Mile Markers

We’ve all passed them on the interstate. They’re ubiquitous. We can’t miss them, but we seldom notice them. We note them only when we’re in trouble and might need to refer to one to direct help to our location. We’re just too involved in our journey to notice them more than then.

I’m referring to those narrow, vertical green signs along the shoulder called mile markers.

Today, this post is sort of a mile marker for me. It’s not much of a mile marker to many bloggers who have been at this longer than I have. Maybe I’m just a late bloomer.

Be that as it may and for what it’s worth, this marks my 200th blog post since I began this blog on September 4, 2015. Much like what happens when I’m driving, I happened to glance to the shoulder during my writing journey and noticed this mile marker. It flashes past and becomes history as soon as I hit the “publish” button. Then the journey goes on as though the marker never existed. But for a brief moment, it made me reflect.

Why Did I Begin Blogging?

I had read and heard the “experts” say that every author must have a blog to gain “credibility,” to build and expand a “platform,” and to “brand” himself or herself. (Hmm. Doesn’t branding involve getting burned?!) I had only days earlier signed my first book contract with McFarland for Governing the Confederacy. (Only they changed my title to Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries, which I thought was too long and ponderous and uninteresting for an effective title. But they were the “experts,” so that’s how it hit the market.)

I’ve never been much of a salesman, especially when it involves promoting myself, so even the baby step of starting a blog stretched me well beyond my comfort zone. I’m still uncomfortable doing so.

Has My Blog Achieved Its Purposes, Accomplished Its Goals?

I don’t know, but probably not if measured by the standards of those who presume to know. And judging from the successful blogs I read, I’d have to agree. I’ve gotten a few “likes” and fewer comments, and I have a couple of faithful followers. (They’re usually the ones who comment.) I have no idea whether it has led directly or indirectly to any book sales.

Judging by the number of readers, most “experts” would say that my blog is a failure. Agents, editors, and publishers want to see a lot of followers and shares. They judge the size of an author’s market by those magic numbers. Without them, they won’t consider the author’s works, no matter how well written or timely. Or, if they do, they won’t devote a lot of time or money marketing them.

The Positive Benefits

But my blog has accomplished a couple of things. First, it has forced me to write regularly, according to a self-imposed schedule. That is a big part of my journey. I determined (based on what the “experts” said) to post something twice a week, every Tuesday and Friday. Those self-imposed deadlines, the mile markers along the writing roadway, forced me to come up with things to write about. I don’t know if readers have found my subjects to be interesting, but those subjects interested me–at least at the time I wrote about them.

Most of my topics have related to historical events or historic characters. Sometimes they were about writing, editing, or publishing. Sometimes about educational issues. In a few instances, I’ve even forced myself to post something about my articles or books. And I’ve learned, unsurprisingly, that it’s much easier and more natural to write about those other topics than about myself or my writing products.

Second, writing a twice-weekly blog has forced me to plan. I can’t wait until the last minute and then just throw something together. Oh, I’ve posted a few things serendipitously, such as quotations that struck me during my reading or when something unexpected happened or came to my attention. When “the muse” spoke to me most clearly, however, was when I had a planned schedule, a prepared list of topics, each tied to a specific date that just happened to coincide with a Tuesday or a Friday. These were the items on the itinerary of my journey. Once posted, each became another mile marker passed, little noticed and insignificant.

The “experts” would probably say that I’m being too transparent here. But I’m just telling it like it is.

Mile marker 200 is now behind me. MM201 is approaching. I don’t know how many more such mile markers I have to pass during my journey. No one but God knows when or where one’s journey will end at one’s final destination. I only know that I must keep “driving” on my journey. I must write. I don’t know how many people are following me; I know that a lot of people are ahead of me, and a lot of people are passing me, progressing faster in their writing careers. But I just know that I must write regardless of numbers. That’s my calling. I’ll leave the numbers, the results–the “likes,” the “shares,” the “followers,” the sales–with God. After all, He is the only Judge of true success.

In yesterday’s sermon, our pastor hit the nail on the head and offered this food for thought: If glory goes to you, it’s not going to God.

Soli gloria Deo!

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

 

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Lessons Learned: Writing

For the last 36 years (since my first article was published in 1981), I have been learning the art and craft of writing and the “tricks of the trade” of publishing. To paraphrase a certain insurance company, I’ve learned a lot (much of it the hard way) because I’ve seen and experienced a lot. And I’m still learning. Perhaps you can relate to some of the things I’ve learned. Here are a few of them but by no means all of them.

