Author Interview: Nick Esposito

Hello readers!

Local author and teacher Nick Esposito is one of our consignment authors with books in the store. Pandemic is not the best time to have books on consignment, since they don’t show up on our website and it’s hard enough during normal times to market books! But we’re trying to spotlight all our books, and that includes the hard-to-get ones!

Luckily, for local shoppers who want to call the store, Nick’s book, The Elephant in the Classroom is not hard to get!

It feels especially appropriate to highlight this book, which talks about the stress teachers face in the classroom, stress that must be heightened right now by school closures and online learning and uncertainty. The Elephant in the Classroom is the perfect book to help teachers overcome this stress and know that they are not alone in it.

We sent Nick some questions about his book and his writing process, as well as his organization that helps teachers, via email, and here are his answers!

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The Elephant in the Classroom is a book about teachers, by teachers, for teachers, full of lessons and insights into the struggles teachers face and how to help alleviate them. It’s definitely an important book, and I can imagine it has struck a chord with many teachers! What have you found to be the part that resonates most with other teachers? 

I think that people have been surprised by how ‘real’ the story is.  The book revolves around a cast of cartoon animal teachers and people assume that it is going to be a charming and lighthearted, little story. But each of the characters are flawed in very real ways that teachers can identify with.  The funniest and most touching thing that has happened since the book came out is when teachers say that they see a little bit of every character in their teaching. The most poignant thing that they say is that they see each character at different times in their life.  Sometimes they feel constantly overwhelmed like Mr. Fish (the fish out of water) or they feel like their fuse is shorter than it should be like Mr. Camel (last straw).  The biggest success of the book so far is that is helping teachers talk about certain struggles that they are dealing with. These conversations that happen about the characters are only going to make it easier for teachers to start practicing the necessary self care. 

What lessons do you hope non-teachers learn from the book?

The funny thing about the teaching profession is that people who are non-teachers still went to school.  So it isn’t difficult for people to identify with the stories from the classroom. Nurses, law students, and even police officers have inquired about when Mr. Elephant is going to be working in a hospital, courtroom, or squad car in a future book.  I hope that non-teachers are able to understand the need for reflection and their own self-care.

I know that “Self-care” is a big buzzword these days but what I mean is that people take the time to understand that stress at work will always exist and that you need to build the necessary defenses to be able to seek fulfillment anyway.  Mr. Elephant helps each of his colleagues do this by showing them the value of staying authentic and connecting with others. And if maybe we can show teachers more respect, patience and empathy…that wouldn’t be a bad lesson to learn either.  

Your 2nd Rock Education organization works to bring the spotlight around to focus on teachers and their purpose. Can you talk a little bit about the “Pedagogy of Purpose” and how it’s helped you and colleagues? 

I believe that every teacher has a purpose…a reason that brings them into the classroom.  It is the thing that gives them the strength to get through impossible days but it is also the inspiration that helps them be the teacher that they want to be.  But as teachers, their purpose is under constant attack. And not under attack by big things, by evil people, but by a string of little things that take you further away from your ‘why’ as a teacher.  (How many other jobs do you have to say, “Don’t lick the table!” multiple times in a day?) Little by little you can’t recognize your purpose anymore and you begin to question why you are even teaching. “If I am not pursuing my purpose, I might as well go get paid,” teachers begin to say. So that’s why we are facing such a mass teaching exodus in our country.

The funny thing is, is that it isn’t low pay that is causing teachers to leave the classroom.  In fact, teachers are less likely to leave over their pay than most other professionals. That’s because they didn’t start teaching for pay, they started for a purpose. The Pedagogy of Purpose was my little philosophy that I started to develop when I was having a tough time as a teacher.  How could I create a culture of purpose in my room so that both my students and I could search for fulfillment? The philosophy is simple; people need to feel three things to find fulfillment wherever they work: competent, authentic, and connected. When the research suggested that would work, I started making it a part of the way I wrote lesson plans, designed the classroom and even interacted with the students.  Now our job is to help teachers follow that path back to their purpose.

Was there a moment you can pinpoint as the moment you decided you wanted to become a writer?

I have always liked writing. In college, I had a sports column in the student paper but I never thought that I would want to write a book.  After teaching math for a number of years, I started teaching 7th grade language arts. Helping my students with their papers gave me the itch to write again.  However the thing that pushed me to write the book was the need for it. So many teachers that I knew and read about online were suffering from the same types of afflictions.  Like Mr. Camel, “the tea kettle of anger was going off in their heads”. But teaching is honestly the best job in the world. It is the show that never ends and it is sad to think that teachers have been pushed to a point where they no longer want to do it.  There was an elephant in the room around the mental health of teachers. That then became The Elephant in the Classroom and the rest is history. Now I have so many ideas for new books with universal lessons that surrounding this issue that I don’t know where to start!

What is your quirkiest writing habit? Teaching habit?

I am not sure this is quirky enough because I assume or at least hope that other authors do this as well.  I sit at my desk and our cat, Rosie, sits down next to me. As I write, I read to her a little bit at a time and gauge her reaction.  Don’t worry I do not expect her to respond but her face fills in for potential readers. If she ever gets up and leaves the room I know that I should take a second look at it. 

As for my teaching quirks, I’ll leave that to my students to tell you.  Students are eerily observant and their observations will include things you do that you don’t even know.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

That’s a tough one.  My mother-in-law suggested Hillbilly Elegy to me.  I think that it speaks to a needed conversation on the impact of one’s culture on their pursuit of purpose.  A friend suggested Antifragile by the economist Nassim Taleb.  Taleb speaks to how we shouldn’t just try to be resilient by eliminating stress from our lives but we should become antifragile.  This means that we should prepare ourselves to thrive when stress strikes. If that doesn’t speak to teachers I don’t know what will. 

With that said, the book that made the biggest difference in my life this year was The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  I was searching for the tone and style that I wanted my book to take.  Then in the bookstore I came across the original Winnie the Pooh and I fell in love again with its simple and powerful words and its charming illustrations.  I noticed that Winnie the Pooh doesn’t have a villain. Which I found unusual at first. But then I realized that’s how our lives typically are. There usually are not villains in our lives.  Instead there are just circumstances that we have to overcome, like when Pooh wants to find “hunny”.  The characters rally around one another to help each other overcome those circumstances. They get Pooh unstuck and check on Eeyore because they hadn’t seen him for a while.  That’s like teaching, and I knew that I wanted my characters to take care of one another like they did.  

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, Nick!

You can find out more about Nick, his book, and 2nd Rock at his website.

You can purchase The Elephant in the Classroom by calling or emailing the store to request it!

Happy reading!

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