Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Tale of Two Kids, a guest blog by Tim O'Mara

Through the Evil Days ARC: Dotty Ryan, Lynda, Pat D.    Chance of a Ghost OR The Thrill of the Haunt: Bev Fontaine    Her Last Breath: Lora.  Please contact julia at juliaspencerfleming dot com with your info to collect your free book!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I first came across Tim O'Mara's work when I bought his debut, SACRIFICE FLY, for my husband, a special ed teacher.  Tim's protagonist, like Tim himself, is a teacher specializing in hard-to-reach, at-risk kids, and I knew Ross would find it interesting. He did; so much so that he thrust it into my hands and said, "You're going to want to read this." Tim has just released the second Raymond Donne mystery, CROOKED NUMBERS; readers, consider that I've thrust it into your hands. You're going to want to read this.

 R’s had a tough life. He came to our school last year as a sixth grader, and during our very first discussion about the rules in my Math class, he gave “the look.” The look that pretty much says: You are not going to tell me what to do.
I gave him one back, I’m sure he had no idea had to interpret. This was a look I had not given a student in almost a decade. My look said, You are going to Camp.
Camp” is where I got my start as an educator. I was kinda directionless the summer

before graduating from SUNY–New Paltz, and my girlfriend was heading off to work with special-needs kids at Camp. Having nothing much on my calendar and eager to earn a few hundred dollars for four weeks of fourteen-hour days, I followed. I eventually lost the girlfriend, but found a new love: working with kids.
I’m still involved with Ramapo For Children Camp—our seventh graders go there every year for their spring trip—and I try to incorporate what I learned from my five summers there into my job as a Special Education/Math teacher at NYC’s The Computer School. R is just the kind of kid I learned from. And after knowing him for all of half an hour, I knew he needed Camp.
I spoke with his foster mom—the kind of woman who makes you feel optimistic about basic human kindness—and she told me R had previously been thrown out of two camps due to behavioral issues. I told her I knew one camp he would not get thrown out of and after months of confusing paperwork and games of phonetag, R went off to Camp. At the end of the session, I went to pick him up—foster mom was expecting a baby any hour—and found that he’d been a superstar for the past three weeks.
He’s read more books than any other kid here,” his bunk counselor told me.
I didn’t know he was that into reading. When we got back to school in September, he told me that his foster mother wanted to read my book, Sacrifice Fly, whose hero, Raymond Donne, is a special education teacher who used to be a cop. The next day, I brought in a signed copy for her celebrating the birth of her son. R held it in his hands, turned it over like it was an undiscovered treasure, and I knew he’d be reading it before mom. Cool.
That was a Friday. On the following Monday, he came in and informed me he had read the entire book over the weekend.
What’d you think?” I asked.
He got a strange look on his face and shrugged.
What? You didn’t like it?” I didn’t even try to hide my feelings. This book was nominated for a Barry Award, and this kid was going to criticize it?
He gave me a rare humble look, squinted, and said, “I wanted more.”
The heck with the Barry nomination. R can blurb my next book and any that follow. And he’s going back to Camp next summer. We’re gonna start the paperwork earlier this year.
T is another tough kid.
Hard to reach, hard to teach, with a wall around him that would make the Chinese envious. He was in another of my math classes last year, and butting heads with him became an almost daily exercise. There were the occasional days where he let me glimpse over that wall, and what I saw was a kid who wanted to be brilliant but didn’t want the pressure that came with it. Another kid I could learn from.

Two weeks ago, T earned a one-day suspension for creative use of a belt. He spent an entire Thursday in the principal’s office. At the end of the day, the principal approached me and said that T was thinking of going to my Crooked Numbers book signing at the local Barnes & Noble. Having never said a word to me about my writing, it turned out he was perfectly comfortable telling my principal he was impressed.
Maybe you can use that,” my boss suggested.
The next day, I worked with T and had a very positive—wait for the intended Math pun—session with him on adding and subtracting integers. Afterwards, I took him into the hallway and presented him with a signed copy of my book referencing a brief talk we had had the day he was suspended.
To T,
This book has a lot to do with the choices people make — including the author’s.
He looked at the book and held it in a slightly different manner as R. Almost like he was afraid to break it. He didn’t say thank you—that’s not who he is. He put it in his book bag, and we both went off to lunch.
That was a week ago. He has not said a word to me about the book since. My fantasy is that T reads it, understands the hero’s motivations and wants, and becomes a more positive, confident student. I want him to show up at tonight’s reading and sit there in the audience with a look on his face that says, “That’s my teacher, man!” I want that wall to start coming down.
In reality, I’ll settle for a small crack. 

Do you have a teacher who made a difference in your life, dear readers? Let us know, and one lucky commentor will win a copy of CROOKED NUMBERS!
Tim O'Mara teaches math and special education in the New York City public schools. His debut mystery, SACRIFICE FLY was a Barry Award nominee. The novel introduces Raymond Donne, a former cop turned Brooklyn public schoolteacher. His second book, CROOKED NUMBERS, was just published. You can find out more about Tim and his books at his website, friend him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter as @TimOMaraAuthor.


  1. Anyone who works with and cares about kids gets my vote . . . thanks for sharing your stories. I’m adding “Sacrifice Fly” and “Crooked Numbers” to my list of must-read books.

