First confession, I never set out to be a teacher. I wanted to be an investigative reporter. My advisor scolded me. “Journalism is competitive. You’ll have zero chance of being hired right out of college. You’re a single parent. Be a special education teacher. You’ll always have a job.”
I was still dong what I was told, so I changed my major and student taught in a special education classroom. From the moment I walked through the door, I knew I’d found my tribe.
Second confession, this is not the book I set out to write. That one is buried inside a folder inside another folder on a different computer because this one would not let me alone. For thirty-four years I faced off with stonewall bureaucracies, riddled with the politics of blame, and struggled under the limitations of time and energy. What kept me going year after year were the kids—their anguished and ecstatic joys, their complex humanity. So when I retired to write, it was still the kids. Their voices sang in my head, “Write about schools. Write about me.” Their thoughts rang in my heart, “Tell what really happens.”
Doubts fractured my resolve. How could I write what I know about school without damaging the very things I love? Fiction? Wouldn’t that sound fake? And why should anyone care about my experiences? The voices grew louder. “We’ll help. We’ll help.” A meerkat boy appeared. “Remember Horton?” Meerkat Boy asked. “He was only one person and ‘A person is a person, no matter how small.’” Trevor was “born.” Jeremiah jabbed his finger at me. Heliodoro smiled. Rosa rocked. And, one by one, the rest of the kids moved into my den.
I put my fingers on the keyboard.
Though Naked Teaching: A Love Story takes place in a small fictional town in Arizona, the characters and events ring true across all socio economic and geographic landscapes because it’s about people—their hopes, their battles and their undying spirit. I wrote it to celebrate the failures and triumphs necessary to the children of every age I’ve known. I wrote it to validate the sacrifices millions of teachers make every hour of every day. I wrote it to honor the parents who love their children because I believe all parents love their children and want bright futures for them. I dedicate it to those who are retired like me, those whose students have grown old themselves, and to teachers still rising to the challenge every day while I sit at home and write. Every morning I ask the children to stay with me till all their stories are told.
This is the book I wish I’d read before I decided to be a teacher. It wouldn’t have changed my mind but it would have sliced through the fog surrounding what I was getting into and given me the dignity of knowing how hard it would be. Its honesty would have sustained me more than pedagogy, theoretical underpinnings or any of the popular myths about the nobility of a teaching career.
Naked Teaching is a work of fiction with the soul of reality. As Chief Broom says in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, “… it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.”