(BA ‘84/MA ‘95) is a freelance author of children’s books living in Minneapolis, Minn. Her books are primarily nonfiction, including series on continents, vehicles, the days of the week, beginner biographies, and music. She began her career as an elementary-school teacher, teaching second and third grades in West Liberty and fifth grade in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
Lindeen left teaching to pursue a career in educational publishing in 1990. She worked for Perfection Learning Systems, Inc., in Des Moines and then was editorial director at Good Apple, which publishes teacher resource books written by teachers. She also worked for Rigby, a literacy company and leader in guided-reading materials. Her final post before embarking on her freelance career was at Capstone Press, a leading publisher of nonfiction library books.
As an author, she uses pen names Marilyn Deen, Marilyn Eden, and Layne deMarin in addition to her real name.
In this Q&A, Lindeen describes her professional and educational path and shares some of the insights she’s gained along the way.
How would you describe yourself as a teacher?
When I graduated from college, my goal was to be a teacher who made learning fun and interesting. I wanted my students to love school as much as I did. What I realized during my first year in the classroom, in rural Iowa, was that for some students school was going to be first and foremost a safe place to be during the day. They were probably not going to light up when I pulled out the globe; they were probably not going to gaze at the moon in wonder after we made one out of paper-mâché; they were probably not going to curl up in bed with a good book every night before going to sleep. I undoubtedly knew this on an intellectual level all along, but I learned it on a personal level when I became a teacher. My expectations for those students were never less than I had for the other students, but they were often different, and that was not a bad thing. That was realistic and compassionate, and it held its own lessons.
This speaks directly to my firm convictions that students have to be considered in light of the totality of their lives, and why a singular curriculum in every classroom in every school just doesn’t work. It’s why I respect teachers so much and want to make products that they can use to best help the students they teach.
What inspired you to make the shift from teaching to publishing and writing?
When I taught at the lower grades, I would think wistfully about what was going on in the upper-grade classrooms at the other end of the hall. And when I taught fifth grade, I would think about how much fun it would be to share a new book with a kindergarten classroom. I had also created many of my own teaching units and enjoyed that aspect of planning curriculum. So I looked up educational publishers in Iowa, and I found Perfection Learning. I sent them a résumé even though they weren’t advertising for openings at the time, and I got hired as an editor. It was heaven. At the time, they sold children’s trade books to school libraries, and their curriculum division wrote teaching guides to sell along with those titles. I spent entire days reading Newbery-winning books and the newest trade titles and thinking up activities to go along with them. I loved it.
When did you cross into writing books of your own?
I paid my way through graduate school by writing curriculum and some children’s books as a freelancer. This was my first taste of writing children’s books, and I really liked it.
In 2002, I decided that I wanted to work from home and that was the beginning of my career as a freelancer. I have worked for many educational publishers and developers since then, writing and editing children’s books and curriculum materials. It has been interesting because of the variety of projects I have worked on. It has also allowed me to spend more time writing children’s books, mostly nonfiction, which I have absolutely loved doing.
What do you find most challenging about your work?
The most challenging thing about being in educational publishing over the last 10 years has been to figure out what the market will buy. It’s not hard to figure out what teachers want. They want what they have always wanted: quality materials that will help them teach their students. But because of funding restrictions and out of economic necessity, schools and individual teachers are not buying curriculum products like they once did. They are making do with what they have or buying what they are allowed to buy with federal and state funds, many of which are extremely proscriptive. Publishers are not producing as many new materials as a result. They are repurposing or repackaging existing products to try to generate new sales until they can figure out what to do next.
Technological advancements have also had a huge impact on this industry. Teachers can find and download for free the kinds of enrichment materials they once had to purchase from publishers. And teachers within a district can easily share materials electronically, which are specifically tailored to local goals and requirements that they’ve developed with their colleagues, often at the direction and encouragement of the school administration. This has many traditional publishers scrambling to figure out how to remain profitable, and it has many new companies, especially technology companies, entering the education market because it is such a large source of potential income for those who can hit this moving target.
What changes to teaching do you perceive as a publisher and writer?
One of the more discouraging changes from my perspective is that so many teachers are no longer encouraged to, and are in fact even overtly discouraged from, enriching the core curriculum that they are required to teach. When I was in the classroom, I was applauded for bringing in outside materials and coming up with my own units of study. The “good” teachers were the ones who used their own creativity to spark engagement and success for their students. When I entered educational publishing, creative materials were prized. If you could think of new ways to present learning opportunities, you were recognized and rewarded. Now, so many of the products being sold are narrow and restrictive in terms of content and approach. They do not encourage creativity and individual adaptation but rather are deemed successful to the extent that they can standardize instruction from one classroom to the next.
As someone who thinks education works best when it is creatively and resourcefully presented, and as someone who believes that children are unique individuals for whom one size does not fit all, the current conditions in many classrooms and districts seem to thwart rather than encourage an optimal learning environment.
I also know that there are many publishing professionals and committed educators who are finding ways to work through and around some of these serious issues, and I have great hope that students will ultimately be the ones to benefit from this rigorous examination of what works and what doesn’t in the classroom.