One reason I left teaching was the bureaucrats I faced daily. When a teacher tires of the classroom (and the best ones never seem to tire of working with kids daily) they climb up the bureaucratic totem pole, so to speak. And, many may be decent teachers, but are totally incompetent in management positions. It seems whenever there is a question or a concern rather than address it with teachers, a new position is created – with a bureaucrat in a position of authority. Many have been out of the classroom for ten, twenty or more years. They have no connection to the children themselves. So, you have teachers and parents screaming for additional resources and because of the recession schools are being forced to make drastic cuts. With science and math getting the most attention and funding it’s the arts that get squeezed the most. New books for a school? Get in line . . . maybe next year or the year after or never!!!
So, I felt the giveaway of 10,000 copies of Curse of the Shamra would be embraced. I was fully aware that before a bureaucrat could make a decision about accepting (or promoting the donation) any books, Curse of the Shamra would have to be evaluated to make sure it was appropriate. And, I agree with this totally. At Springs Ranch Elementary School in Colorado Springs I approached the principal three years ago. She read the book, felt it appropriate and then gave it to a teacher for her evaluation (no demands that the book be used; just a “We have this resource. Are you interested?”). The teacher also approved of the book and my program was initiated at that school. The icing on the cake is the principal and teacher wanted me to work with their classes again. There was no bureaucratic mumbo jumbo, no passing of the buck, no major delays. Two people checked the book out and I was invited to donate a class set and make myself available as a valuable resource.
But, that’s not the real world of bureaucrats. I sent a copy of the book (along with my desire to donate 10,000 copies) to President Obama and Michelle Obama. I assumed they would pass it along to whomever was appropriate. I never heard back (not even a form letter). And, when I contacted the White House I got the royal runaround. “No we can’t tell you if the book/letter was received.” “No we can’t switch you to someone who can help you.” “No, no, no!!!” As much as I support the President’s initiative to give back to the community I feel he’s created his own bureaucracy with each bureaucrat chasing his own tail and little getting done. I wanted to give back to the community and I was totally ignored.
I then contacted the U.S. Department of Education. An email was sent to start a dialogue. Months went by and not a word in return. I called and was told the email was probably in their spam folder. I wanted to tear my hair out. There had to be someone who checked spam folders to make sure that genuine requests got through. But, I took a deep breath and asked what could be done. “Fax your letter in.” So, I did and more months went by with no response (other than confirmation the letter was received). Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says all the right things, but he and his cronies are bureaucrats and I got nowhere in my attempt to give away free books to students to Title 1 schools at a time when cutbacks were rampant.
I contacted the Colorado Department of Education (am I a masochist or what?) and ran into the same brick wall. What did I ask of the person I spoke to? That he send an email or include in a newsletter one paragraph stating my desire to donate books to schools and classrooms. Each school could then make its own decision to accept my offer or not. I was first told by a spokesman that if I were Stephen King the books could be given away without a problem. Again, we’re talking about an economic climate where the ability to purchase classroom sets of books is almost impossible. He said he would speak to someone and that was it . . . for the moment (I’m nothing if not persistent and his blowing me off just wasn’t acceptable).
I had written an article about the role of females in adolescent fiction and it was picked up by 50 newspapers. At the very bottom there was a one line mention of the giveaway. That one line generated 300+ requests for the book from teachers, librarians, hospitals, religious groups, military support groups, homeless shelters and parents who homeschool their kids. So, I contacted this clown again telling him, I was no Stephen King, but there was a demand for the book. He thought the grassroots support wonderful, but it ended up being a Catch-22. If I had the grassroots support I didn’t need the Colorado Department of Education (Grrrr!!!). I told him that of the 300+ requests just one came from a Colorado school and since I now resided in Colorado it was my desire that more schools in the state have the opportunity to request copies. “Can I get just one paragraph in a newsletter that could be sent to principals and teachers?” His response. He had to speak to someone. One final call and he said there was nothing he could do (I wanted to ask him what the hell DID he do?) but he again promised he would speak to “someone” about my request. Needless to say I never heard back from him.
I could go on and on. I’ve contacted teachers’ unions, including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers where I had been a dues-paying member for my thirty years of teaching (and at one time I had been a building representative for the union). I knew these unions were full of bureaucrats (want to get out of the classroom and make MORE money than any teacher? Get a position with the local union. I kid you not.), but I was willing to bite the bullet. Even after promises were made I never heard back from them (just one paragraph on their website or newsletter stating my desire to donate books to schools and classrooms). My own union gave me the runaround for a good six months. I finally gave up on them.
I’ve contacted educational groups. One, with an on-line website said they couldn’t help because this year their focus was on “professional development” and there wasn’t space (for that one paragraph). Now, I’m an author and publisher and I’m no website expert, but unlike a printed newsletter you aren’t confined to say 8-pages on a website. There is no limitation to how much you can put in on-line newsletter. Was I asking for a full page? A long article? No, just one lousy paragraph – a short one, at that – making teachers aware of a free resource.
Through persistence I spoke to the principals at District 49 in Colorado Springs (where I live and where I had already given books to one classroom). The principals each received a copy of the book. I wrote to each one repeating my desire to donate class sets. One . . . just one out of twelve took me up on my offer. Did I mention that District 49 was (and still is) facing severe budget cutbacks? Did I mention my granddaughter’s school lost their Spanish teacher this past school year due to budget cuts and face deeper cuts for the 2011-2012 school year? Odd how with all of these budget cuts just one principal was interested in free class sets of a novel which had received a good deal of praise from educators. But, you see principals are bureaucrats with their focus on saving their jobs and that meant all many of them really cared about was improving scores on standardized tests, not educating their students.
This was becoming a Seinfeld episode and it would have been funny if it weren’t for the fact that bureaucrats were denying books to kids. And, instead of writing, which is my passion, I was spending my days spinning my wheels to . . . GIVE . . . BOOKS . . . AWAY!!!
The good news is with persistence I finally achieved success. The National Parent Teachers Association reviewed the book, felt it worthwhile and mentioned it in their newsletter. Results for copies of the books poured in. And NASTID (the National Title 1 Association—a private group that lends support to Title 1 schools) also ran a blurb and Title 1 schools came clamoring for copies of Curse of the Shamra. To date over 11,000 books have been donated . . . after a year of hard work.
So next time you are forced to deal with a bureaucrat turn tail and beat it like a bat out of hell. That, or you’ll be driven crazy.