  1. Study the markets before you submit. When the first article I ever submitted was accepted and published and I got that check in the mail, I was hooked. I began cranking out article manuscripts right and left and submitting them so often that the postal clerks and I were almost best buds. But then reality struck: I began finding more rejections than junk mail in my mailbox. That’s when I realized that something was wrong. I wasn’t studying the markets and tailoring my submissions accordingly. When I began to do so, the acceptances became to creep in. Even some articles that had earlier been rejected found a home and were published.
  2. Rejection is not personal (usually). Publications have needs and guidelines, and those needs change over time. Sometimes the changes are seasonal. Sometimes they are topical. And sometimes they are philosophical. When the rejection reads, “Doesn’t meet our needs at this time,” we should take it at face value. In a few instances, however, maybe you and the editor just don’t hit it off. Or your writing isn’t quite up to the bar that publication has set. But those instances should be rare. Even if the rejection IS personal, move on. There are other publications and editors out there who want and need what you write. Forget the bad experience and create good ones elsewhere.
  3. Editors change. This point goes along with the previous item. Editors tend to move around a lot. If you have a good working relationship with an editor, work to stay on good terms with him or her. But realize that one day–sometimes sooner, sometimes later–that editor will move on. Be ready for the new editor and brace yourself for rejection–then move on. I once worked with the same editor at the same publication for nearly 25 years. He published almost everything I submitted. But he eventually retired. His replacement rejected everything I submitted. My writing hadn’t changed. The editor did. I submitted my work elsewhere, telling myself that he and the publication’s readers, not I, were the losers.
  4. Not everyone will rejoice at your successes. People are funny. One day, someone will cheer you in your writing efforts, but as soon as your work is published, he or she suddenly becomes sullen and silent or begins to find fault with your writing. I think it’s the result of a big lump of envy and a dash of jealousy that prompts the change. If you’re excited about your writing success, I hope others will be, too. But don’t count on it.
  5. Be faithful to your calling. If God has called you to write, realize that He does not use the same measuring stick for success that people use. He rewards faithfulness in performance, not outward results. This truth is hard to swallow when you’re getting rejection slips, but faithful persistence promises and pays an ultimate reward. Keep at it. All in God’s time and in His medium of exchange, you’ll see success.

What have you learned from your writing experiences? Care to share them? I look forward to reading them.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Following the Crowd

“Just because ‘everyone else’ is doing it doesn’t mean that you must do it, too!” Mother used to tell me when I was trying to convince her to let me do something that my friends were doing. “If ‘everyone else’ goes and jumps off a cliff, are you going to do that, too?”

Of course, I had no better comeback to that logic than a mere, “But Mother. . . .” And that didn’t carry any weight with her. Mother had spoken, and that was that!

Today, we see a lot of people “jumping on the bandwagon” to do what “everyone else is doing” without really thinking logically about what they are doing or the consequences. We see it in politics, of course. Everyone seems to want to be on whichever side is winning, regardless of what the candidate is or stands for. We see it in clothing fashions. Not only kids but also adults who are “old enough to know better” are wearing today what as a kid I was ashamed to wear to work with Daddy. (I recall being embarrassed if I had to wear to work with him jeans that had holes in the knees. Today, people take pride in wearing jeans that have intentional, machine-made rips and tears all over them!) We also see the “bandwagon” syndrome in churches. No one seems to want to be left behind by the latest trends and fads.

Much of the modern literature flooding the market is pure fluff, filled with the latest jargon, cliches, and buzzwords but of little lasting value. Christian education certainly is not immune to this tendency. From time to time, the fad fashioners change the names of their fads and repackage them (e.g., “School to Work,” “No Child Left Behind,” “Common Core”), but they remain the same old weakening of the educational process. And time-strapped teachers are susceptible to grasp at anything that promises to be easy and less time consuming. In fact, in many cases, even Christian publishers are more than willing to hop on the trendy bandwagon, following novel methods and ideas that, in the long term, do not work. Often, they even do damage and hinder the learning of their students.

In following the crowd to chase such fads and trends, such publishers and teachers are ignoring the  tried and true principles of effective education. Rather than chasing after the ever-changing fads with the rest of the crowd, why not return to the tried and true? The biblical principles of “precept upon precept, line upon line” of ancient Israel are still valid today. These are the principles that John Milton Gregory explained in his classic work The Seven Laws of Teaching.  Rather than constantly changing, these laws or principles remain forever effective. As author and teacher Jesse Stuart wrote, “Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal” because he or she “lives on and on through his students.”

