)  What is my writing process like? 

It generally takes me four to six months to "free write" a complete manuscript.  I begin by creating an outline of the book and what I foresee being revealed in each chapter of the book.  Next, I commit to writing each week as much as possible without worrying about grammar or spelling.  I just get the story tapped out on my keyboard.  Then I go back and edit for spelling, grammar, word usage, setting, description, and word choice.  Following a final edit, I hire a book cover designer to create five sample book covers based on my ideas.  I then select a cover choice, turn the manuscript and cover over to my tech savvy husband who then formats it as an e-book and finally I upload the cover design, manuscript, and back cover design to a self-publishing platform.  A week later I receive notification that my e-book was successfully developed and I receive a copy of the paperback version of the book for my perusal to ensure this is the final book product I want to bring to the book buying public.

6)  Best and worst part of being an Indie Author?

The best part is that I have control over the plot, voice, editing, and book cover design.  And when I sell a book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, I receive a good profit margin.  The worst part of being an Indie Author is when a member of the book buying public dismisses you as "not being a real author" and also when many small, independent bookstores refuse to carry your book because they have a serious dislike of Amazon as a company. 

7)  What is the first book I remember really loving as a kid?

I absolutely adored the Pippi Longstocking books by Swedish author, Astrid Lindgren.  What a spunky, red-headed girl who had all sorts of adventures and a fierce independent spirit.

8)  Why did I choose to write under a pseudonym (pen name)?

First, almost no one gets the pronunciation of my real last name correct and oftentimes, people utterly and completely mispronounce it.  Second, I wanted a Southern sounding pen name so I generated the pen name of Grace Sutherlin.

9)  What would I choose as my author mascot or spirit animal?

A seriously ferocious female lion. 

10)  What does publishing success look like to you?

Publishing success for me is measured not just in number of books sold, but when someone says they were enriched or motivated to do better and be stronger as a person because of the personal experiences from my own life that I develop on the page.  And yes, it is quite nice when I am asked to speak to a group or book club as well as teach a writing workshop on self-publishing a book.  My degrees are in teaching language arts and social studies so writing a book is for me, another means of remaining a devoted teacher.

11) How do I select name for the characters or real people in my books?

Since I am writing about real people who were or still are a part of my life, I generally do not use an individual's real name.   I think about their personal qualities, values, and philosophy and generate a new name for that person that I then use in place of their real name in my book.

12)  Do I read reviews of my book?

No.  I do not.  If I did I would probably be more of a nervous wreck than I already am.  Plus, in our tech sophisticated world of today, someone may not like me and not even know me as a person or writer, but still write unprofessional comments about me or evaluate my book negatively.  There is way too much negativity in the world today and I do not need it being used to bring me down as a human being, woman, and writer.

14)  What am I currently reading?

Presently, I am reading a book titled Soldier Girls:  The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe about three women who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  It examines how their commitment to military service affected their personal lives, families, and friends. 

15)  Best money I ever spent as a writer?

I have no problem spending good money on outstanding book cover design because it is the first portion of a book that the reading audience sees and it can make the difference between whether they pick up the book, examine it, and potentially purchase it or bypass the book completely.

16)  What is the difference between memoir and autobiography/biography?

With memoir, I am writing about a very specific time my life over a period of one to two years.  With autobiography and biography, you are basically learning about someone's entire life from birth onward and the highs and lows of their entire life.

17)  Most frustrating part of being an Indie Author?

Being looked upon and treated as a legitimate author.  Many folks wrongly diss independent authors; however, some of us do have real writing "chops" and most likely are pearls that have yet to be discovered by big publishing and entertainment. 

18)  What is the most rewarding part of being an Indie Author?

Having control over my manuscript development and design.  Being invited to meet and talk about my book with new people and also having a reader send me an email that my book moved them or changed them in a profound way. 

19)  Worst gesture received as an Indie Author?

I presented my book to a group of book club members and when I returned home to check my email, a woman who was not even present for the book club presentation I made sent me a quite rude email denigrating me as a proud, liberal and very southern feminist. 

20)  Best gesture received as an Indie Author?

When a book club from my home town took me to lunch after my book presentation, purchased books after the presentation, and then sent me a thank you note afterward with money for the travel expenses I incurred.  Classy and thoughtful ladies. 

21)  What are you most looking forward to now as an Indie Author?

My next memoir about surviving some seriously unusual medical ailments and all the shocking and sometimes laughable experiences I have encountered with doctors and the medical field.  It is truly no-holds-barred!!

Until my next post, happy reading!!


Friday, September 22, 2017

Joe Donahue's Outburst At NEIBA Conference Is Why I No Longer Visit Independent Book Stores

Dear Lit Loves,

Wow.  I checked out the headlines on PW today and there was one that stood out to me:  "At Annual NEIBA Show, Booksellers Slam Amazon and Toast Each Other".  So as I double click to read the story I discover that the host (Joe Donahue) of this book show or conference slammed Amazon with his opening line at the NEIBA Awards dinner being "expletive Amazon!"  That is tragic.  As a self-published author who attempted to break into the traditional publishing industry for six years and having doors slammed in my face way too many times to count, I opted to self-publish through Amazon.  I no longer court independent bookstores to sell my books because there appears to be a pervasive negative attitude among independent booksellers toward Amazon and Amazon self-published writers that is similar to the abrasive stance Mr. Donahue displayed with his unprofessional outburst at the NEIBA awards dinner.  Now, should I ever be asked to appear at or host a book conference or convention you will not find me slamming anyone.  There is already too much negativity in the world and this kind of ineptness just feeds the beast.

Maybe not all booksellers belonging to the New England Independent Booksellers Association endorse the sentiments of host Joe Donahue.  One can only hope there do exist independent booksellers who also embrace independent authors.  Some of us were never given the opportunity to publish traditionally and it was not for lack of effort or quality of writing.  Most independent booksellers here in the South openly refuse to carry a book self-published via Amazon which is really a shame because to me this comes across as a form of discrimination.  Or if independent booksellers do carry a book self-published through Amazon, there are all sorts of hoops the writer/author must  jump through before his/her book can even be displayed in one of their stores.  As an avid reader, member of several book clubs, and self-published author, I have come to feel that most independent booksellers hate Amazon and quite possibly also hate writers who self-publish through Amazon.  And I think that by automatically excluding Amazon self-published books from your independent bookstores, you exude an air of arrogance and lack of open-mindedness that causes me and many others to no longer shop at your stores or attend any events your store may host.  Folks, it's a big world out there and there is room for all of us.  I find it disgraceful that a book convention host would stoke the fires of hate in the manner in which Joe Donahue did.  To me, if you are saying F$&! Amazon then you are also wishing the same sentiment toward me as an Amazon self-published writer/author.  And what did I ever do to deserve that????  ***Think before you speak.****  Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

N.C. Education Majors And New Teachers: I Strongly Encourage You To Read This Book

Dear N.C. Education Majors and All First Through Third Year N.C. Teachers,

Greetings!  Just wanted to let all North Carolina Education Majors as well as all first through third year North Carolina teachers know that I wrote the book on my experiences during my first year of teaching in a volatile, inner-city North Carolina school.  I wrote this book because I felt future and current beginning teachers needed to hear from a fellow educator who had been in the trenches and succeeded though the odds were certainly not stacked in my favor.  Additionally, I wrote the book because it takes an incredible amount of resilience to be a teacher.  It's not just what you know subject-wise, but how well you can recover once you are knocked down and then subsequently get back up to face the daily difficulties in the classroom and learn from numerous mistakes.  The title of the book is Brave Soul Rising:  Tales From The Trenches of An Uncharmed Life and it is written under my pen name of Grace Sutherlin.  Most readers are purchasing the book online via Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  The book is available in both e-book format ($4.99) and paperback ($9.99) format. 

