Q: What inspired you to write your memoir, and how long did it take you to write it?
A: Teaching overseas was a life changing experience for me. I’d taught in many different schools in different parts of the country, but my perfectionism continued to hold me back from being the teacher I’d always wanted to be.
My first grade teacher, Miss Gluding, was so patient with me and my struggles to read, due to undiagnosed dyslexia and a blind right eye. She also had high expectations, but she gave me strategies and encouraged me to keep trying. She gave me a sense that even with my disabilities I could be successful. I wanted to be a teacher like her.
It took me seven years to write my book and get it published. The first year I spent finding my way. I took some classes at GrubStreet International Writing School in Boston and started a first draft.
After reading it, I realized I was writing in circles, but a class with the wonderful writer/ teacher Mary Carroll Moore revealed what I needed to do to create a memoir and not an autobiography. So I worked for the next couple years writing and revising a first draft.
When I felt it was time for another set of eyes to read it, I returned to one of my other GrubStreet teachers, Nadine Kinney Johnstone, who coached me in the ways of memoir. I also read Mary Karr’s seminal book, The Art of Memoir.
By the fall of 2019, I was ready to look for a publisher and found She Writes Press, a hybrid publishing company that publishes only women writers and grants them much more input and control over the publication process.
Q: What impact did your year teaching in Oxford, England, have on you, both personally and professionally?
A: Teaching at the Dragon School required me to begin again. I’d been teaching for 17 years in a variety of schools in different parts of the US, but my perfectionism was getting the way of becoming that teacher I wanted to be, a teacher like Miss Gluding.
Going to Oxford required me put aside everything I knew about teaching in the US to teach in the UK. It was a real challenge in that I had to slow down, I had to be more patient with myself and with my English students and colleagues. And yet I also knew I only had that one year to change and become the teacher I wanted to be.
Personally the year away was as challenging as it was professionally because my husband, Brady, could not join me for the whole year. I left Boston at the end of August 1998 for Oxford, knowing I wouldn’t see him until December of 1998. I had to take care of all the details of moving to a different country and taking on a new job on my own.
Although we talked on the phone every week, it was a real struggle to figure everything out myself for the first few months.
At first I wondered why I had done such a daft thing to leave my home, my husband, my family and friends and come to the UK and teach in a totally different way, but I also wanted to reinvent myself; I knew I had to address my perfectionism in ways that would enable me to remain in the profession I loved.
The exchange program between my school in Boston, the Fessenden School, and the Dragon was a gift that I doubted would come again. I didn’t dare pass it up.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: My husband came up with it! I immediately saw it as a pun: students at the Dragon School are referred to as young dragons, but I also had to learn how to deal with my own inner dragons: my perfectionism and the unattained expectations I placed on myself and others.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: Inspiration to reinvent oneself, to face the trials and tribulations of life with courage and humor, to have a sense of hope for themselves and a world that doesn’t often feel hopeful.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A book about acting Shakespeare with students and another memoir about growing up with my uncle Ted who was severely brain damaged from birth.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb