Gadfly on the Road – Reflections on My First Book Signing



So there I was standing at a podium in Barnes and Noble before an audience of 25 people who had come to hear me talk about my book.


Speech uploaded to my iPad – check.


Cough drop – check.


Fear that no one would take me seriously – Oh, double, triple check!


Let me just say there is a big difference between sitting behind a keyboard pounding out your thoughts for consumption on the Internet, and being somewhere – anywhere – in person.


I’ve spoken at rallies. I’ve spoken at school board meetings. I’ve spoken in private with lawmakers and news people.


But none of that is quite like being the center of attention at your own invitation, asking people to take time out of their busy lives and drag their physical selves to some prearranged place at some prearranged time just to hear whatever it is you’ve got to say.


I had been practicing my remarks for weeks after school.


I had a 15-20 minute speech ready to go – a distillation of the main themes in my book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”


Would people hear what I had to say?



I surveyed the audience. A few people I didn’t know. But there was my mom and dad, a bit more grey haired than I remembered yet doing their parental duty. There were a few colleagues from work – teachers, aides and substitutes. There were a few students standing in the back with their parents. One of my old high school buddies even showed up though he lived about a half hour away.


And there in the second row was my daughter.


For a moment, the whole world seemed to be nothing but her 9-year-old face – a mix of emotions – curiosity, nervousness, boredom.


In that moment, everything else disappeared. I had an audience of one.


I began.


It was surreal.


I spoke the words I had written weeks before, pausing to look up at the audience when I could.


Somehow I was both more and less nervous. I stumbled over parts that had caused no problems when alone. And I hit other points with more passion and purpose than ever before.


At certain points I found myself getting angry at the people behind the standardization and privatization of public education.


I rebuke these greedy saboteurs just about every week on my blog. But there was something different about putting the words on my tongue in public and letting the vibrations beat a rhythm on the ear drums of those assembled before me.


It was like reciting a spell, an incantation. And the effect was visible on the faces of those in front of me.


I glanced at my daughter, expecting her to be nagging her Pap to take her to the children’s section, but she was as entranced as the others.


And was I kidding myself or was there another emotion there? Pride?



I finished my remarks, getting a few laughs here and there. Anger and mirth in equal measure.


I thanked everyone for coming and took questions.


There were quite a bit.


Which aspect of corporate education reform was the worst?


Is there any way for parents to protect their children from standardized testing?


How has the gun debate impacted the move to privatization?


My mother even asked what alternative methods of assessment were preferable to standardized testing.


It went back and forth for a while.


When it seemed to die down, I thanked everyone for coming and said I would be there for as long as anyone would like to talk one-on-one and sign any books if people would like.


I had a line.


Thankfully, my wife brought me the nicest sharpie marker just before I got up there.


I tried to personalize as much as I could but everything seemed to be a variation on “Thanks for Coming.”


Students came up to me with huge grins. Parents asked more questions about their children. Lots of handshaking and hugs.


Teachers came up to tell me I had done a great job. Many introduced me to their kids – most itty bitty toddlers.


A former student who had already graduated got really serious and said, “It was about time someone said that.”



And it was over.


The store manager told me how many books we sold. I had no idea if that was good or bad, but he seemed well satisfied.


I packed everything up in my car and then went looking for my family.


I found them in the children’s section.


They had picked out a few books Mommy was purchasing. A really nice one about Harriet Tubman among them.


My daughter was sitting alone by a toy train set. She was worn out. It had been a long day.


“Daddy!” she said when she saw me. “You were amazing!”


And that was it.


That was all I’d needed.


She asked me about this or that from the speech. Obviously she didn’t understand the ins and outs of what I had said, but some of it had penetrated.


We talked about racism and why that was bad. We talked about what we could do to help stop it.


The rest of the time she held my hand and took me on a tour of the store.


I have hope for a better world, but if I’m honest, I’m not sure if writing this book or my activism or any of it will ever actually achieve its goal.


As ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.”


But I’ve shown my daughter where I stand.


I’ve shown her where I think it’s appropriate to stand.


I’ve shown the same to my students, my family, my community.


They’ll do with that what they will.


I just hope that one day when I’m gone, my daughter will remember what I taught her.


She’ll remember and feel my presence though I’m long gone.




Videos of the majority of my speech:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:



I Wrote a Book! Yeah. I Can’t Believe It Either.



How did this happen?

It was only three and a half years ago that I sat down at my computer and decided to write my first blog.