I contacted 40 college/university professors in the state of North Carolina who are currently teaching and/or mentoring students who are majoring in the field of Education at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.  Professors at the following colleges/universities were contacted and notified about the relevance and importance of the book in hopes that they would utilize the book as a resource for their students.  Those schools included:  UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Chapel Hill, High Point University, Appalachian State University, UNC-Wilmington, East Carolina University, UNC-Charlotte, Wingate University, Wake Forest University, UNC-Asheville, North Carolina State University, Western Carolina University, Duke University, Guilford College, Brevard, and Meredith College. 

And a special "Thank You" to Cary Magazine for featuring my book in the September Education issue under the section titled "Happenings".   Publicity is often the hardest part for a writer like myself and I deeply appreciate all newspapers and magazines who have featured my book in their pages.  Happy Reading!

Till my next post,
Grace (Amy)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

N.C. Legislature Fails On Average Teacher Salary And Principal Pay Fix

Dear Lit Loves,

And once again the North Carolina State Legislature fails public schools, public school teachers, and public school students.  First, I read a quite accurate editorial this morning on site under the editorial entitled "Legislature's principal pay "fix"may hurt schools with most need" and alas, this is so true.  In other words, principal bonus money is being linked to school growth and student performance.  What's wrong with this picture? So here's the deal, if a principal is already at a high-performing school, they can receive as much as $13,000 in bonus money. (This is pitiful in that if teachers increase student performance we might receive a big whopping $1,000 in bonus money and that's if we are lucky).  Let's all be real:  It's not principals who bring about student performance improvements, it's the teachers.  End of discussion.  Plus, this type of bonus system leaves principals at low-performing schools clearly out of the loop in terms of bonus money.  Obviously, if you want to turn around a low-performing school, you need the best teachers and principals in place.  Now to me that would mean providing bonuses to those teachers and principals who take on the challenge of upgrading student performance at schools with the most need.  And it would also mean additional bonus incentive money if those same teachers and principals actually deliver highly enhanced student performance.  And how is principal pay determined in North Carolina?  Is it by how timely principals address disciplinary reports teachers complete?  No.  Is it by how satisfied the teachers are with a principal's leadership of a school?  No.  Is it by how many teachers leave their positions during the school year or how many teachers return to the school the next year?  No.  Actually, I have been unable to locate exactly how a principal or assistant principal's pay is determined in the state of North Carolina which is highly perplexing.  

Now, I sent emails to middle school principals in over 20 North Carolina counties detailing my new book that illustrates many areas of needed improvement in our schools.  In total, this included 41 North Carolina middle school principals at low, average, and high performing middle schools.  Not once single principal responded to my invitation to evaluate the book.  Not one of these principals responded to my emails and I'm pretty sure none of the emailed middle school principals bothered to even obtain the book and gain a glimmer of the vast number of problems that need to be addressed in North Carolina's public schools today.  That's sad, folks.  Our North Carolina public schools, teachers, and students deserve better, much better.

In closing I would also like to point out that Senator Phil Berger made a promise to raise average North Carolina public teacher salaries to $54,200 by the 2017-2018 school year.  In actuality, the North Carolina average teacher salary is hovering at $50,900.  Thus, this senator and our state legislature are not delivering on their promises to North Carolina public schools, teachers, or students.  And in my book that means when election time rolls around I will be encouraging voters to eject those legislative members who continue to not deliver where our public schools, teachers, and students are concerned in the state of North Carolina.  It's high time to bring respectability back to North Carolina and its public school system.

Till my next post,

Monday, July 10, 2017

Best Reasons To Read Brave Soul Rising Before Walking Into A Classroom In Fall 2017

Dear Future Teachers,

     Someone recently asked me to give them the best reasons why current and in particular future teachers should read my new book entitled Brave Soul Rising:  Tales From The Trenches of An Uncharmed Life written under my pen name of Grace Sutherlin.   I guess the person thought it might be a challenge for me to come up with the reasons in rapid fire fashion, but I never write anything unless I have truly meaningful reasons for doing so.  So if I were getting ready to take charge of a middle or high school classroom this Fall of 2017, this is what I wish I had known or been educated about prior to that first day of class.  Alas, the reasons to read my book for a more detailed accounting.

1)  Resilience:  This is the ability to pick yourself up off the floor after you have been hammered with the reality that you are going to be challenged beyond your wildest expectations by students, colleagues, administrators, parents, bureaucracy, etc.  And when you take charge of a class, it's just you and (if you teach public school) thirty-five or more students.  Actually, I had more students show up for a class than I had available desks and chairs.  DO NOT PANIC.  Breathe, think, and improvise.

2)  No One Said This Was Going To Be A Cake Walk And If They Did, They Lied:  My first year teaching began after the school year had already started and after the first teacher gave notice during the first week of classes.  By the time I was hired to teach this seventh grade group of students, they had been through some of the most effective substitute teachers.  Plus, I discovered I was going to be conducting English and History classes in what was once a locker room.  Oh, and then of course, during basketball season I discovered the coaches and players still utilized my classroom as a locker room.  I had very little in terms of resources so I utilized my students' work to decorate my classroom.  I hit the ground running six weeks into the school year and never looked back because if I stopped I was sure I was going to wind up thinking, "What the hell did I sign up for and can I really do this?" 

3)  Students Will Arrive Needing More Than Just An Education In English And History:  Ahh, if  teaching only involved showing up and teaching your content areas, we would all have a much easier time in the classroom.   To my surprise and sometimes shock, I had students who were living with their family in motels; I had students whose parents were serving prison time; I had students who were braving much worse than I ever encountered just to get to school each morning; and I had students who lived in and around a near constant stream of gang violence.  And I quickly realized that I might be the only role model a student has present in his/her life at that moment.

4)  Keep Your Eyes And Ears Open At All Times:  There were times when I would overhear when a fight was going to occur.  At other times, I might see a pass off of one student selling another student his/her ADD/ADHD medication or worse; I learned to not be startled by the cop and police dog that came to our school and walked the halls as well as the classrooms; and I was aware when I had high school students who were not supposed to even be inside our school much less roaming the halls looking for a student at my middle school.  Plus, I generally kept my classroom door locked at all times.

5)  Be Ready For The Unexpected:  You never know when a student is just going to reach their limit or tolerance of another student's behavior and before you can turn around, a chair is being thrown across a classroom and one student has another in a head lock.  Or the experience I had of a student's grandmother calling me at school to instruct me that she learned I wrote up a disciplinary slip on her grandson for disrupting class and she was coming to my classroom and polling the entire classroom of students to determine if they agreed her grandson had truly been a disruption.  No lie.  

6)  Bullying Happens And It's Up To You To Nip It In The Bud:  Honestly, I've seen students badger another student over where he/she lives, the way a student looks, and one student of mine was bullied because he wore the same three outfits to school every week.  And I had to stand up to a group of my own students and deflect the bullying behavior.  For example, "Well Maxine, Tracy, Issac-the last time I checked none of us including me are currently residing in the Taj Mahal so put a lid on it." Or this one worked well, "Well, Josie and company, you all are not exactly decked out in Armani and for that matter, neither am I, so can we get on with classroom business so maybe someone among us might one day have the opportunity to be sporting Michael Kors?!"   Notice I am including myself when I am deflecting the bullying.  I am putting the students and myself on a level playing field.

