Neumann was recognized this weekend at the National Council of Teachers of English conference in Boston, where he was given the James N. Britton award for his self-published book, “What Had Happened.”
Writing as a release
The book is a series of vignettes that chronicles Neumann’s first five years as an English teacher at South Cobb High School in Austell, where he said the job was so hard, he often considered quitting.
Neumann graduated from Pope High School in 2001, and went on to earn a bachelors degree in creative writing at Appalachian State University, and then a masters degree in English education from the University of Georgia.
He returned to Cobb County to teach in 2006 at South Cobb, which he said was a tough experience.
“The whole process of being a new teacher in general is a very eye-opening thing. There is really no way to prepare you for it,” he said.
Neumann expected each year to get easier and better, he said, but just about the opposite happened. He remembers coming home from school every day exhausted and confused, on the verge of quitting.
As a way to cope with his stress, in Januay 2010 Neumann started a blog, http://neumannictimes.com/muse/, where he came most days after school to hash out his problems and reflect on his students.
“I wrote every school day for 12 weeks, I would share it with my close friends as a New Year’s resolution. It was helping quite a bit,” Neumann said.
The stresses of the classroom eventually caught up with him again, and Neumann dropped off updating the blog, and didn’t write on it again for another year, he said.
Neumann considered quitting teaching again, when in a last-minute effort, he filed for a transfer to go teach at another school, he said.
A spot opened up teaching English at his Alma Mater, Pope High School in east Cobb, and Neumann jumped at the opportunity. The summer before he started at Pope, Neumann decided to write down his experiences from his classroom at South Cobb, as a chance to reflect and prepare for a new school.
He flushed out his memories from different years and with different students, trying to figure out what he was doing in the classroom and why, the memories eventually became a book, Neumann said.
The 228 pages were self-published; all he did was follow the steps outlined on amazon.com, and with the mere click of a button, Neumann said he published a book, titled “What Had Happened.”
From a student going into labor in his classroom, to advice from veteran teachers and excuses for unfinished homework assignments, Neumann wrote about every aspect of his job.
An excerpt on amazon.com, where a paperback copy of the book sells for $13.50, reads:
“Not so very long ago, I decided there was a need to clarify my interpretations…ya know, narrow the scope of my hellish colloquial approximations. So, for a while now, I’ve been writing about my observational experiences as a high school English teacher.”
Support from UGA
Neumann sent a copy of his book to Peter Smagorinsky, an former professor of his at the University of Georgia, to get some feedback.
Smagorinsky liked the book so much, he nominated it for a national award through the National Council of Teachers of English, a professional organization of English teachers.
The award is given to teachers who “raise questions about teaching and learning in their own teaching and learning settings,” according to a description on the NCTE website.
Smagorinsky nominated “What Had Happened” for the award in summer of 2012, and Neumann found out he had won earlier this year.
This year, the award was split between Neumann and Scott Silkins, a former teacher from Illinois, Neumann said.
The two were honored at a luncheon in Boston this weekend, at the NCTE national conference, where Neumann gave speech, which he had practiced in front of his students before he left.
“They had me practice what I was going to say; they are brutally honest,” he said.
Support from Pope
Neumann has been teaching at Pope for three years, he said, and the school has been extremely supportive in his writing endeavors, he said.
Pope even paid for his flight up to Boston this weekend, Neumann said.
Writing for reflection
Now that it is published, Neumann has set his eyes on writing another book.
At least two times a week, he updates his blog on new stories and events, and has been consistently writing about his experiences since he arrived at Pope, he said.
“I feel like the experiences and contrast between the two schools,” are varied enough, “that at some point there are people that think it is worth reading,” he said.
Reflecting is a crucial role in his job, Neumann said, and hopes that his book will encourage other teachers to do the same.
He doesn’t think about quitting as often, but Neumann doesn’t see himself staying in the classroom forever.
“I would love to be an author,” he said.
The students at Pope are the reason he continues to show up at school each morning, he said, and although it is cliche, he said they often teach him more than he believes he teaches them.
Neumann strongly encourages all teachers to write. Write about their experiences, their memories and struggles in the classroom, as it has helped him deal with the stresses in his job, he said.
“The act of writing definitely saved me. For me, writing has allowed me to reinvent me to reinvent my career as an English teacher. I would have quit a while ago if I didn’t write,” he said.