Monthly Archives: April 2016

Atypical Retirement

This is a guest post by our colleague and friend, Dr. James A. Zarzana, retired Professor Emeritus. He is the author of the The Marsco Saga novels. In addition to writing, he enjoys spending time with his lovely wife and daughter, traveling around the globe, and sipping a good cup of coffee. You can find and follow him on the Marsco Saga website or on the Marsco Saga Facebook page.

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I’m quick to tell people who think I’m retired that I am not. It is true that last May, I finished my 41-year teaching career, but I am onto a second career now. I am far from retired.

During the last 18 years that I taught at SMSU, I was also working on my writing. Writing in snatches. Writing on weekends and nights. Writing during the few weeks in the summer I didn’t teach summer school or have English Department Chair duties. During that time, I published one novel, The Marsco Dissident. And additionally I managed to draft the three remaining novels of The Marsco Saga, my four-volume work of speculative sci-fi.

Don’t get me wrong—I loved teaching and gave it my all. I had students who are now teachers and principals. Professors and journalists. Doctors and lawyers. Farmers and business owners. I see one or another here and there in unlikely places, like the hotel I checked into in the Cities—the manager was a former student. He gave me free breakfasts during my entire stay.

But, I also love my writing life. So, I stepped aside from teaching and haven’t missed it. I miss my students and my colleagues, I miss lecturing about my favorite topics (the novel genre and certain authors), but I’m happy doing what I do now. Extremely happy.

And I am busy. . . as busy with my writing career as I was as a prof. No office hours. No committee meetings. But plenty to do.

So, in the year since I retired from teaching, I’ve been to five conferences tied to writing generally or sci-fi specifically. Spoken at two high schools and one university. Been on the radio. And I’ve launched Book II, Marsco Triumphant.

Over the next several months, I have two sci-fi conferences lined up, two reading dates confirmed, one school visit in Sweden set up in May, a research trip to London planned for September (that may include one or two readings), and I am editing Book III, The Marsco Sustainability Project. Look for me on May 26th at the Marshall/Lyon County Library at noon. I’ll be giving my first public reading from Book II.

As an aside, writing a draft of anything is easy. Create your Word document, set your typeface and spacing, save it, and write like the devil. The rub is in the details, and the details are enormous when the draft is 600 or 700 pages long.

I have three words of advice to anyone who wants to write anything, not just fiction. The three words are: revise, revise, revise. When you buy a copy of my book, you are holding my 35th or 40th draft. I have each text professionally edited twice. I have lived and breathed with that novel for years. For several months during that time, all I do is edit. It’s the secret to my overnight success.

So, my “retirement” is not a cabin at the lake. It is not fishing or hunting or trekking around in a new RV. All admirable and enjoyable activities for those who love those sorts of things. But I’m diving into a second career, as far from retirement as ever.

It reminds me of when the space probe Philae landed on Comet 67P in November 2014. This spacecraft launched from Earth, caught up with a distant comet, and landed Philae on its surface, the first such mission in human history. The Head of the European Space Agency, who commanded this incredibly complicated and challenging space mission, stated: “The biggest problem with success is that it looks easy.”

The problem with my kind of retirement is that it may not look like work, but it is. Enjoyable work, but work nonetheless.

I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labors.

For more on my writing, check out or like “The Marsco Saga” page on Facebook. You may buy The Marsco Dissident and Marsco Triumphant on Amazon.  ~Dr. James A. Zarzana

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Stay Calm & Retire On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

Teacher Candidates Strive to be Better


You will never be perfect, teacher candidates, but this 2-day clinical experience you just successfully accomplished will certainly make you better! Always strive for better! Congratulations! We commend you!

Our SMSU teacher candidates plan and carry out a 2-day, theme-based clinical experience in a local elementary school. Working together in groups of two or three, our teacher candidates pick a theme and then plan all lessons around this theme. From Candy Land, to superheroes, to jungles, to sports, to camping, to surfing, to iPhone apps…the teacher candidates work collaboratively to make a welcome door decoration that accessorizes their theme along with writing 14 or more lesson plans for those two days.

And so their teaching take-over began. I had to laugh when I was sitting on the steps inside one of the school buildings looking over a children’s book I was going to read to a kindergarten class as their guest reader. One of the teacher candidates was visiting with me about this book when unexpectedly the fire alarm went off.

The teacher candidate frantically asked, “Is this real???” I just smiled and calmly concurred, “Yes indeedy, Tiff, this is real.”

Off she runs up the stairs, taking two steps at a time to go rescue her students from the library and get them outside to safety…a true superhero. I couldn’t help but giggle. 🙂

After the fire drill was over, and we were all walking back into the school building, the elementary principal was walking towards me with a HUGE grin on his face. I wagged my pointing finger at him and jokingly accused “You are naughty, Mr. Swenson.”  He just snickered and said he wanted these SMSU teacher candidates to have a real teaching experience. Funny guy! 🙂

I’ve always been curious how many steps a teacher takes during a day in the classroom. Well, many of our teacher candidates wear Fitbits. An email went out asking them to keep track of the number of steps they took on the last day of their clinical experience. If you’re curious, here are the results. The average number of steps for the second day was 8,715.44. The highest number of steps was 15,435, and we did have one outlier at 3,113.