7)  There Is Always Going To Be A Handful Of Students You Just Cannot Reach:  As one of my assistant principals once said to me, "Honey, you can't save them all.  If you try, you're going to burn out as a teacher before you can even get started."  No, I couldn't save the student who I suspected stole field trip money and then later had a BB gun at a bus stop.  And I couldn't save the kid who had been caught with drugs and was charged with intent to distribute.  He eventually served prison time.  You can only do what you can do in the time that you have these students so for heaven's sake, do your best by them so at the bare minimum you can list how you tried to redirect a student's behavior or life.  

8)  You May Not Receive Much Mentoring And Sometimes You May Not Receive Any:  Honestly, I could have used more support as a first year teacher in a volatile inner-city middle school.  I was assigned a mentor, but I made the effort to observe her classes.  She only visited me and my class when it came time for my teaching evaluations.  And you will run across teachers who I heard referred to as "just picking up a paycheck."   You never saw this type of teacher actively engaged with his/her students.  You never saw that teacher walking the classroom and offering assistance to students.  It's disappointing.  One time I was assigned a mentor teacher not because the administration thought she could help me, but so maybe I might inspire her or reignite her passion for teaching..  True story.  And I was only in my second year of teaching at that time.  

9)  Keep A Medical Kit In The Classroom And If You Can, Take A CPR Class:  I never knew when or if I was ever going to have a medical emergency.  A student starts choking in the lunch room or classroom, do you know what to do?  A student has a diabetic emergency while in one of your classes.  Do you have orange slices on hand and know what to do?  And this one truly did happen to me:  A student arrives at your classroom door saying he was jumped in the bathroom and was stabbed in his hand. At that point I had to use classroom materials I had to stop the bleeding, try to tie a tourniquet with any other materials I had in class, page the office to call 911, and then turn the  student over to an administrator because the assigned school nurse was not at our school on that particular day.  Multitasking is a must.

10)  My Middle School Co-Teacher Was My Best Means Of Support:  I kid you not that when I taught middle school, we taught in teams of two to four teachers.  My team consisted of me and my co-teacher who taught science and math.  My team teacher helped me in more ways than any mentor I was assigned ever could.  In fact, she had served in the military and it served me and her well because we truly always had each other's backs.  She became a dear friend for life.

Till my next post,


Friday, June 23, 2017

Oh Cease With The Shaming Of Self-Published Authors! Jeez, People Can Be So Darn Rude!

Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings!  Well, all my readers probably knew this blog post was coming, eventually.  I swear if I have one more individual tell me that I am not a "real author" because I self-published my own damn book, I may go half-ass crazy!  Honestly, there is already so much vitriol in the world right now, why add to it?  Are you that desperate to make yourself feel like the almighty powerful god that you think you are while you diss the rest of us like heathens?!!  Puuhhlleese!  

When I first started writing my first book, Brave Soul Rising, I knew it wasn't going to be easy for an unknown southern gal with a background of teaching language arts and social studies to obtain an agent much less a book deal.  I mean, I don't live in the land of lollipops and princesses, okay?  But Lord have mercy, when I completed the manuscript and began submitting the first fifty pages and a book proposal to literary agents, I honestly bought a huge plastic binder and just started stockpiling rejection letters.  Seriously, Stephen King has nothing on me when it comes to rejection letters.  I finally started a system of tabs in the binder according to what I thought of either the agent's email or printed rejection of my manuscript and book proposal.  The tabs went something like this:  Inept/Snarly Agents; Rude/Potentially Anal-Retentive Agents;  Delusional Agents (no idea what kind of book they are looking for); Abominable Witch/Warlock Agents (just plain nasty); and finally, Nonexistent Agents (never knew what they thought of my work because I never heard from them, ever).  Good Lord, People!  I spent five years trying to obtain a literary agent and each year while I was querying agents, I wrote another manuscript for heaven's sake!  The cherry on top of the icing on the cake came when some agents would also basically instruct me that if I ever self-published, he/she/they would no longer consider my work or accept me as a client.  Lord, who needs demented extended family members when you've got people like this replying to you on a weekly basis?!!  Frankly, I just gave up on the whole notion of me and a literary agent ever being on the same page much less doing business together.  Talk about feeling like you are dirt stuck to someone's shoe.  So when I decided to self-publish I felt like I had stuck my tongue out, cried "Na Na Na Na Na Nah", and thanked Mother Mary for blessing the earth with Jeff Bezos!

And next I found myself at a book club presentation.  I had been invited to come and speak about my book to about 30+ people and sign books after the program.  Would you not know that a couple who had not bothered to even attend the program, entered the room afterward, came to the table to chat with me, and the man actually said to me, "Well, we didn't bother to come to the presentation.  I mean, your self-published, right?  So you aren't a real writer or author or anything."  And what he didn't know was that his wife had just chatted with me that she had been writing her own memoir and wanted to have it published.....somehow.  Other than the fact that my husband was standing in between us, I don't know what stopped me from lambasting the male fool.  I mean, the audacity just makes my blood boil at times! 

Upon making another book club presentation, I was introduced by the club's leader in a quite facetious manner as a major, bestselling author who has sold millions upon millions of books.  I stood from my chair, walked to the podium mic, and said, "Well, now let me tell you the honest to goodness real truth of the matter."  This brought the house down if you know what I mean.  I do not relate well to individuals who appear to get their jollies by taking demeaning shots at me because I self-published a book.  Hey, John Grisham once sold his first book right out of the trunk of his car!  Quite honestly, if you take a below the belt shot at me when I am there to speak on my own time and money, I will throw smack back at you at the rate Rafael Nadal serves when playing tennis.  Are we on the same page now, brothers and sisters?!!  Damn straight. 

I guess one of the biggest disappointments as a self-published author was when southern independent bookstores would not stock my book because I published through Amazon.  Or I would have to "apply" to have my book potentially stocked at their store and that was only if the owners felt my book was up to par.  And some of these same booksellers wanted me to stock their stores with the book on my own dime and time, only offer me a pittance of the sale price of the book, relieve them of any books that were not sold, and sign a contract that I would abide by these rules.  It was like I was trying to apply to med school at Duke University or something.  I kept asking these booksellers, "Do you make other authors published by Random House, Simon and Schuster, etc. jump through all these hoops??" I usually never received a response to the question or if I did receive a response it was, "No, we do not take this route with traditionally published authors."  So doesn't that constitute a form of discrimination would be my next inquiry to which not one bookseller responded, period. 

So you know what I did?  I read a quote by one of my favorite actresses, Meryl Streep, and I placed that quote in a prominent position in my home office.  It reads, "What Makes You Different Or Weird, That's Your Strength." And I self-published my memoir.  If that makes me be classified as unique, resistant, or rebellious in getting my work out in the world, well, so damn well be it!!