And now I’ve got a book coming out from Garn Press “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”

Like the title says, I’m just a public school teacher. I’m not important enough to write a book.

A blog? Sure. That could disappear any day now.

All it would take is WordPress deleting the site or maybe the power goes out and never comes back or a zombie apocalypse or who knows…

But a book. That’s kinda’ permanent.

It has mass and takes up space.




That won’t just poof out of existence if someone unplugs the wrong server.

It would take some sort of conscious effort for a book to go away. People would have to actively work to destroy it. They’d have to pile those rectangular paper bundles in a fire pit, douse them in gasoline and light a match.

Otherwise, they’d just maybe sit in a basement somewhere in boxes, unopened and collecting dust.

Or could it really be that people might actually crack the spine and read the things?

It’s a strange sort of birth this transition from cyberspace to 3-dimensional reality.

And it’s about to transpire with selected bits of my writing.

I am flabbergasted. Shocked. Almost in denial that this is really happening.




Did I mention that I’m a public school teacher? No one is supposed to listen to us.

School policy is made without us. Decisions impacting our kids and our careers are made by people who haven’t seen the classroom in years – if ever. And when we politely raise our hands to let people know that something isn’t working, the best we can hope for is to be ignored; the worst is to be bullied into silence.

Yet my blog has 1,184,000 hits. I’ve got 12,545 followers on Twitter and via email. And now – a book.

So, let me propose a theory: the people at Garn Press are just incredibly nice.

Denny, David and Benjamin Taylor are just fulfilling one of those Make a Wish thingies for a downtrodden soul like me.

Maybe I’ve got some sort of debilitating disease and no one’s told me yet.




The book officially comes out on Nov. 28. So when I’m handed my first actual copy, I’d say it’s even money that the next thing I’ll be handed is some medical document showing I only have moments left to live.

But whatever.

I’ll die with a smile on my face.

It reminds me of a few lines from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

In my 40-some years, I’ve tried to do that. I’ve tried to make some lasting mark on the world. Tried to leave it a better place than I found it.




I started as a journalist.

It was great! I could shake up a whole community just by writing something, uncovering some hidden truth, asking a tough question.

But I needed to eat, too, and you can’t do that when you’re on call 24-hours a day for nearly minimum wage under the constant threat of downsizing and meddling by the publisher and advertisers.

So I got my masters degree and became a school teacher.

And it’s been great! I can alter the course of a child’s entire life by helping her learn to read, encouraging her to write and getting her to think and ask questions.

But I’m under constant threat by bureaucrats who know nothing about pedagogy and child psychology trying to force me to do things in ways I know are wrong, detrimental or prejudicial.

So I became an activist, too.

And it’s been great. I joined groups of likeminded individuals and we took to the streets and the legislature and lawmakers offices and parent meetings and teachers conferences and just about anywhere you could stir things up and get people to start asking the right questions.

That led directly to the blog and now the book.




So what’s in it?

In short, it’s my hand-selected favorite articles. These are the ones that either got the most readers or that have a special place in my heart or both.

And this summer I sat at my kitchen table and intensively revised almost all of them. Even if you’ve read them before, these are definitive versions. In some cases, they’re considerably different than the versions you might still find up on-line.

Who did I write it for?

You, I hope.

But, if I’m honest, the people I most had in mind reading it were my daughter and my students.

One day my little girl will grow up and she may wonder what her old man thought about X, Y and Z.

What did Daddy think about racism? What did he think a good teacher did? What were his thoughts about politics, prejudice and reform?

I can see some of my students doing the same.

Perhaps I flatter myself that they may dimly remember me – their crazy 7th or 8th grade Language Arts teacher. I wonder what Mr. Singer would have said about… whatever.

I guess this is my way of telling them.

It’s a time capsule of my present day thoughts. And a guide for how to get to a better future.

You’re cordially invited to read it.

If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, let me just say – thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I never would have had the courage to continue without you.

If you’re new to my writing, welcome aboard. I hope I’ve given you reason to keep reading.

And I hope that one or two of you will be inspired to seek out a certain oblong bundle of papers wrapped in a blue and white cover proclaiming my undying, self-chosen, provocative descriptor:

Gadfly on the Wall.

ebook-2 (1)

(Oh! And a special shout out to Denisha Jones and Yohuru Williams for writing incredible introductions to the book! I am beyond honored!)


The book is now available for purchase at Just click here!

I am also donating 10% of all proceeds to the Badass Teachers Association.