One genius idea came from a fourth grade team. These teacher candidates requested their students to continually evaluate their communication skills. How? The teacher candidates asked the kids to give a specific signal whenever they heard the teacher candidates say “um,” “uh,” and/or “you guys.” If the fourth graders heard these words spoken, the signal was given and the guilty teacher candidate had to do five jumping jacks. One of the teacher candidates said she probably had to do around 100 jumping jacks the first day. What a GREAT way to reflect and correct a bad habit. Brilliant idea, ladies! Stealing it!! 🙂

Trust us when we say, teacher candidates, that this 2-day, theme-based clinical experience will be one you remember for the rest of your lives. Kudos to you on a job well done.

Thanks for sharing all the great pics. We will let your pictures tell the story…












Stay Calm & Teach On!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

SMSU Education Undergraduate Action Research Conference = S.U.C.C.E.S.S.

Mariya AR

S.U.C.C.E.S.S. that’s the way we spell SUCCESS. 🙂 The former cheerleader in me can’t help but chant that old cheer out loud at the completion of our first ever Education Undergraduate Action Research Conference held Friday, April 8, 2016 at the SMSU’s Schwan’s Regional Event Center (REC) on campus. We applaud our students for a job well done!!

For years, our SMSU School of Education teacher candidates have had to carry out an action research project as part of their training. In their junior year field experience placement, the teacher candidates identify an issue in their classrooms that they believe they can make better for elementary students. Teacher candidates research this issue, find ways to make it a little better, then take action by applying what they’ve learned in their research and hope for a better outcome for kids.

One example might be… maybe elementary students are struggling with spelling. Our teacher candidates identify this, research how to help these struggling students, then apply a strategy that they may have found in their research. The teacher candidates take action by applying this and use three different instruments to collect data. Teacher candidates discover if the action they took helped the elementary students or not. That’s just one example of several great findings.

In the past, the teacher candidates would present their findings by using a poster as their platform. This year we tried something new. The teacher candidates still had to present their findings, however, they were able to choose their platform. A few still chose the poster to present their findings, while others chose Power Point, Prezi, Weebly, and Smore, to name a few of the presentation platform tools chosen.

Rather than present their findings using the poster, the teacher candidates and I decided to turn the presentations into a conference style event. First ever “Education Undergraduate Action Research Conference” which was held in the REC in the morning from 8:00 – noon.

Dr. Dennis Lamb kicked off the conference at 8:00 a.m. with his keynote talk and he had us laughing and even shedding a few tears. He connected well with the teacher candidates. Presentation sessions then began at 9:00. Parents, brothers, sisters, and other family members came to watch and support their family members. Very cool! 🙂


All I know is the REC was a fantastic place to hold a conference and a few of the comments from the teacher candidates were:

“I would say, have this here every year.”

“It made us feel very professional.”

Our tech support young man even said “This is cool up here. You might have started something.”

We believe it was a success, and we are very proud of our kids…the teacher candidates. 🙂

It wouldn’t have been as successful, though, if it weren’t for a team effort. Ron in scheduling, Laura in Maintenance, Ben and Emmanuel in Technology, and the volunteers who scored the presentations using the PVLEGS method…all of you were a HUGE help to us!! We SO appreciate you and all you did! Thank you!!

Are you on Twitter? A few pictures can be found there. You can see some of them on Wendy’s account @kiddielitprof or on the School of Ed account @smsuschoolofed.

CONGRATS, Action Researchers…


Stay Calm & Research On!
Profs Dr. C. & Dr. V.

Tweet, Meet, & Greet



We don’t know about you, but man oh man, we are tired!  Just returned from the annual ASCD conference in Atlanta, Georgia, where we met up with some fabulous peeps from all over the globe; the list is long, and maybe it included you!?

If you were able to join us at our session, Oh, the People You’ll Meet If Only You’ll Tweet on April 2, 2016, we promised to share our twitter resource highlight list.  Voila – here it is:



Just a few others we mentioned…and that you won’t be able to resist:



Some other conference highlights outside of our session:
(We know, hard to believe there were any, but it is true.)

@donwettrick – Shared his passion about Pure Genius.  #PureGenius

@manuelscott – Original Freedom Writer, who shared his life story to inspire us as educators to continue to be more and do more for others.  Scott challenges us to teach like someone else’s life depends on it because it does.

…Fast forward thru “unhandled” ASCD speakers…

What does it take to the best?  @ShannaPeeples, the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, knows as she shared her stories, and expressed, “We are saved by what we create and who we love in a very real way.”

Wait!  The best is not over yet!  Best coffee shop encounter while in Atlanta – meeting two educators from the Netherlands, and having an unconference while soaking up the sun between sessions.  Join us in following these two Dutch teacher trainers:


Learning can happen with a variety of people and in a variety of places.  Follow these hashtags to take your Twitter PD to the next level:

#ascd16 – for highlights of the conference in Atlanta, GA


And last but certainly NOT least…


If you remember from our last blog, Dr. Wendy was hoping to meet one of her favorite tweeps – Ms. Stephanie Frosch @steph_frosch.  She accomplished her goal, and gave her a hug because their friendship started on Twitter and grew into a real flower. Peace out!


BLOG Twitter ASCD16 2

Fabulous time!  But now we need a nap…  Zzzzzzzzz…

Stay Calm & Tweet On!
Profs Dr. C. &Dr. V.
@kiddielitprof  &  @drvteacher