Rock on self-published authors,

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Dear Daddy, I Miss You Greatly

Dear Lit Loves,

Around this time in June it becomes difficult for me to handle all the Father's Day hoopla because two years ago today my mom, brother, and I had to make the very difficult decision of moving my dad to a Hospice facility.  He had battled lymphoma for twelve years and my knees almost buckled when the ICU physician at a local hospital decided to deliver the news to me that there was nothing more the specialists could do to save my dad.  Somehow I had to find a way to break the news to my mother who would then break the news to my brother.  I was fine until I went to the hospital cafeteria to get lunch that day and lost it when the cafeteria lady asked me how I was doing that day.  She had seen me almost daily for three weeks as my dad attempted to recover from pneumonia, a collapsed lung, fatigue/extreme weakness, and heart issues.  When this friendly cafeteria worker asked me how  was doing on that particular day, I lost it and told her I just got informed my dad was going to die and I think I might die right along with him.  I was so distraught I left my tray of food on the counter and walked to a corner booth in the cafeteria, faced a wall, and just sobbed.  I had already lost weight, lost my appetite, and now I was losing my dad far too early in life.  That same cafeteria lady stopped what she was doing, picked up my food tray, came over to the booth where I was sitting, hugged me, told me she was so sorry, and not to worry about paying for my lunch as she was taking care of it.  She realized before I did that I didn't have any eating utensils, napkins, etc. and went to get them for me. God Bless That Lady.

I took my mom to a private area in the hospital to explain what the ICU doctors had told me regarding dad's condition.  She thought he was just going to have to go to a nursing home.  Like me, she was not anticipating we were going to be told he only had a matter of days to live.  I remember us both sitting there side by side just numb to the bone.  Between mom, me, and my brother, we had essentially been by dad's side non-stop since he was admitted to the hospital.  A few folks came by mostly for social visits I think, but I know we didn't call anyone and ask for help much less think anyone owed us any help.  The four members of our immediate family were pretty much battled-hardened when it came to cancer and care-giving.  When the paramedics arrived to escort dad over to Hospice via ambulance, I remember him asking, "Is this my last stop?"  He left his hospital room with the television still tuned to an Atlanta Braves game. 

By the next morning after dad had been at Hospice for half an afternoon and evening, my husband and I were called to Hospice at three in the morning as dad was exhibiting signs of nearing the end of life.  When we arrived, I just took a seat next to dad on his right side, picked up his hand, and held it while my mom was doing the same on the left side of his Hospice bed.  Sometime between five forty-five and six in the morning, I realized I could no longer feel dad's pulse in his wrist though he hadn't let go of my hand. I kept pressing on his wrist to find a pulse and there wasn't one to find.   I said to mom, "I can't feel his pulse."  We both listened and checked for breathing and there was none so we had the nurse summoned.  When the Hospice nurse arrived, she verified what we already knew. Dad was gone.  His body was still there, but his essence was traveling on to his next journey.  One of us opened the patio door off dad's room as we didn't want his spirit trapped in the room and we wanted to let some fresh air in the room.  We remained with dad and Hospice shut all the doors leading to dad's room as they do whenever any patient passes.  It's a moment of respect, realization, and privacy for the family.

I know I didn't sleep again until days after dad's funeral.    I had located a picture of he and I when I was about two years of age and he was holding me on the sidewalk in front of our house right before going to church.  I still have that picture in my purse today.  I still have the last letters my dad wrote me in an envelope inside my purse.  I still have the last card he sent me in my purse as well.  Even if I get a new purse, I place all those documents in the inside zippered pocket of the purse just because it's comforting to have them with me. 

They don't make dads like mine anymore.  And I can't shop anywhere around Father's Day for fear of how debilitating the sorrow is when I realize I'll never get to buy my dad another Father's Day card or gift.  And to this day I can still be driving in my Mustang, pass a man in a convertible Miata, and I'll say aloud, "Hey dad.  I miss you too."  It's my way of hoping that he is sending me a sign that he is still with me.  So right now, I am going to list some but certainly not all of the moments I carry with me today that remind me of what a one of a kind dad I was blessed with for forty-six years.

1)  The first memory I have of my dad is him getting the backyard of our home ready for my birthday party which included a cookout along with cake and ice cream.  There was a picnic table set up and decorated. I was sporting my red, white, and blue shorts and top with a fringe of blonde hair.  Dad did the cooking and I had a blast.  I don't remember how old I was at the time, but man, he knew how to help throw a young daughter a grand birthday party.

2)  I remember dad helping me learn how to ride my first red and white tricycle.  It had streamers on the handlebars and I had a license plate with my name on it and also the state of North Carolina. 

3)  When I was in a private Kindergarten, once or twice a month on Fridays dad would pick me up and we would go have a Happy Meal together at McDonalds.  He had his own Happy Meal right along with me.

4)  Dad accompanied me to all my elementary school Halloween carnivals and volunteered to work at many of them as well.  He was just as much a kid at heart as the rest of me and my comrades.

5)    My dad gave me permission to stand up and confront a bully.  And man did I ever have one in the form of a girl who lived on the street behind us.  She absolutely hated me and I had no idea why.  Dad gave me permission that if she hit me I could rare back and bust her wide in self-defense.  He said if I got in trouble he would inform the principal in her office he had given me permission to defend myself.  Little did I know my dad and his younger brother helped a friend of dad's who was being bullied in school.  The bullies threatened to beat the guy to a pulp.  Not when my dad, his brother, and dad's friend all showed up to deal with them fair and square. 

6)  My dad took me to professional wrestling matches.  Usually halfway through the program, he was standing up screaming right along with me.  It was a great way to blow off steam let me tell you.

7)  Dad had me called out of my Algebra 3 class to inform me during my senior year of high school that I was going to be driving an '81 Camaro to college during my first year.  He thought the car had a bit too much power for me, but he didn't think I would abuse the power of that V8 engine so he trusted me with it. 

8)  Dad went with me at age 18 when I started having dizzy spells leading to hours of sickness.  We went to visit a university hospital in the state and I was diagnosed with Meniere's disease at age 18 though the specialists could hardly believe the positive test results.  They had never diagnosed anyone that young before with this type of illness. 

9)  Dad helped me pick up my shattered self-esteem and leave a callous, abusive, and pompous husband from my first marriage. 

10)  Dad taught me how to mow a yard, trim bushes and trees, blacktop a driveway, plant trees and flowers, and wash and detail a car. 

11)  Thankfully, dad assisted with my being able to attend a state public college.  I never wanted to go to a private college where it appeared most of the student body was made up of overly indulged teenagers with obnoxious attitudes and less than lofty souls.

12)  My dad was a devout Atlanta Braves fan even when the team sucked which was most of the time.  To him, a southerner who pulled for a northern or any other baseball team was downright sacrilegious. He was also a highly devoted Carolina Tar Heel basketball fan.  Man, I hope he got to see what the team accomplished this year.

13)  Thanks to dad I grew up attending a Methodist church.  We don't discriminate, we don't put on airs, and we surely don't go around lecturing people on what "the right thing to do is". 

14)  One summer I worked for my dad who was an operations manager,  He was meticulous, devoted, and had zero tolerance for slackers; therefore, neither did I when I walked into my first classroom as a teacher.

15)  Dad took our family on vacation usually yearly to Myrtle Beach.  While there I learned how to swim, jump off the side of the pool, brave a water slide, learn to float and body surf. 

16)  When email was developed and introduced, I would stay in touch with dad via email especially once I moved to Georgia.  Little did I know, he had saved all our emails over the years, printed them, and put them inside a bound notebook for me to keep forever.

17)  For the last three years of his life, dad always was with me for my birthday.  On two occasions he and mom drove to Georgia to visit.  During my 46th birthday which came six days before my dad passed, I arrived at his room in the ICU and we had hospital ice cream together.  He asked me that day if I wouldn't rather be somewhere else enjoying myself.  I countered with, "No way!  Why break tradition?!  This is sacred!"