(Learn more about the practical application of Gregory’s seven laws of teaching and these educational principles in my book Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught, available at www.amazon.com.)

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Good Teaching

“[E]ducation doesn’t depend on the latest technological gadgets or machinery or publications. Good teaching is not restricted by the availability or unavailability of ready-made materials. It depends on having students who want to learn and are ready to work hard to do so. It depends on having teachers who are dedicated to serving the Lord by teaching their subjects. . . .”

(Available at http://www.amazon.com.)

Unfinished Business

For a number of years, every time my wife and I traveled to Florida to visit her parents, as we turned into their street, we passed an unfinished house. The concrete slab had been poured and the walls erected years before. But the structure had no roof and no interior walls. The stereotypical South Florida vegetation had nearly swallowed the structure.

Just last weekend, during our visit to North Carolina to see three of our four daughters, we passed a similar sight. The footers of a home had been poured and the blocks of the foundation had been laid. The sill plates had even been attached. And then construction had halted, and vegetation was beginning to encroach over the unfinished structure.

I don’t know the reasons for the unfinished jobs. Maybe the people ran out of money. Maybe they changed their minds. Maybe they even died without heirs to finish the work. Who knows which of myriad reasons fit these instances. All we know is that people started jobs that they did not finish.

As I contemplated these scenes, I felt a little guilty because I have myself started so many projects that I didn’t complete. Some of them I never should have started in the first place. Others, however, I should have seen through to completion. I think, especially, of writing projects that I began with gung-ho enthusiasm only to see them falter and then end up stuck, uncompleted and unsubmitted, in a box somewhere.

Dr. Bob Jones Sr. used to repeatedly tell the students attending his college, “Finish the job!” I need to apply that mantra to my writing (among other things). How about you? I’m sure that I’m not the only writer who has experienced this problem of unfinished work.

Why do we not finish our projects? For some of us, it’s procrastination. We get sidetracked by other things and end up losing our enthusiasm for the project that we started with such gusto. For others of us, it’s perfectionism. We keep tinkering and tampering with our words, our organization, or some other aspect of our writing, and never getting around to finishing and submitting it. And sometimes it’s our petrifying and paralyzing fear of rejection that stops us in our tracks. We are so afraid of having our work criticized and rejected that we let it sit and rot rather than submit it and let the chips fall where they may.

The cure for procrastination is determination. Just make up our minds to do it! And then follow through with action! For our perfectionist tendencies, we must admit that nothing that anyone (especially not us) writes will be perfect. Even at our dead-level best, we will still have flaws in our writing. When I worked as a textbook author, I was amazed at how the authors, editors, proofreaders, and others involved in the publishing process could go over text, photos, and illustrations with a fine-toothed comb time after time after time–and still the end product contained flaws. At first, I was appalled and embarrassed by such mistakes that slipped through. But then I realized that perfection was impossible and decided that the best thing was just to do my best and let things work themselves out. The sun would come out again tomorrow. The world would not end.

The fear of rejection and criticism, however, is harder to deal with. Some people seem to take great pleasure in searching out and then reporting to everyone who is willing to listen the errors in the work of others. We must get over the fear of what other people think and just do our job, knowing that it will not be perfect, that it will contain flaws and errors.

Easier said than done, I know. But the alternative is even worse. We will never finish any job as long as we fear what others think of it. As I sometimes look back over the hundreds of written products that I’ve created since I began writing for publication in 1981, I find myself cringing at the errors I made and thinking of how I should have written them. But then I realize that had I not tried, had I not done my best and submitted my work such as it was, I would never have had anything published. I’d still be a wannabe rather than a published author. And that’s when I’m glad that I stifled my inner critic and ignored the naysayers and critics (or as Spiro Agnew called them, the nabobs of negativity). And when confronted by their criticism, I thought, Well, at least I got something published. What do they have to show for all their criticism? What have they produced that is worthwhile?

So if you, like I, feel badly about your unfinished projects, don’t just wallow in self-pity; do something about it. Finish the job! Select just one of those unfinished tasks and tackle it, determined to get it done. Do your dead-level best, but get it done. And let the chips fall where they may. You’ll certainly achieve a whole lot more than if you do nothing. And later you’ll be able to look back and be glad you saw it through to completion.

Now please excuse me. I have some unfinished business to attend!

