What Do Writers Make? If We’re Lucky, The Same As Teachers: A Difference

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! And please be patient…I’ll get to the teacher part of this post by the end. But first…

I’ve discovered a new identity in my post-teaching career: community pro bono writer. What began five years ago as a monthly gig, writing the Spotlight on Lopezians for our lil’ paper, has morphed into being the on-call writer for a large portion of the non-profit groups and events on our island.

For example, in the past year+ I’ve written articles for:

  • Earth Day celebrations
  • a rock concert to benefit our school
  • a presentation on Cuba
  • a concert to benefit our local radio station–no, make that two different concerts for KLOI
  • a presentation on fighting climate change
  • the Home Tour, which benefits our community center
  • a brand-new business (OK, this one wasn’t non-profit, but the article was a feature, not an ad)
  • a community kitchen
  • the winner of the community Spirit Award
  • the Dump
  • the dedication of a plaque honoring the founding of our community garden/Farmers’ Market space

All this while maintaining my pace of 10 Spotlight features/year…and oh, by the way, writing my novel.

And none of this has earned me a dime.

I know some champions of writers, most notably Kristen Lamb, who rail against writers giving their stuff away for free. I appreciate hugely this lobbying effort. But do I feel like a turncoat or a wuss for agreeing to write for nothing?

No, I do not–for several reasons. When I said I haven’t earned a dime, that doesn’t mean I haven’t earned anything. Here’s what I’ve earned:

#1, Boldness. No one tricked me into this. The Spotlight articles paid 10 cents a word up until I took on the “job,” but the paper’s editor informed me up front that they were losing revenue and could no longer afford even that minimal $80 fee. I could take the gig or leave it. And I took it because…

#2, Publicity. My articles have created a much larger audience for me than if I had relied only on the few dozen locals who’ve read my books. So when Book #3 comes out, or if/when I apply for a position where writing counts, my work not only speaks for itself, it speaks to everybody here.

#3, Friends. My articles have been a great doorway to meeting new people and learning their back story.

#4, Warm Fuzzies. Pro bono writing for good causes feels good. I struggle sometimes to fit in all the community involvement I feel called to. Driving places, phone-calling…those are harder for me. But writing? Easy as pie–and keep in mind, I’m really good at pie.

All of which brings me back to teachers. All teachers eventually get sent this wonderful spoken word piece by (former) teacher Taylor Mali, “What Teachers Make.” It used to speak to me as a teacher. Now, I’m finding that it speaks to me as a writer as well.

So I’ll say it again: Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. If my little articles can make a portion of the difference I once made in people’s lives as a teacher…I’ll take that proudly.

Back in the Classroom Again, Minus the Essays–What’s Not to Like?

It’s been nearly four years. At any hour between 7:45 and 2:15 I can still tell you exactly what period it is at my old high school, Franklin Pierce, Home of the Cardinals. This week is AP testing (as was last, which was also state testing for all ages in Washington). My former colleagues, and the younger siblings and–yikes!–high school-age children of my long-ago former students, are stressed to the max.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, everyone. I no longer include myself in that comment.

Except when I do.

Next week, as part of my promotion of my new YA novel, The Flying Burgowski, I am meeting with several 9th grade English classes at Anacortes High School. Anacortes is the closest mainland town to our little island, its high school many times the size of ours. I may get to spend my day with over 100 kids–just like I used to, day after day. Just like most high school and middle school teachers do.


I am PUMPED. Yes, I’m going to read a chapter, just as I will have done the night before at Village Books in Bellingham, but the high school event won’t just be another boring author reading/Q & A/book signing. (Note to self: don’t ever sound jaded about such an extraordinary privilege.) Nope–I’m still a teacher, turns out, and I’m going to engage the heck out of those kids. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that butcher paper, markers, shiny stickers, and movement around the classroom are involved.

But no essays to grade! I feel like the grandma, picking the kids up for a fun day at the zoo, then dropping ’em back off with their exhausted parents. (Okay, OKAY, I know an author coming to one’s class does not exactly = a day at the zoo. Well, maybe one of those tiny, small-town zoos with, like, a bunch of pygmy goats and one sad wallaby.)

Yes, I can hear a question begging. “Gretchen, if you love teaching so much, and there’s a school on your island, why not…? You know. At least you could be a sub!”

Here, in sped-up form, is the scenario I envision should I step back through those doors with lesson plans and tea mug in hand: 

  1.  I start subbing.
  2. Since subs are so few, I sub every single day.
  3. Pretty soon, this test is posed:

A) A full-time position opens.

B) Some students and/or parents, who have become my fans, start begging me to apply.

C) Looking at the plans of the teacher(s) I’m called to sub for, I start believing I could do it better.

D) All of the above.

4. Result: there goes my new career as a writer/baker/singer-songwriter. I know myself, and the teaching profession, too well. It is WAY MORE THAN A FULL-TIME JOB. If I want to be true to my commitment to my own creativity now, I have to keep my distance.

But next week, I’m still gonna enjoy the heck out of my day at school.


In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week (a week late, but when is appreciation ever misplaced?), would you guys please chime in with some teacher-stories of your own? Or thoughts about what REAL teacher appreciation might look like?