I miss you Dadio.  I always carry you in my heart, my identity, and my values.  No one really understands the pain our family endured.  It was like a stab to the heart and a left hook that broke a jaw.  Everyone will gain that understanding for themselves one day because one thing I do know for sure is that we all have an expiration date.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Little Response From North Carolina Public Education Community Is Profoundly Disappointing

Dear Lit Loves,

Wondering where I've been lately regarding my blog posts?  Well folks, I have been on a crusade to bring my recent book, Brave Soul Rising:  Tales From The Trenches of An Uncharmed Life to the attention of our state's public school education community and leadership.  My first group of contacts included the North Carolina State Board of Education in Raleigh.  I emailed notices about the book to all representatives listed with the exception of two that I have yet to send.  And how many of those folks did I hear from?  Exactly two.  Yes, you read that correctly.  First, I want to say that upon emailing our new state school superintendent, I am most happy to report that he responded the same afternoon and bought a copy of the book.  He's ready to see better public education in North Carolina.  I would also like to extend an appreciative nod to William Cobey, Chair of The North Carolina Board of Education, as he responded to my email within an hour to let me know he had downloaded a copy of the book while waiting to catch a flight at the airport!  Now here's the problem, what happened to the rest of the representatives that I sent an email to and this excludes the two that I have not had an opportunity to contact via email?  Did you not have time to check your email?  Did my email go to your spam box? Were you on vacation?  Did you have some medical problem that caused you to take a leave of duty? Because here is the issue folks, you cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and be bystanders.  You've darn well got to not only get in the game, but bring nothing but your "A"game.  Some of you were the loudest inquirers last year when the board discussed why there is such difficulty retaining new teachers and insisted on understanding what does it mean when teachers leave the profession and check a box citing "personal reasons" for leaving.  Honestly, I really thought those particular representatives would be the first individuals from whom I would receive a response regarding the book, but that was not the case.  It makes this writer and former North Carolina public school educator wonder how invested you really are in improving North Carolina public schools and getting to the bottom of the problem when it comes to retaining new public school teachers? I wrote the book because I felt it might make a difference, enlighten, and heck, maybe even inspire someone as I reflected in manuscript form a glimpse into my life as a first year middle school teacher in North Carolina's public schools.  The shortfalls, rewards, chaos/mayhem, and needed improvements I encountered as a first year public educator are all there and I wrote it in an honest and forthright fashion.  I never claimed to be J.K. Rowling or Maya Angelou, but I can tell you if there is one thing you will get from me it is brutal honesty.

Now, just so I am covering my bases here, I sent emails to thirty of our North Carolina Association of Educators Regional Chapter Presidents in various counties.  The response?   Crickets.  Nada.  Hmmm.  Wonder what's going on with this group?  Maybe I just selected the wrong local NCAE 2016-2017 local chapter presidents?  Maybe they don't open emails from people they don't know?  Of course, that's why the subject line of the email states in caps:  Book Chronicles N.C.  Public Middle School Teacher's First Year In Classroom.  That would intrigue me if I were still an educator in the classroom or a local representative for The North Carolina Association of Educators. I realize we are closing in on the end of the school year  and end of grade exams, but still.  I really thought I would receive more support from this particular educational entity.  When you write an honest account of what you as a North Carolina public school teacher encountered while in the trenches, particularly when it was a volatile school prime with teachers leaving the profession during the school year and many transferring to other schools at the end of the year, as a writer you think, hey I am putting it all on the line here with no holds barred.  You think to yourself, surely current and former teaching compatriots will support me for having the guts to put down on paper my public school teaching experiences in an uncompromising fashion.  Now, with so little response, I'm not so sure. I sincerely hope that I am wrong, but I am sensing apathy. I am sensing indifference.  In essence, I am seeing smoke signals that spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E.  And that's scary because public school education in our state and North Carolina public school educators deserve better not to mention our state's public school students. And that just might mean being open to learning from others.  Are we on the same page now?  Have you cracked the book open yet?

So presently, I am on a crusade to contact and bring my book to the attention of fifty different principals from the mountains, the coast, the triad, and the triangle areas of North Carolina.  Wonder if I'll hear from any of them?  Cause when you are an indie author you've got to get your book the attention of its prime audience.  I would think public school principals would be more than a bit interested to find some sort of support for their new teachers because obviously, if the state is having difficulties retaining our newest educators, our state's public school community most definitely needs to discover the reasons why and devise some solutions. The last time I checked the mentoring system in our state's public schools, it was not giving new teachers the level of support they require. So who is going to step up? When I taught at a N.C. public middle school, I remember our principal having bought books for the entire teaching faculty.  Seriously.  And that was all well and good, but I didn't need another book on how to bring technology to my subject matter or how to raise my students' writing test scores.  What I could have used is an inspiring teaching memoir to boost my morale and keep on my shelf for times when I was just about to throw in the towel myself. 

And finally, I am going to attempt to obtain the attention of our colleges and universities and their respective departments of education.  Why?  Because though I was well-prepared in my middle school content areas, for the love of Mother Mary, there was no preparation for motivating students who could care less about their education; parents who took little or too much interest in their child's education; the lack of classroom resources; how to handle grave matters of school security; the lack of timely discipline; integrating ESOL students into my core content classes; coping with the immense level of bullying in middle school; containing the many incidents of violence prevalent in our schools; and for heaven's sake, teachers who throw serious shade on the profession.  Let's put it this way, I could have used a first-aid kit in my classroom during my first year of teaching and thankfully Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools required me to get certified in CPR before I graduated high school.  You'll have to read my book to understand when and why that came in handy.

Maybe a book like mine wasn't needed though.  Maybe the problem with new teachers leaving our state's public schools has been solved or the powers that be in our educational system have identified all the solutions for what's going wrong in our public schools and why.  Maybe the apathy and indifference I'm witnessing among some of North Carolina's Public School Community is because folks have the issues and struggles all figured out and are not in need of any further learning, solutions, or inspiration.  Well, if that's the case, how come my former high school is now considered "under-achieving"?  How come I am seeing all sorts of crisis and mayhem being recorded inside our state public schools on the nightly local news?  How come a county charter school allowed students to graduate when those students hadn't met anywhere near the number of credits the state requires for graduation? How come some public schools are so incredibly low-performing that the state is considering shutting them down completely and starting from scratch?  Makes you wonder if maybe somewhere a former or current teacher needed to rise up and say, "Let me tell you a story.  It's called Brave Soul Rising:  Tales From The Trenches of An Uncharmed Life. I wrote it under my pen name of Grace Sutherlin.  It might shed some light on the current state of North Carolina public school education for you".  What have you got to lose?  You might just find it not only enlightening, but entertaining.

Continuing The Indie Author Journey,

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Warning Signs Of A Potentially Abusive Partner

Dear Lit Loves,

As many of you know in my recent book entitled Brave Soul Rising:  Tales From The Trenches of An Uncharmed Life written under my pen name of Grace Sutherlin, I discuss in detail how I extracted myself from my first marriage riddled with emotional, mental, and physical domestic abuse.  During many of my book signings and speaking engagements, many attendants have asked me what the warning signs are of a potentially abusive domestic partner.  In an endeavor to give you the most accurate information, I have compiled the following list from Northwestern University's Women's Center as well as the book titled When Violence Begins at Home:  A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Abuse by K.J. Wilson.  Herewith is a list of warning signs/symptoms:

1)  A person who has committed prior abuse with another partner in the past.  Honestly, you can actually go online to a local county government court website, insert the name of an individual and sometimes a date of birth, and any arrests will be noted.  Also, it is rather easy to "google" a person's full name and discover quite a bit of information.  And you can often tell a great deal about a person just from their social media posts and pictures.  If an individual has had any prior restraining orders or arrests due to domestic violence in the past, I would take this as a definite red flag.

