On the first day of school, when you’re a new kid, your heart doesn’t
stop pounding until just after lunch.
Unless of course your teacher emerges from the classroom door to greet
you out on the blacktop first thing in the morning... and your teacher is Ms. Rios.
And so it was not surprising that when the door pushed open and she first
appeared, there was an audible gasp from all the boys and girls in line. I thought, as I craned my neck to see around the other students jumping
up and down in front of me: "so… this is Ms. Rios!" --"First Impressions"
THE PROJECT: "Fighting for Ms. Rios"
I wrote "Fighting for Ms. Rios" to give students a voice. And to shine a light on the many extraordinary educators who are doing amazing things for children-- even in the current climate of public education where imagination, creativity and innate talent is freeze-dried into data from standardized scores.
If we really want to know how schools are working-- whether they are relevant and rigorous and meaningful for our kids-- we should ask them. Or better yet, we should see the world of public education through their eyes... once again.
Aiden is the fourth grade student who challenges us to do just that. He is thoughtful, articulate, irreverent, funny, observant, and highly gifted. He enjoys school but, like so many students, he resents the notion that learning can be standardized. After all, he is blessed with three talents that don't lend themselves to our current preoccupation with testing data: he is uncommonly perceptive about adults and their schools, he is a gifted writer, and by nature, he is a formidable fighter.
He is also blessed to have a first year teacher-- Ms. Rios-- who encourages him to write to his own muse. And so he does. He captures the entire school year in a series of nine journals that he ultimately names "Fighting for Ms. Rios."
The relationship between this young writer and his teacher is a reminder that teaching and learning is still a very human enterprise and that to revolutionize public education will require more than political initiatives-- it will demand a culture of caring, authentic relationships, and deep, deep customer empathy.
This is a fictional allegory that eschews theory and the ivory tower. It is its own genre-- and it doesn't fit in education's traditional publishing houses. College presses and textbook companies don't do fiction. Not like this. And it's just as well. It's the 21st century and Aiden would recommend self publishing anyway.
One thing that I have learned from 30 years as a teacher and administrator in our public schools, is that educators will buy books that speak to them. They may sit on their bookshelf until the summer comes, but they will eventually read everything that promises to be meaningful. "Fighting for Ms. Rios," will be meaningful.
But it will require more than traditional marketing channels to be fully circulated to the primary audience. It will require wide distribution in the places that educators go:
• National Education Conferences, (of which there are thousands every year. I know because I present at many of them!!!)
• Publications (like Education Week, Teacher Magazine, Education Leadership, Journal of Teacher Education, and The Journal of Higher Education)
• Web pages/and educator blogs
• Social media-- especially Twitter (for marketing purposes!)
• Direct district and university contacts across the United States
Each of these also attract consistent traffic from parents of school-aged children-- a critical secondary audience.
There is something delightfully subversive about the prospects of self-publishing and marketing. With the disappearance of more bookstores every day, large-scale publishers are no longer positioned to determine who has a voice and who doesn't! Kickstarter's advocacy for entrepreneurs and innovators is empowering, and empowerment is a primary theme in "Fighting For Ms. Rios."
Contributions generated through Kickstarter will ensure that Aiden's voice is heard and the daily discourse on how to improve public schools will be greatly enhanced.
THE MILAGRO TRILOGY
"Fighting For Ms. Rios" is the first in a series of three books that closely examine the entire K-12 public school experience. But Aiden's journey through the school system takes many turns, especially as he gets older.
In "Broken in the Middle," Aiden learns about the power of resiliency as he manages the most difficult life crisis a child can face. He is now in middle school, where the challenges of adolescence are difficult in the best of circumstances. He continues to develop the talents he's good at and confounds the adults who stay barely steps ahead of his spirit and creative intellect.
By his senior year in high school, Aiden has enjoyed four successful years at Black Rock Prep, where an on-site charter school offers one of the nations' most innovative instructional models. "Catching in a Crowd," chronicles his undefeated football team and the senior project that surpasses everything else in his writing portfolio!