Friday, April 3, 2015

Interview with memoirist M. Shannon Hernandez

Today’s special guest is M. Shannon Hernandez. She’s chatting a bit about her memoir, Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher.

She's touring her book with WOW - Women on Writing and this is just one of several tour stops.

M. Shannon Hernandez is the founder of The Writing Whisperer, and her mission is to help heart-centered business owners and heart-centered authors find their brand voices, share their unique stories, gain more visibility, establish themselves as experts, and create authentic marketing messages, all through the use of smart content strategy and engaging copywriting. The Writing Whisperer was named one of Top 100 Websites for Writers by The Write Life in both 2014 and 2015. Shannon continues to inspire others as a content strategist and copywriter through her blog, guest blogs, and podcast appearances. In addition to business writing, Shannon writes passionately about heart-centered education reform and is a regular contributor to the The Huffington Post. Shannon’s memoir, Breaking the Silence, chronicles her exit out of public education, after 15 years, and her podcast, Transforming Public Education is a voice for educators and a cry for student-centered education reform. Above all, Shannon’s readers always get an intimate view of her journey to business ownership, her path to finding happiness, and a close-up of her reinvention.

Welcome, Shannon. Please tell us about your current release.
Americas public school system is broken and I know why, firsthand. After fifteen years in the teaching profession, three gut-wrenching realizations forced me to recognize that I must leave the career I loved so dearly. I knew that if I continued to work for a failing system, I would also continue to lose a little piece of my heart and soul every day.

I invite you into my classroom for the final forty days of my teaching career to understand the urgent need for school reform, clearly demonstrated in each story. Youll witness the intelligence, vulnerability, and humanity of my students, and the challenges teachers face as they navigate the dangerous waters between advocating for and meeting studentsneeds, and disconnected education policy.

This book is not only a love letter to my students, my fellow teachers, and to the reformed public school system I envisions, but also a heartfelt message of hope, encouragement, and self-empowerment for those who feel they are stuck in soul-sucking careers. It is an essential read for each citizen who is seeking a life comprised of more purpose and happiness, as well as parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers who know our nations education system is in desperate need of an overhaul.

What inspired you to write this book?
During the final forty days of my exit out of public education, my principal reported me for hugging a group of students—much like a sport’s team huddle—and I was brought up on sexual misconduct charges. It took every ounce of wind out of me, made me sick to my stomach, and really pissed me off. That event was the only catalyst I needed to write the story of the absence of love, compassion, and gratitude in public schools today.


A Visitor in Room 719
Something crazy happens today. From the front of the classroom, all is quiet and going well. The students are engaged in the lesson and I can see their cogs turning while they process our class discussion. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, Levon screams, jumps up, grabs his backpack off the floor, and runs to the back of the room. Instinctively, other students also scream, bolt out of their seats, and take off in various directions. Before I know it, some of my eighth graders are out in the hallway, peeking through a crack in the door, trying to figure out what is going on. A few are perched on the tables.
I realize then what has happened: This is a city childs reaction to a bug or mouse scurrying across the floor. Ive seen this before and know what to do this time.
I instruct everyone in the room to take a deep breath. I allow the kids in the hallway to stay there for the time being, where they feel safe. (Why move them back into the classroom? I have enough to deal with!) I ask everyone to pick up their bags and put them on the tables: If I can clear the floor, this process will go much smoother and faster. Then I instruct everyone to curl their legs into their bodies and rest their feet on their chairs. We all take a few more deep breaths together.
“Levon, what happened?” I ask as I walk towards him. He is standing on a chair at this point.
Im trying not to die of laughter, managing to remain professional and caring.
“A huge-ass bug just walked across my shoe! It violated me!” he screams. The class bursts into giggles—theyre not laughing at him, but with him. Most of them would have reacted the same way.
“Where did it go, Levon, which direction?”
He points toward the wall on the left, so I walk over to investigate. I finally see it—a gigantic water bug, about three inches in length, with a crunchy outer shell and spindly legs. Its black and blends in perfectly with the linoleum floors.
I simply say, “Oh yes. That, my friend, is a water bug.”
But my students react as if I had said, “Its a Tyrannosaurus Rex!” because the three closest boys jump up and freak out. Two take off across the room. Jason makes a quick escape to a nearby chair and throws his pencil at the bug, causing it to scurry closer to a group of girls. They freak out, curl up tighter, squeeze their eyes shut, and moan loudly.
“Jason, that wasnt a bright idea. Please dont throw objects at living things,” I remind.
The bug is moving closer to Matt, who springs out of his seat and tries to stab it with a chair leg. As you can imagine, this doesnt work either, and now the bug is on the move. I am trying to close in on the water bug myself, but every time I get near it, I hear a squeal from across the room or another student makes a clean getaway into the hall. I make a quick assessment: Five students are in the hallway, seven are perched on tables or chairs, and the rest are curled tightly into little balls.
Then, out of nowhere, Valerie stomps across the room, voice booming, “Whats wrong with you boys? Step on it!” And in a matter of twenty seconds, she has followed the bugs trail, moved a bookcase, and stomped it dead. The class erupts into applause, lauding Valerie as the hero who saved everyone in Room 719.
I check the clock. The bell will ring in five minutes, too late to continue with todays lesson. I get everyone back into their seats and try to explain that we have nothing to fear from bugs and mice because were so much larger and to try to remember that for the next time. I know my attempt is falling on deaf ears, as city kids have a difficult time coping with nature in general. I took them on a picnic to the park once...but thats a story for another time.

What exciting story are you working on next?
Ha! I’m committed to marketing this book and doing it properly. I have had an outpouring of support in just 8 months, which has fueled my podcast entitled Transforming Public Education: Creating REAL Reform Through Compassion, Love, and Gratitude. I am committed to giving teachers a voice in education reform—because we shouldn’t be left out from the discussions. We are the very professionals who know what is happening in public schools. The goal of the podcast? To give teachers, parents, administrators, and students a voice—and to help transform schools into places where students and teachers can’t wait to get their days started.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I believe it would have to be about age seven. I couldn’t get enough pink and purple journals in my life. I would fill them with words, pictures, and then padlock them under my bed so my little sister didn’t read my secrets!

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I do write full-time—and I would have never imagined that 2.5 years ago! I am a copywriter and content writer, so most of my days are spent making other people’s ideas come to life, so they can be more successful in their businesses. I generally get up around 6AM, do yoga, meditation, and journaling, and then have a long, leisurely breakfast with my cat, Shakti, and my husband, Michael, before I start writing for the day. I am also training for the NYC Marathon this year, so I’ll be spending lots of time in running shoes, running the streets and bridges of Brooklyn.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I can’t write with any noise whatsoever! Radio or music, forget it. People talking in the next room over, no way! Coffee shop writing—oh no! So, this means I spend lots of time in complete silence, in my office, typing away.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a teacher. It was my lifelong dream, and even though I have left public education, I am still teaching lots of people all kinds of stuff, day in and day out.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I am looking to add “travel writer” to my skill lineup! I now have the ability to travel all over the world, stay in fascinating places, and continue to work while I play. I’ve been testing these ideas out. My husband and I just returned from a week at an ashram in the Bahamas, and I chronicled that trip here. I’m looking forward to honing my travel writing skills this year!


Thanks, Shannon!

1 comment:

Renee Roberson said...

Thank you for hosting Shannon, Lisa!