2)  Threats Of Violence:  Obviously, anytime someone threatens someone whether openly in public and I would even include threats made to others while driving a vehicle, this should be a warning indicator that the person is capable of volatility and losing control of themselves emotionally.

3)  Breaking Objects:  This type of behavior would include beating on a table, counter, car, or wall as well as throwing objects whether at another person or in the vicinity of another person.  My ex-husband liked to practice his karate kicks coming within inches of my face.  He would also begin driving at excessive speeds and then slam on the breaks just for kicks which could have caused us harm as well as harm to other drivers.  In one instance, he threw my car keys at me and I swiftly moved, and the keys embedded into the wall behind me because he threw them with such force.  This is an indication of major emotional and mental instability.

4)  Use of force during an argument:  If you are in a disagreement with a partner and he/she begins to physically restrain you, push you, or begins shoving or kicking you, this is an obvious sign that the individual is out of control.  I have even heard of instances where an individual was choked by a partner until she agreed to his demands.  This behavior demonstrates clearly that the person is fully capable of further violence and potential escalating violence.  Steer clear would be my advice.

5)  Excessive jealousy.  This type of behavior would come in the form of a partner or person incessantly demanding to know where you have been, who you have been associating with, and making you account for your whereabouts even if you were just at your job working.  Behavior like this is indicative of a person's insecurity and potential possessiveness. 

6)  Controlling Behavior:  When a partner or significant other believes he/she should control your appearance and activities, it's time to rethink remaining in the relationship.  For instance, my ex-husband demanded that I not cut my hair short.  If I had it cut even a half inch of the bottom, he would ridicule me.  Similarly, he also removed the telephone in our home because he wanted me to have no way of interacting with my family or friends (this was during a time before cell phones).  It's just not acceptable behavior and it's a major red flag. 

7)  Quick Involvement:  When you meet someone and they want to marry you within two weeks or make a commitment after a short period of time when you haven't even had the opportunity to really get to know the person, I would rethink the relationship.  This is oftentimes a tactic to pressure a person to make a commitment to someone before they are ready.    If he/she can't wait till you are ready to make that kind of decision, you are most likely better off without that person in my opinion. 

8)  Unrealistic Expectations:  This is when a partner or significant other makes impossible demands of you such as keeping the house spotless, dinner must be ready on a specific schedule, or clothes and laundry must be done immediately and in a specific way.  For example, my ex-husband felt I should be able to buy all groceries for us for an entire week with just forty dollars.  Incredulous.

9)  A Jekyll & Hyde Personality:  When a person has frequent and volatile mood swings or explosiveness.  Anytime a partner or significant other begins demonstrating unusual highs and lows involving his/her moods, I always have my radar tuned.  We've all seen those relationships where one partner hits or beats another brutally and then leaves only to come home bearing flowers saying he/she is sorry.  In this kind of instance, I wouldn't walk, but rather run and get away from the person and the relationship.

10)  Isolation:  This is when a partner or significant other restricts your ability to go somewhere or see people.  It is usually done in order to diminish your support network as he/she is afraid someone in your life would recognize his/her isolating behaviors and advise you this is not healthy behavior.

11)  Grandiose Sense of Self:  This is when a partner thinks they are the best thing since sliced bread.  You should be thrilled they are paying attention to you.  The person wants you to believe you will never find anyone better than him or her.  In other words, a person who is a legend in his/her own mind.  Very arrogant and prizes his/her needs and wants over yours.

12)  Blaming Others:  This type of behavior is when a partner blames all his misery on you or other people.  It couldn't possibly be his/her fault.  Interestingly,  you will hear the abusive partner say after hitting you that he/she had to do it because it was your fault for making him/her mad.  If a partner can't accept responsibility for his/her own mistakes and misdeeds then as far as I'm concerned, he/she is definitely not ready for a potential long-term relationship.

13)  Hypersensitivity:  If a partner or significant other is easily insulted or easily insults others and thinks nothing of it.  It can also happen when a person flies into a rage of hostility over a failed test, a traffic ticket, or he/she did not get a raise at work.  In my experience, it can also be when a partner thinks he/she is always the smartest person in the room and doesn't hesitate to belittle others.

14)  Cruelty toward Animals or Children:  If a partner or significant other suddenly begins hitting or kicking a dog or cat or exhibits over the top hostility toward a child, it is a sign of an aggressive personality.  Any type of abuse like this is never tolerable and should be reported to the authorities immediately.  This type of behavior usually escalates and becomes worse.

15)  Rigid Male/Female Gender Roles:  If a partner displays an attitude whereby he/she believes their partner or significant other should be a servant or slave to him/her, it's definitely not a good sign in my book.  And no I do not think it is justified by the Bible.  The partner or significant other is just extremely stagnated in their views and highly misguided. 

That's it until my next post.

Grace (Amy)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Zero Tolerance For Domestic Violence/North Carolina Domestic Violence Statistics

Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings!  Well, I will proudly let you know that I have let the North Carolina School Superintendent know about my book Brave Soul Rising:  Tales From The Trenches of An Uncharmed Life as many readers as well as current and former teachers have asked me if I had brought the book to anyone's attention on our North Carolina Board Of Education.  The superintendent did respond to my email and assured me he would be taking a look at the book as it addresses real life circumstances of my first year teaching experience in an inner city middle school in North Carolina.  Sadly, other officials that I have contacted have not replied to my efforts to bring the book to their attention or at least they haven't as of April 6th 2017.  I will be doing my dead level best to get word out about the book to many school principals in North Carolina as well as local chapter leaders for The North Carolina Association Of Educators.

Today, I expressly wanted to say that many of you may have heard that Mel B. of The Spice Girls has gotten a restraining order against her husband due to incidents of domestic violence over the course of their ten year marriage.  Many folks already are aware I found myself in an abusive relationship at a young age, was married for five years, and finally had the courage to walk away from an unhealthy, toxic relationship.  It's not easy.  I know initially I felt scared witless, depressed, and ashamed that I did not leave the relationship sooner or recognize the signs of what many psychologists call a domestic violent personality.  At the same time I felt relief that I no longer had to deal with being  subjected to the living hell that comes with domestic violence.  I had no children with my former spouse so thankfully, once the divorce was finalized I no longer was subjected to contact with him.  The scars of domestic violence remain though and you have the long process of recovering and learning from what happened and how to avoid it in the future.  Out of curiosity I checked for North Carolina Domestic Violence Statistics For 2016 on The North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence website and realized this issue is still quite prevalent today and appears to straddle all socioeconomic boundaries.  Take a look at the statistics for 2016 regarding incidences of domestic violence in North Carolina:

North Carolina Domestic Violence Statistics For The Year 2016
( I calculated most of the information from The North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence website.  Remember, these are just reported cases.  Imagine how many more incidents occur weekly that are never reported.)

