Teacher Talent: Current and former teachers publish books


Kaitlyn Hankard

Two students reading Leah Ferguson and Kristy Shinn’s books

Writing a book may be one of the most difficult thing that a person can do. The hardest part of the process is simply coming up with an idea, something that’s substantive and interesting enough for them personally to keep them writing.

But even if they come up with an idea, it’s no guarantee that they’ll put their pen to paper. Even if they do, so often out of embarrasment or privacy, it could end up sitting in a cupboard ’till their death. It takes a truly rare person to have the ability, persistence and courage to write a book, perfect it, and then manage to get it published. The process can consume a person’s life for months, even years.

Our very own math teacher Kristy Shinn, and former English teacher Leah Ferguson, both took the proverbial plunge, and decided to write their very own books.

One of the most dreaded part of any student’s career is the SAT. The test is notorious for the extreme pressures it places on students, under an omnipresent time limit, with the outcomes of the test capable of defining what college you go to and, by extension, what shape the rest of your life looks like.

Shinn is in touch with her students, with some like Allisya Mullins always emphatically declaring what a “fun teacher” she is. She really cares about her kids, and what she does, so as you can imagine, seeing your kids under this kind of stress, coming to her for help, not sure how they should be studying for the SAT? It only makes sense that she would decide to write a book on it.

Her book, How To Stop Doing Math, was “mostly written over the summer,” according to Shinn, in order to make sure that she wasn’t crushed under the dual stresses of teaching and writing.

While you may think that writing a book about math, rather than narrative would be fairly simple, you couldn’t be further from the truth- devising just the right problems to get your point across, coming up with concepts that stick to the student, and constantly checking your math. It’s truly an impressive feat and isn’t just useful for the SAT.

The whole conceit of the book is test-taking strategies, applicable to both standardized tests and any math multiple choice test. It identifies common “tips, tricks and strategies” that allow you to clearly find answers, rather than using oftentimes confounding and confusing “official” strategies that we’re meant to use on tests.

She had a publisher in Central PA Test Prep. With the help of them and her editor, Raeshell Foster and her husband (and fellow teacher at the school) Micah Shinn, she was able to make sure the book was free of errors.

“It was a tough process- you’d be surprised by the mistakes you can make, even as a math teacher!” said Shinn when describing the meticulous process of correcting the work.

On a quite divergent note: where Stop Doing Math is still firmly based in Kristy Shinn’s career as a teacher, Ms. Leah Ferugson’s novel, All the Difference, is only tangentially related to her career at CHS, in that she taught English here at CHS prior to having written the book.

Ferguson came to Carlisle as a young child, going to St. Pats and CHS from grades 1-12. Originally the editor of a law-book publisher, she realized that she wasn’t having much fun in this career. So, she transitioned into something vastly more stimulating: teaching.

Candidly, Ms. Ferguson tells us that she didn’t want to spend her life “at a desk and edit[ing] somebody else’s words.” Being a teacher allowed her to get creative. She spent many years teaching, and when writing All The Difference, she found that all of the concepts she had taught were highly useful in the process of writing an actual novel.

All The Difference follows a career-driven woman by the name of Molly Sullivan, who has two shocking revelations on New Year’s Eve. It’s a book about modern motherhood, relationships and friendship.

Both of these teachers are sterling examples of both how diverse and hardworking our teacher community can be here at CHS.