Tiffany Andrews & Becky Saarela – Sincerely, The Teacher

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Sincerely, The Teacher is a book written by teachers to parents about how to help students succeed in school. About two years ago after a week-long of parent teacher conferences, I drove home thinking about how there was so much more I wanted to say to parents. The mere 30 minute conferences were just not enough time to fully encourage, help, and talk with the parents about their child, so I thought why not write my thoughts down? I immediately thought to ask my mom, Becky Saarela, to help me with the project. While I teach the “little ones” in 2nd grade, she teaches the “big ones” (a.k.a. juniors and seniors) in high school. My mom is a wonderful teacher and a huge reason as to why I became a teacher. We decided to not only use our experiences and advice but also to get the experience and advice from our fellow teachers.

So for two years we asked teachers from across the country one simple question,

“If you could tell parents one thing that would help their child succeed in school, what would it be?”

What we received was an overwhelming response of stories, concerns, and hopes from teachers who realize how important it is to work as a team with parents in order to benefit the students. No matter how different the story was, the underlying message was the same: teachers want their students to succeed and are willing to do whatever it takes to do help students reach personal success. By personal success we mean the success that is deemed important to that student. For some it will be academic success, for others it will be developing social skills and for others it might be communication skills – regardless of how a student or a family defines success, teachers are in the business of helping students succeed.

In the process of reading and hearing all of these stories and tips, ten “common themes” were found and from that the Top 10 Things Teachers Want Parents to Know was born. Therefore the title, Sincerely, The Teacher, says it all; this is a collection of letters, stories, and advice from the experiences of us, the authors, as well as our fellow teachers written to parents. Sincerely, The Teacher is a manual to use as parents encounter circumstances that arise in their child’s education. By the time parents finish reading Sincerely, The Teacher they will feel empowered as a parent to take charge of their child’s education!

Tell us something about yourself.

Tiffany Andrews: After graduating from the University of Georgia, I became a substitute teacher for a year in Forsyth County, GA. I loved subbing because it gave me a chance to experience different schools, grades, administrators and students. It was great practice for when I started teaching in my own classroom. After teaching Kindergarten for three years, and serving as the Department Head for Pre-K and Kindergarten, I was asked to teach 2nd grade at my same school. No matter what grade I teach, I still experience the same joy of helping my students learn something new. If you came into my classroom you would easily see that I absolutely love when things are organized. I think in lists, and I get excited when I complete a “to do” list. My favorite thing to do after school is have a cup of Coffee Fool coffee and watch Regis and Kelly on my DVR. But…luckily I am blessed with an adventurous, “all boy” husband who gets my nose out of a book and onto a snowboard, wakeboard or mountain bike. He brings out the adventurous side of me, who although sometimes scares me, in the end leaves me feeling proud and accomplished. He makes sure that I live in the present instead of in the recent book I am reading. I have always enjoyed writing, so I am very excited for the release of Sincerely, The Teacher. My desire is that it creates a powerhouse of parents and teachers working together to help our future generation.

Becky Saarela: I attended both Bethel College and John Brown University. Afterwards I taught Home Economics in Illinois for seven years but after moving to Georgia I took a break from teaching to raise my two daughters, Heather and Tiffany. When my girls were both in school I went back to work as a substitute teacher for two years in Fulton County, GA. I then worked for three years as a paraprofessional in a middle school special education classroom. Currently I have been teaching Nutrition and Wellness and Food Science in both Milton and Dekalb County, GA for seven years. Along with teaching, I also served several years as my high school’s cheerleading and girls lacrosse coach. Outside of school I am proudly known as “Heather’s mom” or “Tiffany’s mom.” Time spent with my two extraordinary daughters is no.1 on my list of “most favorite things”. I cherish time with family and friends and enjoy conversation over a cup of coffee, lunch or dinner. I love to celebrate things in life and have fun creating memories. One of my favorite words in the English language is “passion”. I strive to pursue mine and like to help others discover theirs. I love teaching teenagers. I see the word “potential” written all over them. It’s one of the blessings in life when I see them achieve, change and discover their talents. My motto in my classroom is “Today is a great day to learn something new”. I enjoy learning new things so I recently took up ballroom dance. I have discovered a new favorite thing! It is a great form of exercise and a fun way to express my joy of music. I like to think of life as a dance and I want to be on the floor enjoying it to the fullest!

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

We faced two big obstacles while writing Sincerely, The Teacher, the first of which was time. As two full-time teachers, there was little time left to actually write the manuscript. Therefore, most of our writing was done after school, on weekends, and of course during our summers. Luckily, with two of us, we were able to share the writing. After picking “The Top 10 Things Teachers Want Parents to Know” we divided the chapters as to what we felt most comfortable and experienced in writing. This helped immensely with the time constraint but it also gave our readers a better sense of who we are individually.

The second obstacle was finding a publisher who would work with us. Since we are new authors many publishers admired our idea but chose to go with more experienced writers. Also, many publishers didn’t know how to categorize Sincerely, the Teacher since it is a parenting book but it is also an educational book. We had some offers but they weren’t able to publicize Sincerely, The Teacher as much as we would like, so we decided to self-publish. We knew a wonderful graphic designer to do the cover and website, and we found a great editor along the way as well. It turned out to be just what we needed because we were able to write at our own pace.

What makes your book unique?

After getting the idea to write Sincerely, The Teacher I visited the book store to make sure there were no other books like it. I quickly found that books about “education” are written to teachers only. Of course teachers need to improve their skills but parents want to help too. Not only is Sincerely, The Teacher a new and unique approach to reach parents it is also filled with useful, realistic tips. For example, in the back of the book is a “Cheat Sheet of Educational Terms” which lists the many acronyms, words, and titles that teachers/administrators use that can get confusing to parents. So often parents just smile and nod when they hear an unfamiliar term like “IEP” (don’t we all), but now they can just flip to the back of the book and see what it means!

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

My advice to writers is to send out “press kits” once your book is published. We chose several local radio stations, media outlets, and individuals who we thought could help promote Sincerely, The Teacher, and we wrote each an individual letter explaining who we were, what the book was about and why we thought they would benefit from its contents. We placed the letter along with a signed copy of the book and a personalized pen with our website’s address, into a box and mailed them out. Because of our press kits we received several radio interviews and an appearance on CNN. It was well worth the time and effort!

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

The perfect readers for Sincerely, The Teacher are parents with school-aged children who want to help with their child’s education but don’t know where to start. We designed the book for the busy parent and wrote like we teach-as concise as possible, yet entertaining and informative.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Readers can learn more about us at our website www.sincerelytheteacher.com. The website includes a blog, breaking news in education, a Q&A, and a section called “If Walls Could Talk” about the hilarious things that teachers hear their students say during the day. Readers can buy Sincerely, The Teacher on our website, at Lulu.com, and Amazon.com. We also have a Facebook Fan Page to hear about upcoming events, recent posts, and educational news.