1)  There were 66 murders classified as domestic violent homicides in N.C. for the year of 2016.

   a)  Of those 66 murders, there were 18 cases in which a female was killed by a boyfriend.  The weapon most used in these cases included a firearm and knife.

  b)  There were 6 cases in which a female was killed by an ex-boyfriend.  The primary weapons used were firearms, knives, and strangulation.

  c)  There were 17 reported cases of wives being killed by a husband.  The weapons most used in these incidents again included firearms and knives.

  d)  There were a reported 8 cases in which husbands or boyfriends were killed by a wife or girlfriend.  The weapons primarily used included firearms.  Interestingly, there was also listed in this report that some deaths in these incidents were caused by unknown means.

  e)  There were 2 cases in which fathers killed their sons and the weapon used was a firearm.

  f)  There were 3 cases in which fathers killed a daughter or daughters mainly using a firearm and hammer.

  g)  We had 1 case in which a stepfather killed a stepdaughter utilizing both a firearm and knife as weapons.

  h)  North Carolina had 2 cases where a girlfriend killed a boyfriend by use of a firearm or knife.

  i)  There was 1 case in North Carolina in which a girlfriend killed her girlfriend and once again the weapon used in the incident was a firearm.

 j)  There were 7 North Carolina cases of male and female deceased victims who had no relation to the individual who committed a domestic violent murder.  These were individuals who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Of these 7 cases, 4 unrelated females were killed and 3 unrelated males were killed.

I don't know about you, but these are startling, horrific numbers to me.  It is an issue I also address in my book because I was abused physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially in my prior marriage.. Thank God I was able to remove myself from a volatile relationship and move forward with my life.  These numbers show many folks are not that lucky.  So in my next post I want to take time to go over the warning signs/symptoms exhibited by a potentially domestic violent individual because we all need to be aware of this issue as it may not touch you personally, but you may have someone in your family, an acquaintance, a close friend, or a colleague who is experiencing domestic violence.

Till my next post,


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Crunching The Numbers On Why North Carolina Has Difficulty Obtaining and Retaining Teachers

Dear Beloved Readers,

I've been making the rounds in North Carolina regarding my book Brave Soul Rising:  Tales From The Trenches of An Uncharmed Life and I am hearing from many teachers.  Some readers at my most recent book club presentation asked me if I had brought the book to the attention of our new North Carolina School Superintendent, Mark Johnson.  I can say to you that over this past weekend I did send an email to Mr. Johnson's office regarding my book and what he and other state legislators might learn about why so many North Carolina college students do not major in Education today nor do many of our North Carolina educators remain in their teaching positions.  Obviously, based on my book, it's not just about the pay/salary; however, that is a huge factor.  Let me break down starting teacher pay in North Carolina for you and mind you, this is not average teacher pay, this is STARTING pay:

Based on the North Carolina Teacher Salary Schedule for the 2016-2017 school year:

If you have a bachelor's degree in Education with zero years of experience, you can expect to start at a pay level of $35,000 a year.  If that's the only degree you have under your belt, according to my analysis of the 2016-2017 North Carolina Salary Schedule, you would have to teach for 25 years before you break through to the salary level of $51,000.

If you have a  bachelor's degree in Education and you also work three to six years to obtain National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification, you still would have to work 15 years before breaking $50,080 in salary.  Plus, according to what I am hearing from teachers, achieving this certification costs quite a bit.  I'm hearing this certification status now costs around $1900, and it involves additional research, planning, and evaluation beyond what you are already expected to handle on a daily basis as a teacher working in North Carolina schools.

If you have a Master's Degree in Education as I do, but you are just starting your first year of teaching in North Carolina, you can expect to earn $38,500 assuming that degree is all you have and you have no additional years of teaching experience.  With just these credentials, a teacher in our state would then have to work 20 years before breaking $52,800 in salary.  If you obtain that National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification at the same cost as estimated above and the same length of time, you still must work 11 years before breaking $50,020 in salary.

It just doesn't make economic sense to major in Education and then teach in North Carolina schools with these kind of paltry figures. I mean even The Progressive Blog notes that a North Carolina teacher with 30 years experience and National Board Certification will average a base salary of $57,120.  The National Education Association notes that the highest teacher salaries are in New York ($77.600); Washington D.C. ($75,500); and Massachusetts ($75,440).

Obviously, when your college peers are starting their careers at what you as a North Carolina teacher would make only after working 20 years, you are left feeling devalued and frankly, mortified. 

Till my next post,


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

$50,000 Salary Will Not Get This Former N.C. Teacher Back In A Classroom And Here's Why

Dear Lit Loves,

Well, it was interesting to note that our new N.C. State School Superintendent is conducting a "listening tour" for the next year to determine how to fix our public schools.  First, I can tell you that even if you started this former N.C. teacher at a beginning salary of $50,000 a year, I would not go back into a public school classroom and I know why North Carolina has a high teacher turnover rate as well as why so many teachers are disenfranchised with the profession.

For me it began with the lack of my personal property being safe.  During my first year of teaching, I had my car keyed and so did other teachers.  There was no lockable space inside my classroom in which to secure my personal belongings.   And even if I did lock my classroom, it could be accessed through an accordian-like folding panel that separated me and my team teacher's classrooms.  It didn't help that our classrooms had always previously been used as locker rooms and were still utilized as such during after-school activities.   No teacher wants to walk inside her classroom one morning and find her chalkboard or dry erase board littered with basketball and football plays.  Nor did I as a teacher like finding underwear, socks, candy wrappers, and empty soft drink cans all over my students' desks. 

And let me continue by saying that if you have a teacher who is going to be chronically absent and the administration cannot locate a willing substitute teacher for that classroom, I do not appreciate an administrator or another teacher suddenly appearing at my classroom door during my planning hour and instructing me I am to go "cover" a class where the teacher is absent and no sub is willing to commit to instruct the class.  If I don't have at least my teacher planning period each day to myself, it is highly likely I will not be able to prepare for my classes properly or maintain my sanity.

Mentoring of a new teacher by a veteran teacher who is getting paid extra for that specific duty should involve more than just showing up and evaluating a teacher's skills during a class period.  Other than when my teaching mentors walked inside my classroom for my scheduled/unscheduled evaluations during a given class period, I never heard from or was advised by any of my so-called "mentor" teachers.  If mentor teachers are not going to give advice, check-in emotionally with a new teacher, and give them the crucial support they need in their first three years of teaching, you have already contributed to an instructor becoming disenfranchised with teaching. 

And for heaven's sake could someone supervise students in the cafeteria so teachers can have twenty minutes to eat their lunch in peace.  Honestly, if a food fight breaks out or gangsters walk into the cafeteria during a given lunch period, trust me, it is better if a school resource officer or two administrators are there to handle the situation.  Also, if a teacher has a sudden emergency such as a health issue or urgent family problem, someone needs to relieve the teacher immediately and not two hours later when it is convenient for a sub, administrator, etc. to arrive and takeover classroom duties for that particular day.

Finally, the level of violence in many a public school today is completely out of hand.  I have seen two female middle school students duke it out like MMA fighters.  I have witnessed a student enter my classroom and walk up to me and ask for help while blood drips from his hand because he was stabbed in a bathroom during class change.  There was not even a first aid kit in the classroom during that particular instance in time and can you imagine trying to then conduct a literature class with a student's blood all over the floor, teacher podium, desks, and classroom door?!  And yes, I do think there need to be cameras in classrooms, hallways, school parking lots, the cafeteria, and gymnasium. 

So if anyone on The N.C. State Board of Education is listening or reading this post, take note.  And you could also read my book, Brave Soul Rising:  Tales From The Trenches of An Uncharmed Life, to begin to get a feel for what a first year teacher in North Carolina faces on a daily basis.  If you take the time to read the book, you should discover why teachers list "Other Reasons" when they resign and fill out a form inquiring as to why they are leaving the profession.   If you haven't lived the life of a teacher or walked in her/his shoes, you will simply be sitting in a conference room full of other regional school board directors and simply guessing as to why so many teachers today are not walking, but running from teaching in the public schools of North Carolina. 

