Monday, April 27, 2009

Getting to the Head of the Class
(or How I Became a Teaching Author)

Posted by Carmela Martino

I didn't always want to be a writer.

First, I wanted to be a teacher. Silly as it may sound, that desire was inspired, in part, by a board game. Around age 8 or 9, I became addicted to "Go to the Head of the Class." I soon memorized all the answers. Of course, that meant no one would play it with me anymore. So we played school instead. Being a whiz at "Go to the Head of the Class" meant I usually got to stand at the chalkboard easel and be the teacher. I loved it!
My interest in writing didn't begin until around sixth or seventh grade. That's when I started keeping a journal and writing poetry. (Oh, how I wish I'd saved those journals!) I was published for the first time around age 16, when my seven-line poem, "My Sanctuary," appeared in Crystals in the Dark: An Anthology of Creative Writing from the Chicago Public Schools. (That I did save--you can see the cover at right.)

The thrill of seeing my writing--and my name!--in print inspired me to dream of being a professional writer. While still in high school, I had a few more poems published, and even an essay in a local newspaper.

But in college, I became more pragmatic. There weren't many teaching jobs available then, and I knew it would be tough to make a living as a writer. So I majored in Computer Science instead. (Lucky for me, I liked math and science, too.) I had no trouble finding a programming job after college. And I did very well. Too well. I worked long hours and was on call 24/7.

After 5 years, I burned out. I quit programming and took a job at a computer training company. There, I wrote training course materials: lessons, exams, and video and audio scripts. The new job soon rekindled my interest in creative writing. When my son was born, I decided to become a full-time mom and a part-time freelance writer.

I worked for a local paper for five years and also had pieces published in the Chicago Tribune and several national magazines. At the same time, I was reading regularly to my young son. I soon fell in love with children's books, especially picture books. That's when I decided to become a children's writer. I went back to school and completed an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. While there, I started writing a middle-grade novel called Rosa, Sola, which was eventually published by Candlewick Press.

When I held a copy of Rosa, Sola for the first time, I felt the same thrill I'd experienced at age 16 upon seeing "My Sanctuary" in print. Only this was WAY better, because my name was on the COVER!

My MFA degree yielded not only a published book, but also the credentials to be a real teacher. I began teaching writing classes for adults at a local college over ten years ago. Later, I added summer and after-school writing classes for children and teens at a nearby arts center. Now I also have the privilege of presenting writing workshops in schools and libraries.

I still love standing at a chalkboard (or whiteboard) in front of a class. The only difference is, I don't have all the answers anymore. But I am happy to share with my students what I have learned--and am still learning--about writing. I consider myself incredibly blessed to be able to combine two things I enjoy so much, teaching and writing, into a career as a Teaching Author.


Sara Latta said...

Great new blog, Carmela! I'll bookmark it and check in often.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Sara!