Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Proper Credentials

Years ago I lucked into what I thought was one of the cushiest jobs of all time. What happened was I called the Gifted/Talented department at the local school board to ask a question, and two days later I was working as a part-time Gifted/Talented teacher for the district. I wasn’t exactly qualified for the job. I didn’t have the gifted endorsement certification required by the state, and I had never worked with elementary-aged kids (unless you counted a stray Sunday school class). But I had taught high school English for six years. And I had come in contact with some gifted students along the way. I guess I must’ve wowed the person on the phone with my vibrant personality.

Anyway, I ended up teaching gifted students, learning along the way, how. A lot of it was instinctual. I know how to talk to kids (and truly, there’s not a huge difference between surly sixteen year olds and bouncing off the wall ten year olds when it comes to classroom discipline. You need a sense of humor. You show them you actually like being around kids. And most of the rest will fall into place.) It helped that I read a lot about gifted kids and their particular needs, and how those needs weren’t always being met in the regular classroom. Also, I had great mentors in the G/T department and in the schools where I worked, who gave me ideas and shared strategies. Over time I felt I was doing a pretty good job and if you’d asked me, I would’ve told you that I knew what I was doing and it didn’t really matter that I didn’t have the proper credentials.

But it did matter to the state. A few years into my teaching stint, someone pulled me aside and suggested strongly that I do what I needed to do to get my certification. I whined a little about this (only in my head) but promised to look into it. Turned out, it wasn’t too difficult. And most of it could be done online. Three courses and a practicum that I finagled the university into letting me do at the school where I worked. It took me a year to get those proper credentials. The funny thing was that I ended up being glad I did. And not just because it made me legitimate on paper (although that was part of it). I learned a few new and useful things about teaching gifted kids, but mostly I found that the courses I took reinforced what I was already doing. Which gave me a sense of confidence that I didn’t have before, so when I worked with teachers and administrators and parents, I could say with some authority that what I was doing was a proven strategy, and not just some random lesson I pulled out of thin air. I liked that—having some outward proof (even if it was only a piece of paper with my name on it and the word “certified”).

I think about all of this because even though I have much more experience writing than I ever had teaching, I realize that in the eyes of the world I don’t have the proper credentials. In others words, I don’t have a published book. Sure, I can tell you that I have written a bunch of manuscripts, many several times over. I have a degree in writing. I’ve attended writing conferences and read books on the craft of writing and read probably a thousand more books, not just because I love to read but also because I’m interested in how books are put together. I feel like I do a pretty good job. I know what I’m doing.

But do I? Really? If I don’t have that book cover with my name on it?


It's too bad because I’d love to teach writing lessons at schools. Or go to conferences as a presenter and share with writers just starting out about the creative process and revision. If nothing else I could talk about writing for the sake of writing, since that seems to be as far as I’m ever going to go with it. I can picture the possible session topics:

Following a Dream or Chasing A Delusion: How to Write in the Face of Rejection

You Thought You Were on the Verge of Publication, but HAHA, You Were So Naive Back Then Weren’t You

Sitting Down and Writing 2000 Words a Day Even Though You Know No One Will Ever Read Said Words

The truth is no one really wants to hear a non-published writer give a talk about writing. There are stories about writers who have been slaving along for years, who’ve been rejected a million times before they finally hit it big. Those are the writers people want to hear. The years slaving and collection of rejections sound so much better in retrospect, after the book is published.

Still. It does seem a shame that all of my hard earned experience and knowledge is going to waste. Oh well. There’s always this blog.

That, and knowing that now I really do have the cushiest job of all time—sitting around in my pajamas all day writing.


  1. Jody, from the brief view of the teaching I saw you do, I'd say that *you* were a gifted and talented teacher. And from what I've read of your writing, I'd say the same about your talent in that area. I can't add anything new to what you've already heard (Keep plugging! Learn from rejections! etc.) so I'll refrain, but I keep all my digits firmly crossed that someday a wonderful editor will recognize what you have to offer!

  2. Thank you, Tracy. I think of you as one of my mentors--your kind words over the years have kept me going!