Till My Next Post,

Monday, January 23, 2017


Dear Literary Loves,

Yes folks.  I wrote the book Brave Soul Rising:  Tales From The Trenches of An Uncharmed Life and it does provide a revealing insight into the plight of a first year teacher in North Carolina.  I found it interesting recently when I read an article in The Raleigh News & Observer that The North Carolina Board Of Education and its directors along with our newly-elected state education superintendent were puzzled as to why so many teachers are vacating their classroom positions in our state.  It is not that difficult to discover those reasons if you have ever been in the trenches of teaching, particularly in a volatile inner-city school as I was.  There were many occasions when I could have walked out and there were many times when I seriously considered taking classes to obtain a black belt in karate.  No lie.  Teaching in North Carolina or really in any publicly funded school is not for anyone who is shy, reluctant to speak up, or anyone who scares easily.  My book is available for purchase online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  I published the book as an e-book as well as a paperback.  It's not that expensive as this is my first serious opportunity to step in the publishing ring.  Don't let anyone ever tell you publishing is simple or easy either.  Herewith I am going to outline some of the more prevalent reasons I witnessed that explain why many North Carolina teachers are vacating our public schools. 

1)  When I was hired as a middle school teacher, it was after the first teacher that started the school year with my team of students had quit after the first week of classes.  I was informed by many at the school that she could not handle the students or maintain command and control of the classroom.  She lasted one week before she gave the principal her two week notice and the administration of the school had to quickly locate another seventh grade language arts and social studies teacher.  By the time I was hired for the position, the students had been through multiple substitute teachers and the math and science teacher on the team was trying to cover all four core subjects by herself.  I had to hit the ground running.  No orientation.  Just throw me in the frying pan and light the fire  It is absolutely crazy to ask anyone to do that but fortunately I had flown by the seat of my pants on more than one occasion over the course of my life so I didn't sink, I started to swim.

2)  In middle school at the start of my teaching career we operated in teams.  You might have one teacher for each core subject including math, science, language arts, and social studies or you might have one teacher covering math and science and another teacher covering language arts and social studies.  We teach the same group or team of students each day for an entire year.  How my team teacher ever covered all four core subjects for several weeks before I arrived I will never know.  She was just a gifted and dedicated lady.  She never should have been left in a situation like that for starters.  Even if an administrator had to pitch hit and cover the classes it would have been better than leaving one teacher covering all core subjects for a significant period of time.

3)  There was a definite lack of available and willing substitute teachers during my first year of teaching.  Many did not wish to cover classes at my school because the school had a reputation for loud often volatile and non-compliant students and a lack of timely disciplinary support by our school administrators who were overwhelmed with the abundance of student disciplinary reports by teachers.  A student might receive punishment for an offense some five days after it occurred.  By that time, the student had most likely forgotten what bad act he/she had committed.  That should not happen.  It doesn't make for a well-oiled machine or a smoothly structured school environment.  It frustrates teachers and it allows students to believe they can get away with almost any infraction.

4)  I waited until November of the school year to receive the proper number of social studies textbooks for each of my students.  I had students sharing social studies textbooks during class time and in order not to lose the books I did have, I had to restrict use of the textbooks to only being utilized during school hours.  This led to a whole lot of copy paper being used so students could have the material they needed to study.  No teacher should have to start a school year without enough textbooks for each of his/her students.  That is just a plain and simple fact.

5)  No one goes into the teaching profession to get rich.  Hell, my starting salary was somewhere around $23,600.  I actually laughed when I heard our former governor announcing during his re-election campaign that he helped get teacher salaries to $50,000 a year.  Say what?  No dice.  No one even today gets hired as a teacher and has a starting salary of $50,000 a year.  You might reach that after ten plus years of teaching, but it is a lie to say teachers have a beginning salary of $50,000 a year.  And I am not sure even if someone offered me $75,000 a year that I would return to teaching at a North Carolina public middle school.  Maybe at a college level I would consider returning to teaching at that salary, but that's about it. 

6)  As a teacher I never had any safe place in my classroom where I could secure my personal possessions unless I provided it.  And I did provide my own chain and lock to secure a cabinet in my classroom because the lock on the cabinet was broken and there was no lockable space in my teacher's desk.  Talk about feeling like a sitting duck.  Even middle and high school students are issued lockers with padlocks last time I checked.  So this lack of secure space came across as a diss to many a teacher including me.  How can I effectively teach if I am worried my purse, money, identification, and medication might be stolen? 

7)  There was a definite lack of proper new teacher mentoring.  I was assigned a veteran language arts teacher as a mentor.  The only time I ever saw her was when she came to evaluate my teaching efforts during one of my language arts or social studies classes.  Other than that, nothing.  I went and asked her permission on two occasions to observe her eighth grade language arts classes and permission was granted, but teaching mentors need to do more for new teachers than just show up for evaluations and then turn in a written evaluation of a new teacher.  Most new teachers I would think need weekly check-ins with a mentor teacher and certainly more guidance and support.  Now that I think back on it, I should have started a support group for beginning teachers just so we could share experiences and offer advice and consolation to one another. 

8)  Honestly, since I began my first year of teaching rather late in the school year, I had missed some of the important paperwork, announcements, bulletins, and meetings where a great deal of information was given.  So I had no idea about the seventh grade trip to the state fair until my team teacher informed me of it.  I didn't even know what a disciplinary form looked like and where to locate it when I encountered a problem with a student.  And I did not know the procedures for a school lockdown.  I had never encountered a school lockdown as a student nor had I been taught how to prepare for this type of incident in college. Many times I had to go looking for the information myself and thankfully I had a well-informed, veteran team teacher who was extremely generous and understanding.

9)  I had never witnessed a fight inside a classroom until I began my first year of teaching.  It  happened in the blink of an eye.  A seventh grade female picked up a chair and threw it across the room in the direction of a male who had been making fun of her.  The female student just snapped and I was left to defuse the situation.  Thank God for all my college psychology classes because no professor ever conducted a lesson on what to do if fights break out in your classroom or someone throws a chair across the classroom.  I once was covering another teacher's class when a student reported to class with a stab wound.  Fortunately, I had CPR training in high school so that's what I relied on during that circumstance along with hailing an administrator and calling 911.  To do this day I still do not know how I survived that first year of teaching except maybe relying on tenacity and determination not to fail.

10)  My first year teaching was spent conducting classes in a former locker room.  Yes, you read that correctly.  And my team teacher also taught in what was once a sports locker room.  We barely had enough room for ourselves, student desks and chairs, and students.  I had a small teacher desk, a cabinet, and one bookshelf where I kept the social studies textbooks.  And when track, basketball, football, and baseball seasons began we had to vacate our classrooms because the teams used those same classrooms as locker rooms.  I would come to school and find socks and underwear left in my classroom and drawings of various strategic plays on my chalkboard and overhead projector and dry erase board.  Insanity.  Once again it was another indirect way of making a teacher feel insignificant, unimportant, and for certain disrespected.  Who in any other career field would remain in a job facing these kinds of deficits and incredulous experiences?  Seriously. 

And if you want to know more about my first year of teaching and what is wrong with North Carolina public schools that gives rise to an abundant volume of teachers leaving the profession, please feel free to order and read carefully my book entitled Brave Soul Rising:  Tales From The Trenches of An Uncharmed Life.  It spells out why teachers are leaving North Carolina public schools in droves quite clearly.  And it also demonstrates how I survived and thrived during my first year of teaching in North Carolina as well.

Till my next post,