Who Are Those Characters?

Are those characters based on actual people?

Someone asked me (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) a while back if the characters in my book, A Shattered New Start, were based on real people. That is a great question, and the short answer is no. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, here is a teaser.

I’ve worked with thousands of students, and hundreds of teachers, during my 35-years of teaching, and each person is unique in their own way. Having said that, there are definitely certain types of students and teachers. To answer the question, my characters are based on categories of students and teachers. I’ll start with the teaching staff at Rabbit Hill Academy, the setting for the book.

For convenience, I’ll refer to an article, What Is Your Teaching Personality Type? which uses Myers-Briggs personality types to identify types of teachers.

In A Shattered New Start, the Science teacher is what the article refers to as “a Purist.” These teacher types are passionate about education, zealous about their subject, have a positive and optimistic outlook, and often inspire both teachers and pupils to greatness. I like to think I was one of those teachers, however, I’m sure there are former students and colleagues who disagree. The science teacher in my book was based a lot on how I approached teaching. In my experience, these teachers were dedicated professionals who loved working with young people and wanted to make a difference in their student’s lives.

The Math teacher in Rabbit Hill Academy is what the article refers to as “The Teacher.” They are imaginative and observant, authoritative and patient, loyal and hardworking. These teachers take their job seriously.

“The Renegade,” in my story is the Physical Education (PE) teacher, as she tends to take her perfectionism and planning to the extreme. In A Shattered New Start, she is the ‘rookie teacher’ who fears failing and who is out to change the world. Most teachers start off idealistic and enthusiastic. I certainly did.

The English teacher is “The Inspirer.” These teachers bounce around the classroom shouting like maniacs about a subject, and imploring pupils to get involved. They are the passionate and energetic teachers, typically getting excited about a topic that students couldn’t care less about. In my experience, these are the teachers who like to be in the spotlight, are dramatic, and like to perform for their students.

The article called some teacher types “The Thinker.” The Social teacher in my school story is that. These educators bring a questioning approach to their teaching. In my experience, they try to get students to think. I’ve worked with many colleagues who taught this way, and I too liked to ask students thought provoking questions.

The Principal of the school is “The Supporter,” a leader with honestly good intentions and who works hard for school improvement and execution. The principal in A Shattered New Start is also “The Conventionalist,” who is honest and dutiful, and a role model. I worked with these types of leaders and those were some of the best years of my career. After all, the school principal sets the tone of the school.

For the students in my book, I’ll use the articles, 13 Types of Students…. and Types of kids in High School for reference.

The victim in my bullying (#bullying #antibullying) school story is what the article, 13 Types of Students, calls the “Intellectual Outsider.” They are the outcasts and are used to their classmates ignoring him. These students are often odd and distrustful, and usually very smart. The victim in A Shattered New Start has an impediment that makes him a prime target for bullies. I’ve comforted many victims of bullies over the years.

Neither article describes the victim’s best friend in my story. This character is very loyal, to the point where he’s jealous of anyone else his friend pays attention to. This is the friend who would do anything for his best friend. The label I would use for my character is “Hothead.”  These students become worked up easily and are seldom afraid to express themselves, often seeming aggressive to others.

 The Bully of my book, both articles refer to as “The Bully.” This is the kid that has no friends and appears very threatening. This article also has a type called “EMO.” These kids look sad or pissed off at the world. They wear the same clothes over and over again. EMO kids want attention and would do anything for it. I’ve had many of these types in my classes over the years.

The new kid in my story is the “Hard Worker.” The article, 13 Types of Students, says these students are highly motivated, know what they want, and know how to achieve their goal. They are not always the smartest student, but they try hard. In my experience, these students are positive, happy, self-confident, and pleasant to be around. These students I admired.

The annoying student in A Shattered New Start is what the article, 13 Types of Students, calls “Overactive.” This student always has a question to ask and comment to make. They often become irritating for both teachers and their classmates.  In my experience, these are the students who ask the very question the teacher just finished answering. These students would make their classmates groan and shake their heads, and frustrate us teachers.

Indian actress, Deepika Padukone, when she spoke about her battle with depression and anxiety said:

When you look at a person, any person, everyone has a story. Everyone has gone through something that has changed their life. Anxiety, depression and panic attacks are not signs of weakness. They are signs of trying to remain strong for way too long.

American writer, Nick Flynn says, “Perhaps everyone has a story that could break your heart.” I learned as a teacher, sometimes the hard way, that every child has a story and many of their stories regarding their home life and social life were tragic. My characters in A Shattered New Start all have a story, and many of those stories—or shall I say challenges—were issues my students faced. The article, Middle School Issues Commonly Faced By Kids, outlines many of those issues. My characters were no different.

John Holt is a teacher who became disillusioned with the school system after several years of working within it. In his book, How Children Fail, he said:

We destroy the disinterested (I do not mean uninterested) love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards — gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards… in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else…. We kill, not only their curiosity, but their feeling that it is a good and admirable thing to be curious, so that by the age of ten most of them will not ask questions, and will show a good deal of scorn for the few who do…The anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don’t know.

Another teacher, John Taylor Gatto, taught thirty years in the public school system and wrote the book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. In his book, he argues that conventional schooling is destroying the natural curiosity and problem-solving skills everyone is born with, and replacing it with rule-following, fragmented time, and disillusionment.

I have to agree with both authors. I started reflecting on the school system I was a part of for 35 years after I retired from teaching; a profession I loved. In July of 2019, I wrote a blog titled, Was I One Those Teachers Who Smothered Creativity, or Indoctrinated Children? During that time I wondered if that were true, and I now believe it to be true. We teach kids to regurgitate facts and give us what we want, then reward them with good grades. The most common question I got from students was, “What do I need to know for the test?” We squelch creativity, critical thinking, and curiosity. Many of the kids I taught were artistic and creative, but were disillusioned with school, and didn’t want to be there. Now I understand why.

My book, A Shattered New Start, gives an understanding to Factory model schools which are used today. Isaac Asimov, an American writer says, “Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” Maybe he is right. At least that way people might think for themselves instead of rule-following and becoming disillusioned. The time is ripe to create an education system that promotes curiosity, creativity, and problem-solving skills; a system that makes students better human beings.