Life Handed Me Lemons


About a month ago, I got some news I’ve been dreading, but kinda-sorta expecting. The drug and alcohol rehab where I’ve taught for the past five years is closing its doors to teens. This is horrible news on so many levels.

Selfishly, I’m devastated. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself when I’m not in a classroom, teaching adolescents. I’ve been a teacher for twenty years, and when people ask me what I do for work, I always identify as a teacher and a writer, in that order. I can’t teach full-time due to my busy speaking schedule, not to mention the serious butt-in-chair time I need to finish my new book on preventing childhood substance abuse, so I’m on the hunt for a new part-time teaching gig. I have some ideas, and even have a few meetings on the calendar, but in the meantime, I’m bereft.

In the bigger picture, though, closing one adolescent rehab program leaves Vermont with only one remaining inpatient drug and alcohol treatment program for kids. There are a few outpatient, community-based programs, but only one place for kids to get away for intensive, inpatient treatment, and even that one remaining facility is best suited for kids with co-occurring psychiatric issues.

So here we are, in the middle of a drug addiction crisis, shutting kids out of residential treatment, often the best treatment option for kids, especially those in state care. Many students have told me that the rehab is the only place where they feel safe, the first consistent schedule they’ve had, and the first school experience they’ve enjoyed.

But I digress. I did not mean for this post to become a screed about the dearth of substance abuse treatment for adolescents. This post is about making lemonade from from all these damn lemons.

When I first took my teaching job, I thought I was volunteering. Turns out, it was a paid position. I decided to take my weekly paycheck, deduct the taxes, and spend the rest on books. I ordered new books every week, either as kids requested titles or as a ploy to tempt my reluctant readers with books about their interests. You claim you have no hobbies but you love your Pit Bull Terrier? There’s a book for that (Pit Bull, by Brownwen Dickey, and it’s great). The students stole all five copies of Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke? I can buy more. A full classroom set of David Almond’s Skellig or Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book so we can read along together? Sure, why not?

Even given the egregious rate of theft (but come ON, if a kid steals a book, that means a kid is reading a book, so I still win), after five years of spending fifty dollars every week, I have a lot of books. I could save them for my next teaching gig, but it feels like a crime to keep books on a shelf when they should be in kids’ hands.

So here’s my plan:

I will be curating five boxes containing my students’ very favorite independent reading, one box for every glorious year of teaching in my run-down, drafty farmhouse classroom.

If you’d like to enter the giveaway, fill out the form below. Entering means you will be eligible to win the books and you will also be signed up for my very intermittent newsletter. Don’t worry, your information will always be kept private.

I will be randomly selecting five winners on June 1. Note that I’ve included a field in case you spot a book you really want in the picture above, so feel free to make requests! Note: Not all books included in the giveaway are visible. *

Update: I just finished Shane Burcaw’s Strangers Assume My Girlfriend is My Nurse and loved it so much I bought additional copies so I can include one in each box! We interviewed Shane about his writing career for an upcoming episode of the #AmWriting podcast, and he’s simply delightful.

*US mailing addresses only, please. I’m not made of money.

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