Tim O’Mara is a hero. He is a public school teacher and a man (rare to have male role models in our schools). Like most of these dedicated, hard-working, under-rewarded, and under-recognized teachers, he cares about his students. I am very inspired by him and very grateful as a father and a citizen to all public school teachers.
But Tim is not just an NYC public middle-school teacher. He is an author. He wrote an adult mystery series about a public schoolteacher who used to be a cop. O’Mara never was a cop, but his brother is. Raymond Donne Book 1, Sacrifice Fly (2012 Minotaur Books), was nominated by Deadly Pleasures Magazine for the 2013 Best First Novel Barry Award.
O’Mara teaches math and special education in a tony area of Manhattan now, but started his career in 1987 in a disadvantaged section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the setting for the series. The dichotomy of these two worlds is highlighted in Raymond Donne Book 2, Crooked Numbers, released this past week. More at www.timomara.net and on Facebook (TimOMaraAuthor) and Twitter (@TimOMaraAuthor).
Support a teacher – and read a good mystery book.
You know the type: hard to reach, easy to annoy, always knows more than the teacher. In this case, me. The kid’s got a wall around him that would make the Chinese envious. But on those rare occasions when he lets me glimpse over that wall, the view is astounding. He can be funny, insightful and a joy to teach.
He mentioned to me last week that he knew I’d written a book, Crooked Numbers. I had given a copy to a friend of his—another of my tougher students—to celebrate a successful session at camp and the birth of his foster mom’s first child. That was pretty much all T said. He knew I wrote a book.
For most of last year, there was a bit of a buzz around school that Mr. O’Mara had published a book and that it was in bookstores and it was even available online and their parents had bought it and liked it. Some kids actually brought copies to school to have me sign, and even though I wrote it with an adult audience in mind, it seemed to strike a chord with many of my middle school students.
If T was impressed, he kept it to himself.
Just last week, T stepped into it again. He earned himself a one-day suspension for creative use of a belt and ended up spending the day in the principal’s office. Shortly after school ended that day, my boss came to me in the Teacher Center. It turns out that during a conversation with the principal, it came out that T was somewhat impressed with my accomplishment and he was even thinking about going to the reading and signing event for my second book this week.
“Maybe you can work with that,” my boss suggested.
The next day, I brought in a personally inscribed copy of the book. I referenced a conversation I had had with him the day of his suspension:
This story has a lot to do with the choices people make—including the author.
I gave him the book immediately after a particularly positive period with him of one-on-one guidance through a quiz on integers. (Yes, pun intended.) He looked at the inscription and nodded. He didn’t say anything. I said, “You’re welcome,” and went off to do lunch duty.
When I go back to school tomorrow, it will be the first encounter with T since I gave him the book. My fantasy is that he stayed up all weekend reading the book, relating to the characters, and realizing the error of his ways. The reality is the gift of a book—my book—will more than likely not change much of anything. It has taken T thirteen years to build that wall and one present from a teacher is not going to tear it down.
What I’m hoping for is just one little crack.
Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book3, all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).