Saturday, January 28, 2023

They Call Me Mr. Siger



I’m back to being a teacher… in a manner of speaking. 


Six years ago, almost to the day, I wrote about my second wintertime experience teaching the same college intersession course on mystery writing (a semester of work crammed into four weeks, aka the equivalent of taking a drink from a fire hose) at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, thirty miles south of Pittsburgh. 


Students back then called me, “Professor,” but in this week’s return to the classroom all but one student called me “Mr. Siger.”  That lone exception called me “Zayde.” And instead of a semester, I was allotted but a single hour in which to inspire the students with my views on the joys and benefits of writing fiction, no matter what career paths their lives might follow.


I’d been honored with an invitation from my nine-year-old granddaughter’s teacher to speak to her fourth-grade class on what it’s like to be a published author. Attendant to that honor was my agreeing to be pummeled with questions from fourth graders genuinely interested in “the magic” behind writing a book. 


Their teacher offered me this perspective on the invitation: “
As readers we see the author as a mythical creature of sorts...but to meet one and spend time learning that you are in fact a person–will be impactful to the kids as they move through their writing journey.”


In other words, I was invited to humanize the breed.   At the risk of being accused of conduct akin to undermining faith in Unicorns and Santa, I took on the challenge.  And what a joy it was!



Teaching is unlike any other professional obligation I’ve experienced. As a lawyer my duty was to park my predilections at the door and to act ruthlessly (within the law) on behalf of my clients. As a writer my only duty is to write what I like, hoping all the while that my readers will agree with my choices. 


As a teacher, I see my duty as a product of the two: Though I feel responsible to share with my students my personal experiences in a manner that might help them structure their writing lives, I can’t build their unique frames of reference for them, but only suggest where they might look for parts.


What teachers are asked to do every day requires a prodigious amount of work, considerable responsibility, and the ability to rapidly adjust on the fly–all for unconscionably little pay. 


In return they gain irreplaceable moments of personal satisfaction.


Watching the faces of nineteen 4th graders (and one teacher) light up as I explained how reducing their imagined thoughts to writing would enrich their lives and the lives of all with whom they choose to share their tales, brought me pure joy of a sort I’d never experienced before.



What floored me was how quickly the children got it!  For example, when I asked what element of writing they thought most important to a story’s success, the class nearly unanimously shouted back, “the characters.”  Only one disagreed, and that precocious lad said, “the agent.”


How can any teacher not LOVE those experiences.  It gives me deep faith in the future of our nation to know children like this are out there, anxious to productively harness their imaginations as they grow into adulthood.


I would love to show you photographs of my wonderful day at school and my remarkable students, but the former shall remain nameless, and the later faceless.  Sadly, in the world as it is today, anything less than that would be imprudent. 


Instead, may I suggest you shut your eyes and allow your imagination to run off to a place where you’re surrounded by fresh-faced, happy children enthusiastically interested in learning what you want to teach them…and who call you Mister (unless you’re not).



Or Zayde.


God bless all our world’s children.



  1. And god bless you, Zayde, still a child at heart, after all these years.

    1. YEP, I refuse to grow up!! You should know all about that refusal condition, EvKa.

  2. I love the comment about the agent! He may not grow up to be a great writer, but I bet he will be very well off financially!

    1. I almost lost it, Micheal when he said that! And I agree with your take on his future. Jeff

  3. wonderful story Jeff and wonderful experience, for all of you. how proud your little munchkin must be too.

    1. Sharon, my munchkin kept flashing me two thumbs up and a big smile. It forged memories for a life time. Jeff

  4. I guess it runs in the family, Bro. Years ago, I had the opportunity to teach writing to the second-grade class of my twin grandsons. Their teacher wanted me to teach her students how to write a mystery story. We worked as a group and they they called out answers to my questions. When we had worked out the basic structure, the children went to work writing their individual versions of the basic plot. The crime in question was a theft in a second grade class! Somewhere among my souvenirs my grandsons’ stories are preserved.

    1. I've offered to post stories created by "my" fourth grade class, Sis. I can't wait to see if any take up the offer!