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Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

01.23.14UPDATED: My Favorite Sentences. Or, How Editors Save Me From Myself

[Note: This morning I boldly typed out a message to the world when I thought my editors weren’t listening. But of course (you saw this coming) they were listening, and now I am in trouble. But it’s worse than that even. The editor who was listening was … my mom. Now I should say that my mom really is an editor, a fine one, who has been highly respected at that noble work for far longer than I have been an educator/writer/whatever I am. Plus, I don’t mean to slander her good name but she taught me to write, tirelessly editing those 5th grade book reports until they sang out the truth about The Outsiders in the complex narrative voice you now hear when you read Teach Like a Champion. Anyway here is the original post and then after you read it I will tell you why I am in trouble with the Editor-Who-Counts.]

My (maybe) most truthful sentences often get cut from my book manuscripts. Like with teaching, there’s never enough time and space for everything–but they are almost always my favorites. They tend to be a bit tongue-in-cheek and a little too honest. A good editor usually steps in and makes sure I don’t speak these aloud into the permanent record. But it’s early and I’m sitting at my desk in the pre-dawn dark and there are no editors here. So here’s a sentence that’s sure to get cut… in which I am trying to describe the psychological experience of standing in front of your room and gamely deciding to change your lesson plan mid-stream in response to data suggesting lack of student mastery:

“They look at you with a mix of wonderment and bemused fascination as you ponder your problem. Faintly you hear those little timers tick, tick, ticking away before their weaned-on-twitter-and-Instagram minds begin to wander.”

I know, it’s terribly cynical to think like that even for a moment about the wonderful incredible kids who populate our classrooms. But, really, who doesn’t think about how long you have before you lose them that when you’re stuck in the midst of a thorny lesson re-boot?

I bravely submit this sentence to my editors in faith that it will never see the light of published day.

Happy Thursday

[NOTE: So, first of all my math was bad and upon further analysis I now realize that my ‘sentence’ was in fact two sentences.  Worse, my mom says editor advised that the second sentence sounds too un-loving of children and that the sense of “let us all laugh wryly at the thought that sometimes pops into our heads in moment of duress because WE DON’T REALLY THINK THAT AND WE LOVE THE CHILDREN IN OUR CLASSROOMS, EVERY ONE, BUT WE ALSO SEE WITH RARE CLARITY THE COSTS AND CONSEQUENCES OF THE SOCIETY THEY LIVE IN AND IT IS TO THOSE COSTS AND CONSEQUENCES I NOW REFER” did not come through. “You sounded very negative about kids,” my mom  editor said. “The second sentence has to go.”  Therefore, please consult the revised text below.]

“They look at you with a mix of wonderment and bemused fascination as you ponder your problem. Faintly you hear a  timer tick, tick, ticking away.”

Thanks, Mom.


6 Responses to “UPDATED: My Favorite Sentences. Or, How Editors Save Me From Myself”

  1. penpenwrites
    January 23, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    couldn’t have said it better. wish the story i’m wrestling with now was as easy to fix.

    • Doug_Lemov
      January 23, 2014 at 9:24 pm

      Thank you. Also, I apologize because it was me who broke that fruit bowl in 1986. Playing ball in the house. Hope you can forgive me.

      • Ray Falconer
        January 24, 2014 at 10:01 am

        I am enjoying your blog Doug. Your post on Terracotta Warriors was comforting for a friend of mine. On his behalf, thanks for it.

        • Doug_Lemov
          January 24, 2014 at 4:50 pm

          Hi, Ray. Nice to hear from you. Glad the Terracotta warriors were effective psychological reinforcements. 🙂

  2. Anita Samuy
    March 26, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    I am truly laughing now, not at you, well I laughing at you and myself. My mother is not an editor but she still edits my facebook post… And like you, I am very appreciative of my mother.

    • Doug_Lemov
      March 26, 2014 at 9:40 pm

      Thanks, Anita. We could all do a lot worse than a mom who is willing to edit your facebook posts! For free, no less. 🙂

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