A Q&A with Jeremy and Troy!
1) What inspired you to become an educator?
Jeremy: When I was in elementary school I felt there were certain teachers who weren’t the best role models for me. On the other hand, there were teachers who went the extra mile and worked really hard to be much more than a teacher. The combination had me thinking very early on that I wanted be a positive influence for students and be like the teachers I encountered who genuinely cared about me as an individual, not just because I was a good student or an athlete.
Troy: In high school, I spent a good deal of time volunteering in after-school programs for elementary students, especially Odyssey of the Mind, and I appreciated the ways that we could think critically and creatively about different problems. Also, in college, I recognized that my passion for writing could carry over into opportunities for working with my peers as a writing center tutor. Along with many teachers who mentored me, these experiences opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in education.
2) What motivated you to write Create, Compose, Connect!?
Jeremy: There are two things that motivated me to share with teachers. First, it is my fellow colleagues who dig in every single day working towards making students better everyday. I wanted to share something with them that is simple and useful. Second, Troy Hicks and the Chippewa River Writing Project (CRWP) helped reignite a fire within me that I thought was gone. If it wasn’t for the summer institute and the mentorship provided by Troy and CRWP, I wouldn’t have been able to complete the task of co-authoring this book
Troy: For me, I can put it in one word: Jeremy. We had known each other for about two years, and were just forming a writing group with two other teachers. I knew that Jeremy had some ideas about the Common Core, technology, and engaging students, all of which he wanted to share. One thing led to another, then a book proposal emerged, and our conversations then led into sections, chapters, and an entire book. I thank Jeremy for inviting me into his thinking and teaching, and have appreciated the opportunity to write with him.
3) What is the most important thing you would like readers to take away from your book?
Jeremy: My hope is that no matter where a reader may be at with the implementation of technology, that they feel comfortable to try at least one idea. In addition, remember to always ask the question why. Why am I using this tool in my classroom? If readers can ask themselves that one question they aren’t just using technology for technology sake.
Troy: Technology is, indeed, just a tool. As the teacher in the classroom, you have the knowledge and experience as a reader and writer, as a creative thinker, and as someone who can help students develop their own ideas. Teaching with technology means that we are teachers first, helping push students to deeper thinking. We are tech users second, and that is where our students can sometimes help us. So, trust your instincts, and your students, and you will be integrating technology in no time.
4) If you had to choose 5 words to define your writing process, which would you choose?
Listen, discuss, write, read, revise.
Our process worked best when Jeremy would describe what he was doing in his classroom and Troy would take notes. We did this by meeting each week via Google Hangout. Jeremy would then go back to write more about his teaching, Troy would read and insert comments, and we would revise together. Repeat this process week after week for an entire school year, and you have a book!
5) Describe your education philosophy in one sentence.
Jeremy: My philosophy as an educator is to embrace change, it is happening every day!
Troy: Here, I turn to Dewey: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.” I want to teach current and future teachers in the same respectful, flexible, and creative ways that I would want them to teach my own children.
6) What was the proudest moment of your education career so far?
Jeremy: For me, it is not just this book, but what I completed to get to the point where I could co-author with Troy and that is completing the Summer Institute through the Chippewa River Writing Project. It was an intense four weeks of writing, collaborating, and learning where I rediscovered myself as a teacher and a writer. If it wasn’t for Troy and the institute, this book would not exist.
Troy: At risk of sounding just a bit sentimental, I am very proud of the work that Jeremy and I have done on this book. Some professors still value the idea of the “lone author,” the one academic penning the greatest book in his or her field. Instead, I value collaborations, the interactions I have with teachers. I have had many great collaborations in the past, and hope to have more in the future. For the moment, I am proudest of what Jeremy and I have accomplished with this book.
7) How do you like to unwind after a stressful day in the classroom?
Jeremy: I like to do two things. First, I enjoy having discussions with my fellow colleagues. Often they share the same stresses that I have on a given day. By talking through things, it feels good knowing someone else is my corner.
The second activity I absolutely love to do is spend time with my children. Their smiles and laughter can always brighten my days no matter how I feel.
8) What is your favorite online educational resource and why?
Twitter and the various chats happening in a given day, week, or month. There are far too many to mention here, but through Twitter I have found many compelling ideas for my classroom and I have met many superb educators. It is a great place to develop and build a personal learning network.
Feel free to follow us on Twitter: @hickstro and @jeremybballer.
9) What is your favorite thing to grab for a quick lunch from the school cafeteria?
Jeremy: Unfortunately...nothing! I take my lunch with me to work everyday. I prefer a nice spinach salad with grilled chicken.
10) And finally, please tell us your favorite thing about education in one word.
Jeremy: Reflection. Education offers a great opportunity for students, teachers, administrators, etc. to always reflect back on what they do or have done and try to make things better. If we take the time to reflect, we will never be satisfied with just being average.
Troy: Opportunity. When we see each child as unique, and when we offer him or her the support and guidance needed, then we provide each one of our students with an incredible opportunity for growth, for creativity, for success.
Mr. Jeremy Hyler is a middle school English teacher at Fulton Middle School located in Middleton, Michigan. His primary focus is 7th and 8th grade English where he works with approximately 120 students on a daily basis. Furthermore, he is the co-chair for the English department. He became a teacher consultant for the Chippewa River Writing Project, a satellite site of the National Writing Project, after attending the Summer Institute in 2010. Since then, he has been implementing new writing strategies along with the use of technology into his classroom. In addition to delivering numerous professional development opportunities to different districts, he has presented at conferences such as the Michigan Reading Conference (MRA), Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE), and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) national conference. In addition to Create, Compose, Connect, he has contributed chapters to two practitioner books. He resides with his wife and three children in West Michigan.
Dr. Troy Hicks is an associate professor of English at Central Michigan University and focuses his work on the teaching of writing, literacy and technology, and teacher education and professional development. A former middle school teacher, he collaborates with K–12 colleagues and explores how they implement newer literacies in their classrooms. Hicks directs CMU’s Chippewa River Writing Project, a site of the National Writing Project, and he frequently conducts professional development workshops related to writing and technology. Also, Hicks is author of the Heinemann titles Crafting Digital Writing (2013) and The Digital Writing Workshop (2009) as well as a co-author of Because Digital Writing Matters (Jossey-Bass, 2010) and Create, Compose, Connect!. In March 2011, Hicks was honored with CMU's Provost's Award for junior faculty who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in research and creative activity.