Rob Buyea taught third and fourth graders in Bethany, CT for six years before moving to Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and three daughters. He teaches biology and coaches wrestling at Northfield Mount Hermon School. BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT, his first novel and the companion to MR. TERUPT FALLS AGAIN, was selected as an E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor Book, a CYBILS finalist, and has been named to numerous state award lists. Rob spends his summers at Cape Cod enjoying family adventures, entertaining friends, and writing. You can visit him at www.robbuyea.com. BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT and MR. TERUPT FALLS AGAIN cover a school year from multiple different students’ perspectives. Reviewers have noted that the student voices are “authentic.” How do you suppress your own voice as an experienced teacher and let the characters be themselves?
For me, the characters are bits and pieces of many of my former students and parts of me, all glued together. The parts of me that are in the characters I don’t suppress. Like my character, Luke, I get excited about math and science challenges. It’s easy for me to know how he feels and thinks. Knowing my characters in this way helped me make them “authentic.” Writers do best when they write about what they know. The protagonist of your Mr. Terupt books is noted for his creative classroom antics and activities. How much crossover is there between your style and personality as a teacher and his?
A lot. I like to have fun. I want my classroom to be a place where my students want to be, a place where they feel challenged but also share laughs. I like to give my students ownership. I often provide the general guidelines for a project, but allow them to go from there. This was the case when I was an elementary teacher, and it’s a part of my high school biology classroom today. The rapport Mr. Terupt has with his students is special, and that’s something else I strive for. You’ve said that your experience reading aloud to your students directly influenced how you wrote the Mr. Terupt books. How so?
I loved when my students wanted me to stop in the midst of a story so they could share connections, questions, and predictions. I also loved it when something came up in the story that made my students think. Great discussions always followed. And of course, I loved it when the kids begged me not to stop. I wanted those read-aloud moments to be possible with my Mr. Terupt books. Based on all the letters I’ve received from students and teachers, I know that’s happened for many. I can’t tell you how wonderful that makes me feel. In interviews you often say that you weren’t a reader when you were growing up, but picked up the habit later. How has your reluctance to read when you were younger impacted how you approach teaching and writing for reluctant readers?
As for teaching reading, I believe strongly in letting kids self-select books. I did my best to help my students find books with which I thought they would connect, but ultimately it was their choice. I also made talking about our reading a regular part of the classroom. As adults, when we read something that excites us we like to tell someone about it, not always answer questions or write responses. I was constantly talking about my reading with my students, and that enthusiasm spread.
I didn’t set out to write for reluctant readers, but I think I’ve reached many because they can connect with my characters. You were actively writing and revising a story with your writing group when the idea for Mr. Terupt hit you and took you in a new direction. As a writer, what’s it like to abandon an idea you’ve put so much work into for a new and fresh idea?
I actually tried to ignore the student voices and ideas for Mr. Terupt when they first came to me. As a beginning writer, I didn’t think I could worry about more than one story at a time. But the characters didn’t leave me alone, and the ideas grew. Eventually, there came a point when I was too excited to resist writing it any longer. I knew I had to get started, and I also wanted to see how my writing group would receive it. Once I got started on it, I never stopped.
I would not say I abandoned my original story idea. That’s too strong a word. I simply put it on the side for a while. I’ve continued to think about it over the years and intend to return to it. That’s a story waiting to be told.
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