“I want to see more of you in this book.”
That’s what my editor Wes said to me when we were going over an early draft of A Whole New Ballgame, and as soon as he said those ten words, my ever-present hovering light bulb switched on. At that moment, I knew I needed to head in a whole new direction. But I also knew I’d found my focus.
The character of Mr. Acevedo is a first year teacher. Room 208 is his first ever classroom. Like most (if not all) new teachers, Mr. Acevedo is filled with ideas and energy, fueled in part by naiveté and idealism.
I taught middle school in the New York City public schools for eleven years. In 1994, when I started teaching at C.S. 6 in the Tremont section of the Bronx, I was that teacher.
So when Wes said, “I want to see more of you in this book,” I knew I could make that character. But I couldn’t make the character all me. That was too convenient. It would also be a little weird.
Still, I did include many of my personal classroom experiences. I read to my students every day. We held meetings each morning on the rug. Sometimes we had class on the playground. Often, I wore the same jeans all week. I had hoops and studs in my ears (the tattoos came later).
I included some of my school visit experiences, too. For instance, during my author visits, I always talk about the importance of details in writing. On page 64, when Mr. Acevedo is discussing details during writers’ workshop, he uses my language.
When I visit schools, I try to talk to teachers and visit classrooms. I want to experience – or at least get a taste of — what’s happening. I want to see Mr. Kirkland’s class use Twitter and social media to make text-to-real-world connections. I want to see Mr. Sinanis’ school use the TouchCast app to share their work with the community and promote the school brand. I want to see Ms. Rekate’s class use Star Wars clips to learn about character growth and development.
I included best practices such as these in A Whole New Ballgame. Not these specifically, but ones inspired by them. I wanted Mr. Acevedo’s class to acknowledge and celebrate the type of work teachers do every day.
Still, I couldn’t make Mr. Acevedo too perfect. He’s a first-year teacher. You go in knowing far less than you thought you did. Yes, he gets many things right, but he doesn’t get everything right. From time to time, I wanted him to try and fail because that’s when real learning takes place.
That’s how I approached Mr. Acevedo’s interactions with Red.
A new teacher like Mr. Acevedo has probably only had limited interactions with a child on the spectrum, and he’s certainly never been responsible for one in his own classroom. So he’s learning on the fly. That’s something we often lose sight of. Teachers are learners, too. They don’t always get everything right.
Just like that’s okay for kids, it’s okay for teachers, too. It’s how we grow. It’s how we get better.
That’s who Mr. Acevedo is.