Saturday, June 25, 2011

Are Teachers Folkheroes?

Folklore is filled with folk heroes and heroines who overcome obstacles in a way that gives us direction. These characters – real or not – show us how to apply our values and stay with our convictions about what we believe is right or wrong. They also teach us in ways both profound and subtle how to remain authentic and true and how to acquire the skills we will need to meet the specific challenges within our society.

These teachers are everywhere. As professional educators they help give shape to our future - children who one day will become decision making adults. In today’s rough economic climate with dwindling school resources these school figures must work on many levels at once: they must uphold the importance of education so that it doesn’t completely collapse beneath the weight of dismal budgets and they must individualize the classroom experience so that it can address the needs of those students who may have no other support in their lives.

This Business of Children, a novel by Chloe JonPaul, chronicles the lives of several school teachers and the community of children they influenced.

The author captured in words today’s classroom: insufficient resources, emotionally traumatized students and teachers who struggle to lead by example.

I recently asked JonPaul a few questions. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: Folk heroes and heroines are everyday people who do extraordinary things. How are teachers folk heroes/folk heroines?

A: I believe that good, dedicated teachers ARE heroes and heroines because they are the ones who make all other professions possible. They are the ones who deal with some of the most difficult situations that kids find themselves in: poverty, abuse, sexual molestation, learning disabilities. A good teacher provides a safe haven for at least part of the day and gives students a hopeful look into the future.

Q: What societal values do the main characters uphold/represent and what are the obstacles they must overcome?

A: Each of the 4 main characters – Dee, Vera, Stu, Mark - upholds societal values in terms of fairness and doing what is right. Even Stu, the closet gay, makes a decision “for the sake of the children” when urged by Dee. Vera, also, joins the fight for what is fair – even though she had, up to the year of her retirement, taken a back seat in public affairs.

Q: Was this an easy story to tell? Why?

A: As Vera says in the Prologue: This isn’t an easy story to tell. As for me, the writer, it wasn’t exactly easy either because I had to be very careful with my character development. I don’t want readers to think that I’m writing about real people. These characters are purely fictional. I have experienced some of the event in the story – particularly where teacher union activism is involved. While I wanted the setting to be in Maine, I chose to create a fictional town because, again, it would be unfair to name a real place.

Q: Now that you’ve written The Business of Children “to set the record straight on the plight of elementary education” as you mention in the book’s prologue, what do you hope the book will provide others?

A: I think one of the endorsements I received captures it best:

"Chloe JonPaul has captured a period of time in the United States in which educators were working under conditions similar to today. Anyone reading her novel should be able to understand why teachers feel that the system is stacked against them and their students." Marty Hittelman, President, California Federation of Teachers

This book takes us behind the scenes where the personal and professional challenges of teachers and their students play out. Along the way we become better informed about the strengths and weaknesses of our educational system.


  1. This blog is particularly special to me, as I have been influenced by many teachers who have shared the same adversity that is described in Chloe JonPaul's novel. In my opinion, teachers are some of the most important heroes and heroins in our society. Especially with California's declining educational system, it is important to take time to thank the teachers who dedicate their lives to others.

  2. Alivia,
    Yes, we should take our hats off to teachers. I have also been inspired by classroom heroes and heroines who took that extra step to help me on my journey.