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Books by this author, all available in paperback and Kindle versions at http://www.amazon.com:

Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries

Look Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East Tennessee

Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught (essays in Christian education)

True Education

Good teaching is not restricted by the availability or unavailability of ready-made materials. It depends on having students who want to learn and are ready to work hard to do so. It depends on having teachers who are dedicated to serving the Lord by teaching their subjects, which often include subjects that are out of their field because they are the only available warm body to meet the current need.

–From the Preface of Teacher

 

(available at http://www.amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle versions)

Trip Revived (and Produced) Great Memories

My wife and I celebrated the Labor Day weekend with a quick trip to visit two of our three daughters who live in the Thomasville-Sophia, N.C., area. (The third one thought she and her husband would run off to Charleston, S.C., to celebrate their wedding anniversary rather than see us!) This trip was a real treasure to us for a variety of reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Granddaughters were at the top of that list of reasons, of course. Three of our six grandkids live in that area, our most recent addition having just recently moved within driving distance. (A three-hour drive across the state border sure beats going all the way to Wisconsin!) We enjoyed each of them immensely–(according to age, oldest to youngest: Regan, Morgan, and Ryleigh). But we fully understand why God gives little kids to young, strong young people who can get along with little sleep and who have a lot of energy!

Another reason the trip was memorable was because I was able to meet up with a guy, Keith Nance, from my college graduating class who was also in my literary society, Chi Delta Theta. We hadn’t seen each other since we graduated in 1975–42 years ago! We managed to work out a time to meet at a Chik-fil-A in High Point, where we spent about an hour and a half reminiscing and catching up (while the grandkids played in the kiddie area).

We both ended up teaching school, he English and physical education/coaching and I history and English. We both are now semiretired but still active in education, he teaching part-time in public education and I writing, at least part of it dealing with Christian education. But Keith has a story that’s simply amazing and puts me to shame. Keith has an adult son, Jordan, who has cerebral palsy and is paraplegic. One day, the Nance family attended Mayberry Days in Mount Airy, N.C. (Mount Airy, for those of you who might not be aware of the fact, is the real-life town where Andy Griffith was born and reared and the town on which many aspects of the Andy Griffith Show was based. Connie and I also once attended Mayberry Days.) But for some reason, Jordan was more interested in observing the elderly man who was sitting behind him broadcasting the parade remotely for a small radio station, WPAQ, than with the parade itself.

To make a long story short, Jordan ended up directing a television documentary on the history of that radio station, a country/blue grass-dedicated station, and its founder, Ralph Epperson. Keith sent me a link to a newspaper story about Jordan’s production, but it didn’t include the whole story; the link that it gave to continue reading the rest wouldn’t work. So I Googled the documentary title and found the entire broadcast. At the end when it ran the credits, it showed several photos of Jordan and his parents. As I finished, I was blown away by how much such a young man could accomplish in spite of his physical limitations. I have no such limitations, so what’s my excuse? Makes one think!

This reminds me of a poem that George Washington Carver used to quote whenever he spoke to high school students:

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,

You’ve all that the greatest of men have had:

Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,

And a brain to use if you would be wise.

With this equipment they all began.

So start from the top and say, “I can.”

Thanks, Jordan, for the challenge!

New Book Just Released: Teacher

Teaching is a noble calling.

It is not easy. It is often underappreciated. Despite the wisecracks about teachers having a lot of paid vacation days and summers off, most teachers are nonetheless working (or thinking about job-related matters) almost all the time.

Teaching doesn’t pay nearly as much as it should, considering the potential benefits it offers both individuals and society. We show by our dollars what we truly think of it and its value. We readily pay far more for our health (doctors, nurses, drugs, etc.), our comfort (e.g., HVAC repairmen), and entertainment (actors and athletes) but balk at paying teachers more. This values disparity is magnified dramatically when the teachers involved are in Christian education.

Yet, you don’t hear complaints from the dedicated Christian teachers about the low wages. They are called to it, and they take that call seriously. To them, it’s more than just a job with a paycheck. Teaching offers intangible, even eternal, rewards. But teaching also carries with it a biblical caveat, and that warning is what causes those teachers to take their ministry seriously: “Be not many masters [teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” [bear a greater responsibility] (James 4:1).

I have spent the better part of my adult life in various aspects of Christian education: classroom teacher; interim principal; editor of educational materials; and author of education articles, history textbooks, and ancillary materials. I don’t have a large financial portfolio or retirement account to show for it, but I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have been fulfilling my calling. I have numerous former students and untold numbers of unknown (to me) students who used materials that I’ve written or edited, and I was able to have an influence on some of them.

