Stories from school York teacher tells all in book

Kay McSpadden, a York Comprehensive High School teacher, recently published a book of her columns, "Notes from a Classroom."
Kay McSpadden, a York Comprehensive High School teacher, recently published a book of her columns, "Notes from a Classroom."

YORK -- If author Kay McSpadden is ever invited to appear on Oprah, she says she'll be back in her classroom the next day.

That's because she knows her inspiration comes from the students who have sat in front of her for the last 30 years.

There is Wanda, a severely disabled student who fought to graduate, despite predictions that she couldn't. Wanda accomplished her goal and died within a year.

There are Daniel and Edward, students who left school early to join the military and fight wars -- boy soldiers.

And there is the senior in McSpadden's class who lives out of his truck, but still attends class faithfully.

"That kind of bravery deserves some kind of response," McSpadden said.

McSpadden, an English teacher at York Comprehensive High School since 1982, has noted that bravery in a column she has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1999. Now, 400 columns later, a collection of 72 columns has been bound in a book, "Notes from a Classroom."

The book is published by C.D. Stampley of Charlotte. Its official release date is Sunday, but McSpadden has been at book signings and on local radio shows for several weeks now.

"We've long been fans of Kay, just reading her in the Observer and thought she deserved national attention," said Richard Rotundi of Stampley. "We're hoping to get it for her."

The book offers a unique look into today's classroom that most people don't see, Rotundi said.

It's in the classroom, McSpadden says she finds faces for the policy and legislation enacted by politicians and bureaucrats.

"Everybody thinks they know what goes on in a classroom, because they once were a student, but that's not necessarily what's going on in schools today," McSpadden said. "I'm there every day."

Writing provides a chance for her to say "here are my impressions for what they're worth," she said.

McSpadden has written short stories and was a finalist in the 2004 Novello Contest, but this is her first full-length book. With it she feels she's found her niche.

She has been teaching since she graduated from Winthrop University in 1977. Her first job was teaching special education students at North Junior High School in Lancaster.

"It was trial by fire, because I wasn't trained to teach special ed, and I wasn't really trained to teach sixth and seventh grade," McSpadden said. "But I learned a lot, and those kids taught me a lot about how to teach."

In her book, she tells about those students and her early mistakes as a teacher.

"A lot of my stories are about things that I wish I had done differently or things I didn't do well in the classroom," she said.

That kind of self reflection has enabled her to become a better teacher, she said.

At York's high school, she encourages her students to strive for the same goal she has in her writing -- to present opinions clearly and logically.

"My kids don't have to agree with me, but I would like for them to at least say in a logical reasonable way why their position is different," she said.

More than anything she wants them to learn how to think critically, she said.

"If they can learn to think for themselves -- think critically and rationally then it doesn't matter what happens to them in the future," she said. "They're going to be able to deal with it."

NOTES FROM A CLASSROOM By Kay McSpadden. C.D. Stampley of Charlotte. $22.95. 336 pages.