Book: Adequate Yearly Progress
Photo Courtesy of roxannaelden.com
Author: Roxanna Elden
"Roxanna Elden combines eleven years of experience as a public school teacher with a decade of speaking about education issues. Her first book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, is a staple in school districts and educator training programs throughout the country. Her recently released workplace novel, Adequate Yearly Progress, follows several teachers at an urban high school as their professional lives impact their personal lives and vice versa. (Like “The Office,” but set in an urban high school)."
1. How did this book come about?
The project started during National Novel Writing Month. That’s a challenge where participants write the first words of a novel on the first day of November and try to complete a 50,000-word draft by the end of the month.
For years, I'd managed to bribe a handful of high schoolers to participate, promising them extra credit and pizza parties. Then, one year, one of them said, "How about you, Ms. Elden? Are you going to take on the challenge?" There is probably no better way to get a teacher to write a novel.
2. What do you hope readers get from Adequate Yearly Progress: A Novel?
My goal was to write a page-turning story that anyone would enjoy, but it was also important that the details rang true to actual teachers.
I’m the type of person who will talk out loud to the TV during classroom scenes in movies and say things like, “I don’t think a student would RAISE HIS HAND to say that line!” Or, “Really? Everyone did the assignment? Everyone?”
The Hollywood version of the teacher story, where one self-sacrificing hero battles her terrible colleagues to save the kids, is too easy.
Real-life teaching raises much more complex questions, and the characters aren’t so easily cast as heroes and villains
3. What are some changes you wish to see in the educational system?
Actually, I hope this will become a book people read before they try to offer a quick fix for the education system.
So many people have strong opinions about this topic. Often, however, they are choosing between two competing sound bites without having a real sense of how these ideas play out.
The book is my attempt to show all the dominoes of these different ideas and how they knock into one another at the school level.
4. Your book is very relatable for teachers. Do these stories come from lived experiences?
Many of the initial sparks of ideas came from experiences during the school day. There are some observations that can only come from sitting through a test-prep pep rally, or seeing how students react when a giant cockroach crawls through the classroom.
Over the course of several years, I would jot down thoughts on sticky notes or email them to myself during lunch. Then, on the weekends, when I sat down to work on the book, I’d think about how those new ingredients might fit into the recipe.
5. How important was it for you to have a humorous undertone for such an important topic?
Many of the scenes that people said made them laugh out loud were those that captured emotionally true moments.
Rarely did I write a line with the intention of making someone laugh, but I was always aiming for that emotional honesty.
6. How much do you think the “other stuff” that’s not academic affects the overall learning environment for students?
“Other stuff” affects the way we process every interaction, including learning. This is true not just for students, but teachers, which was something I hoped the book would capture.
What does it mean for a teacher when that culturally relevant lesson she planned goes off the rails? What happens when a student says something that pushes the same emotional buttons as a teacher’s recent breakup?
And what interpersonal drama might be happening among the teachers sitting in that back-to-school meeting while a presenter is reading an inspirational story off a PowerPoint slide.
7. In your opinion, what are the best ways to self-educate in 2019?
There’s a line hidden in the novel that says, “Every book is a self-help book if you read it the right way.” That line has been pretty autobiographical for me.
There is always a book next to my bed and an audiobook ready to play from my phone, and often these are answers to some type of larger question I’m trying to answer – whether about writing or life.
8. What was your writing process like for this book? And what is the best advice you’ve received on getting through writer’s block?
The best thing about the built-in timeline of National Novel Writing Month was that it left no time for writer’s block. When it came time to revise, it turned out the same approach was still helpful.
Each of about thirty rounds of revision started with a short-term deadline on the calendar.
It’s overwhelming to think, “several years from now, I want a finished, 300-page novel.” It’s much more manageable to think, “I want to input changes on these two chapters by the end of the week.”
9. What is the best advice you have ever received on happiness?
That it’s caused by chemical reactions in your brain. The happiness you get from really wanting, and then eating a bag of candy is not as meaningful as the happiness of accomplishing a larger goal.
And the happiness that comes from pursuing an accomplishment is not the same feeling that comes from spending time with people you care about.
It’s important not to confuse one with the other, and to pursue more meaningful kinds of happiness as often as possible. Still, though, I still really love candy.
10. Do you plan on writing more books in the future?
I’m currently banging out a first draft that’s meant be done by April 1. It’s pretty terrible right now. Hopefully, following the advice above will eventually make it into something I’m proud to share with the world.
And if I get stuck, maybe I’ll reread this Q&A so I can remember the advice I shared when I was feeling more confident.
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