As teacher and author Jesse Stuart wrote, “I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students. Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal.”

In January 1988, Dr. Charles Walker, editor of Journal for Christian Educators and since 1982 executive director of the Tennessee Association of Christian Schools, published my first article for that magazine. Over the next 23 years, he encouraged me to keep on writing and continued to publish my work regularly. He came to know my writing better than any other editor for whom I’ve worked. That is why I asked him to write the foreword of my just-released book Teacher, a compilation of some of my articles on Christian education.

Most of the articles in the book were published in Journal for Christian Educators between January 1988 and December 2011. Some of them were published in other educational publications, and a few were written especially for this book.

Dr. Walker wrote in his foreword that Teacher is “a must-read for every Christian school educator” and “needs to be on every teacher’s desk.”

Conditions and circumstances in which education occurs change over time, as does the technology to make learning possible or easier, but the principles of good teaching are eternal and unchanging. Take away all the modern technology and return us to the one-room schoolhouse, and good teachers would still find a way to teach effectively because the principles remain the same.

Good teachers are also forever learners. They know that there are no “know-it-alls” in this life, and they therefore are always striving to improve their knowledge and their skills.

The goal of Teacher–my prayer as its author–is that it will inspire, motivate, and encourage teachers in their quest to learn and share their knowledge, especially the truths and values of God’s Word, with their students.

Maybe my book (available at http://www.amazon.com) could help you. Or someone you know.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Secret Surprise

Combine the need to keep a secret with a growing forgetfulness in the secret-keeper, and you have a potential major problem. That was my situation most of last week. I’ve already posted some comments about my worsening memory, so you know what’s coming. Or maybe you just think you do.

I got a call from Daughter No. 1 early last week. She, her husband, and their nine-month-old daughter Ryleigh recently moved from Wisconsin’s frozen wastelands to the sunny, hot, and humid South. We were planning to go see them as soon as they got a house of their own, but life has intervened–school, work, etc. Daughter No. 1 decided to surprise us and come to visit this past weekend. As busy as things are for my wife and me, however, Daughter No. 2 warned her that she’d better tell one of us to ensure that someone was home when they got here. I was the one she chose to tell. “And don’t let her know we’re coming, Dad!” Daughter No. 1 admonished me. “It’s supposed to be a surprise.”

I knew I was in trouble. But I surprised myself. Despite my several near slips of the tongue, my wife never heard my slips–or at least never caught on to what was happening. Much to my daughter’s surprise (as well as my own), I kept my end of the bargain and never let the word escape. But it wasn’t easy. My wife wanted to go shopping as soon as she got home from school on Friday, and my daughter and her family were hoping to arrive by 4:30, but it all depended on down-to-the-minute timing and traffic and a host of other factors. Would I be able to delay Connie enough for the rest of the family to arrive? Or would I have to do something drastic, like pull off a fraudulent sudden “illness” or “accident” to slow things down?

Circumstances, however, helped me out a bit. Connie left school a few minutes later than she had planned. Traffic was a little heavier than normal for her. She still would have to change clothes and put away her school paraphernalia. I could drag my feet getting ready too. And then I had planned a scheme for delaying her beyond that, if necessary. I had earlier in the day received a long-awaited foreword for a book, and (with the author’s permission) I had edited it for length and organization. When Connie arrived home and I had depleted all of my other delaying tactics, I pulled the “hey-could-you-listen-to-these-two-versions-and-tell-me-which-one-is-better” routine. I read slowly, enunciating carefully and dragging it out as long as I could without making her suspicious.

Just as I was finishing my reading of the second version, I glanced out the front window just in time to see my son-in-law’s car come pulling into the driveway. I proceeded to ask my wife an endless stream of questions about the two versions of the foreword and her opinion of them, stalling long enough for the kids to get our newest grandchild out of the car and make their way to the door. Finally, just when I was running out of questions to ask Connie about the manuscript, the doorbell rang.

I answered the door while Connie got her shopping list ready.

“Connie, it’s for you!” I called from the front door. She came from the kitchen with a wondering look on her face.

“Who could that be at this time of day?” she asked under her breath.

When she opened the door, she was duly surprised. And then she basked in her glory as a grandmother the rest of the weekend. And I breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t spilled the beans. And, knowing my memory, that’s no small accomplishment! (Oh, and I enjoyed the surprise too–especially Ryleigh!)

 

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Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson