When I was in junior high, there was this one English teacher. I never had him, but I heard stories. Stories about the stories. My classmates talked about how all they had to do was make one comment or ask one random question to get him going, and they could keep him talking through all of class. As in, never getting to the lesson. As in, no homework.
Not something I aspire to as a teacher.
At the same time, I find I can't be totally rigid about sticking to the agenda and only the agenda. That likely comes from my years in deaf-ed, where kids often have gaps in their world knowledge, and if I don't allow a tangent to fill them, who will? I have a curriculum to stick to, but that doesn't mean there isn't time for other conversations.
Here's what I've learned: Kids want to know things. Since my students have heard about my publishing deal, they want to know a lot of things.
How long did it take to write the book?
Why is it going to be so long before it's published?
How did you get the book deal?
What's an agent?
Will it be in bookstores or will we have to buy it from you?
Will there be a movie?
I get particularly in-depth questions from students who want to write and publish novels themselves, but some of the most intense curiosity comes from students who aren't into writing at all. Often who aren't even into reading all that much.
Indulging those questions gives them insight into something that certainly isn't on the curriculum in any of their classes. It also reinforces one of my favorite points—don't pigeonhole people. Yeah, I'm a math teacher. Yeah, I'm a novelist. Yeah, I know ASL.
Hopefully it gets through to them that they can be as multi-faceted as they want, too. Especially in the adolescent world of "What's your label?"
And you know what? Sometimes tangents like that work in writing, too. It might seem like wandering off aimlessly, but if we do it right, it can actually play right into our point.
Of course, the trick is the "doing it right" part. But isn't it always?