  2. Senior year in high school, our English teacher's "senior project" assignment for us was to write a complete novel. Mine was terrible, of course, but there was one chapter.....

  3. Wonderful stories, Tim. Also adding your books to the TBR pile.

    My sons both had the same first grade teacher (three years apart). She was around 40 at the time and didn't have children of her own. You'd walk by her room and think it was chaos - kids on the floor, in small groups, doing stuff - and they learned SO much. She had energy for those little guys and knew how to use their own energy. Lots of science and nature. Lots of nurturing. My introverted super-intelligent son thrived. My outgoing centered son thrived. the really slow girl thrived. All the kids thrived. Let's hear it for Kathy Diedrich!

  4. Sometimes teaching can feel like a thankless profession - and then, all it takes is one kid. I'm looking forward to reading your books, Tim!

  5. Wonderful story Tim! I've not taught school except for short stints teaching mystery writing to 5th graders. Coming off 2 or 3 or 4 classes in a day, I was never so tired in my life. I have nothing but admiration for teachers!

  6. What great stories, Tim. It is reassuring to know there are people like you around who don't give up on these kids.
    I often wonder how I would have turned out if I'd been unloved and shoved from home to home.

    My future daughter-in-law is currently doing her masters in special ed, having been a regular teacher at a fantastic school wih no problems. Now she wants more

  7. Hi Tim! I can't wait to read your books! I'll start with Sacrifice Fly, as I think I want to read in order.

    I've never taught, but had some experience last year volunteering with my local Kiwanis Club, talking to K-5 kids about reading. I was astounded by how much they responded to the smallest bit of positive encouragement, and came away with a huge respect for their wonderful teachers.

    You obviously rock as a teacher, and I looking forward to getting acquainted with you as a writer!

  8. Tim,

    I'm on my way out to look for your first book in a little while. Like Deborah Crombie, I want to read them in order.

    It was hard not to cry while reading your post.

  9. In Tom's books, Ray Donne being an ex-cop works surprisingly well with teaching. Ross once said the ideal background for an early elementary teacher would be a stint as a Marine Corps drill sargeant, followed by working in a religious community.

    The new principal at our local high school is a former police officer! Maybe I should interview him for some story ideas...

  10. Special Education Teachers: We came for the kids, stayed for the adulation.

  11. Tim. Not Tom. I swear to God, that's a typo, not me forgetting another friend's name.

  12. I thought you might have been channelling my dad. He was a teacher on Long Island for close to 30 years. Never bought a book he could take out of the library, except the Bible. I'd like to think he would've made an exception with mine, but I wouldn't swear to it.

  13. I thought you might have been channelling my dad. He was a teacher on Long Island for close to 30 years. Never bought a book he could take out of the library, except the Bible. I'd like to think he would've made an exception with mine, but I wouldn't swear to it.

  14. Awww. Thank you for this, Tim. You are wonderful in every way.

    And therw's not a day that goes by that I don't think of my english teachwr, Mr. Thornburg. I am not exaggerating.

  15. Tim, please accept my sincerest thanks for the work you do. My school years weren't the easiest, and I while I wasn't at great risk, I was a chronic truant and purposely hid out in class to the point where my 8th grade teacher thought I'd moved. Things got worse in high school, and in my sophomore year my English teacher made an extra effort to connect with me. I stayed on a precarious path, but never forgot her kindness and compassion.

    When I was 18, living and working in San Francisco, I volunteered at The Recreation Center for the Handicapped, then located next to the zoo on Highway 1. I worked with kids who had all sorts of physical, mental and emotional difficulties, and loved every minute of it. I didn't make a career of working with this population (I didn't make a career of anything; all I ever had were a series of jobs), but throughout the years I've continued to volunteer in various ways with kids.

    Your books sound exactly like something I'd love to read, and I wish you the greatest success with them.

  16. The English teacher I had in 7th grade made us memorize "Evangeline". That put me off poetry for many, many years. Dee

  17. Thanks all for the great feedback. One area I wish the schools would focus on more--and I believe Ross would agree with me--is that kids need to understand that reading is supposed to be fun. As it stands now, reading is something you can be expected to be tested on, not something for enjoyment. The Common Core Curriculum, adopted by almost every state in the union, actually promotes the idea that our students are not reading enough nonfiction, and we need to focus more on that. The CCC gets a lot of things right; this is not one of them.

  18. Tim, I have not read your books, but will be checking them out

    I love your stories of R & T - you obviously have an abundance of compassion for your students, they certainly are blessed having you as a teacher

    Sadly, not all teachers go the extra mile to help kids, special needs or not.

    about 15 yrs ago I worked a 5 week temp job as teacher's aide for students with learning disabilities in middle school.

    Two of them mainstreamed some "reg" classes and I went with them.

    As soon as I walked in the door, the teacher walked out, mind you I was only there for "my" 2 kids Not the entire class

    out of the 5 classes I went to, 4 of the teachers left and were gone for at least 1/2 the class.

    The 5th teacher was amazing - checked with me during class to see how my 2 kids were doing and if I needed any help

    I was deeply saddened to see how the other 4 teachers reacted when I came in with my kids

    when I was in school (many years ago) teachers never left the room unless it was to take someone to the nurse, the principals office or stand in hall watching 2 classes to cover for a teacher who had to leave the room, there were no teacher's aides back then.

    Our schools need more teachers like you !!