Tag Archive for Teaching in the 21st Century

Fan Mail Wednesday #113: Skype & Teaching in the 21st Century

Preamble: My friend, talented author/illustrator Matt McElligott, is a frequent presenter at schools. I saw him when he came to my local elementary school and he was spectacular. A total pro, funny, informative, and kind. For info on his author visits, read this. See what I mean about being a pro? He makes me feel like a dirtbag, a rank amateur getting by on shaggy charm. I learn things from Matt every time we speak (twice a year if I’m lucky).

The Point: Matt recently told a good story. A few days after a visit, a librarian called Matt to convey a conversation she had just had with the mother of a young child in the school.

The Joke: The girl came home and said, “Mom, guess what!? We had an author visit our school . . . AND HE WAS ALIVE!”

Maybe you’d find that funnier if, like me, you’d been introduced as a “real, live” author dozens of times over the years. Or maybe you find it hysterical already. I don’t know how you feel. What am I? A mind-reader??!! So just . . . BACK UP, PEOPLE. BACK — IT — UP!

Ah, so. This morning I did a couple of Skype visits. I’m relatively new to Skype and still figuring it out. It’s like we’re in the first few dates of our relationship, where I’m still dressing nice and pretending that hey, no, I actually love Julia Roberts movies. The first visit this AM was with an 8th-grade class from Duxbury, MA. They had all read Bystander as part of an anti-bullying initiative and had a lot of insightful questions. It was a cool way to connect directly with readers without putting on socks and shoes. And come to think of it, that might be the right word for it: Skyping is cool.

I got the nicest note shortly thereafter . . .

Dear James,

Thank you so much for the skype session this morning. It was a great experience for me and for my students to virtually talk to a real author. We all found your answers interesting and personal. The kids said they were surprised that you were “so normal and such a regular guy.” You were so personable, honest and down to earth with them. A few students wanted to ask some other questions and I said maybe they could send you an email sometime??? It was such a great example to the kids about teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Thanks again, Martha.

I replied:

The invoice is in the mail. Please remit within 30 days.

No, kidding!

I actually replied:

Thanks, Martha. When I first started author visits, back in the way back, I was a little uncomfortable with the star treatment. Sometimes I’d get put on a pedestal, the famous author! Well, that wasn’t me; I couldn’t live up to it. I soon realized that if I had anything of value to share, maybe that was it — that I was a (relatively) normal, average, everyday guy who happened to write books for a living. I was no more special than the neighborhood architect, doctor, midwife, lawyer, or . . . um, wait, actually I am more special than lawyers. But anyway!

The Irish have an expression, “Flowers for the living.” (Meaning: You don’t have to wait until someone dies to say something nice about them.) I appreciate your kind words. And I had a good time visiting with your bright, lively students. I’d be happy to answer their email.

My best,



NOTE: I realize that I’ve been bad, bad, bad when it comes to Fan Mail Wednesday. I’ve got a huge backlog and I’m seriously in trouble. I’m going to start digging out asap. I mean it.

This Week’s Greatest Thing Ever: Around the Horn

Just thought I’d share some recent enthusiasms:

* Greg Ruth, illustrator of A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade, is selling and autographing and shipping copies of the book. Pretty sure he’s licking the stamps, too.

* I have to say it: Maggie with her summer freckles is a hoot in her new hat.

* Maria is a teacher I met on a school visit to Ohio. With more than 20 years of teaching as her guide, she recently took the plunge and started a new blog, Teaching in the 21st Century. Be sure to bookmark it. She’s everything a veteran teacher should be — still learning, still open, still eager to meet new challenges.

* Is Joe Posnanski the best baseball writer on the planet? Maybe.

* Every once in a while, a blogger steps out of his comfort zone to get real — and hits one out of the park. Nicely done, Bill.

* Speaking of fathers and their children, congratulations to Kurtis Scaletta, proud papa. This is a writer who should be on everybody’s radar. The author of Mudville and Mamba Point, he’s just beginning to let his freak flag fly. I can’t wait for what’s next.

* For my money, Arcade Fire’s new disk, “The Suburbs,” sounds like the best of 2010. Check out this innovative, interactive new video, where you need to “enter the address of the home where you grew up” for full effect. Mind-blowing.

* A short discussion guide for Bystander is now available as a FREE PDF DOWNLOAD. Scroll down and you’ll find it.

* Can’t explain exactly why, but I got choked up by this “Pink Glove Dance” video — a joyful dance to promote breast cancer awareness. Seriously, just tears rolling down my face. I think maybe it’s accumulation — all those talented, caring people dedicated to saving lives, making a difference, showing such zest for life, for making the broken whole again.

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