Meet Memphis Teacher Michael Scruggs: “You have everything it takes to be #1”

Meet high school social studies teacher Michael Scruggs from Memphis, Tennessee. He is such an inspiration to his students! Every day he begins his classes with a motivational mantra such as, “You have everything it takes to be #1.”

This passionate chalkboard champion was featured last June in an episode of the Ellen DeGeneres Show. View the video below to see him in action, and to meet one of his former students.



Journalist Barbara Demick tells the story of Mi-ran, the North Korean Kindergarten Teacher who Defected

The country of North Korea and its quarrelsome Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un have taken top billing in the news quite a bit recently, and with the upcoming Winter Olympic Games scheduled in Pyeong Chang, South Korea, we’re likely to hear a lot more. You can learn a great deal about the political climate of the two Koreas, as told by the citizens themselves, by reading a fascinating book entitled Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, written by award-winning journalist Barbara Demick.

The volume traces the lives of six ordinary North Korean citizens who were raised to accept without question the totalitarianism of the Kim regime. One by one, each of these citizens experiences a life-altering disillusionment with their Supreme Leader, and each ultimately feels compelled to attempt defection from their inhuman conditions. Eventually, each one escapes into the welcoming arms of South Korea.

One of these individuals was Mi-ran, a neophyte kindergarten teacher assigned to a school near her girlhood home of Chongjin. Mi-ran dearly loved her little students, but although she faced her class each day with the most cheerful attitude she could muster, she soon became embittered by her government’s expectation that she systematically brainwash her kids into believing they had “nothing to envy” while she watched them die a slow, agonizing death from starvation. The riveting story of Mi-ran’s defection, and the sweetheart she left behind, make fascinating reading. Equally engrossing are the stories of the other five defectors included in the book, one of whom is Mi-ran’s lost love.

Up to now, when Americans think of North Korea, we see only the menacing visage of Kim Jong-Un. The stories of these six ordinary citizens who have survived in, and escaped from, one of the most repressive governments in the world bring a humanizing perspective to that nation.

The book, first published in 2009, was named a National Book Award finalist and was similarly recognized by the National Book Critics Circle. You can find Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick on

Teacher Sarah Wu and her “Fed Up With Lunch” Campaign

Those of us who work in public schools have long been aware that school lunches are, shall we say, less than appetizing. I’m sure the cafeteria personnel do the best they can with the resources they are given, but the truth is none of us eats a school-prepared lunch unless we are incredibly desperate. And I, for one, was almost never that desperate. But one educator who became determined to do what she could to call attention to the school lunch problem was Sarah Wu, teacher and a speech pathologist working at Haugan Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois.

One day, Sarah didn’t have enough time before going to work to pack her own lunch. After purchasing a lunch from her school’s cafeteria, she was shocked to see what was being served to the students. To spotlight the problem, every school day during 2010, the determined educator bought a cafeteria lunch, took it back to her classroom, snapped a photo of it, and wrote about it on her online blog. Sarah posted her observations on using the pseudonym Mrs. Q. She kept her identity a closely-guarded secret because she was afraid she might get fired if school officials knew she was the one behind the blog. Eventually, her blog attracted thousands of readers, many of whom shared her concern about the quality of school lunches. In 2011, Sarah published a book about her project. The book was entitled “Fed Up with Lunch: The School Lunch Project: How One Anonymous Teacher Survived a Year of School Lunches” (Chronicle, $22.95).

Sarah’s year-long school lunch project was completed years ago, but she continues to write blog posts about food policy, school issues, and personal health. Occasionally she still posts photos and observations of the lunches served each day at her school. To learn more about this gutsy chalkboard champion, read this story published in 2011 in the Chicago Tribune: School Lunch Blogger “Mrs. Q”.

Marzell’s Books Added to Collections of Prestigious University Libraries

I’m always so flattered whenever I learn that one of my books has been added to the collection of yet another prestigious university library. Today I discovered that my first book, Chalkboard Champions (2012), was recently added to the collection of the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. The volume had previously been added to the libraries of Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota; the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi; the State University of New York in Oswego, New York; Hunter College in New York, New York; Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey; Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts; and the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. It is also part of the collection of the Library of Congress.

Chalkboard Heroes (2015) has been added to the collections of the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, California; Chadron State University in Chadron, Nebraska; the University of Sourthern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and the University of Chicago Library in Chicago, Illinois.

Many thanks to all these university libraries for honoring my work!


Chalkboard Champions and Hurricane Harvey: Wading into Rising Waters

As empathetic Americans look for ways to help fellow citizens forced to cope with the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Texas teachers are undoubtedly wondering what they can do to help ease the distress of their precious kids when they return to the classroom.

As usual when I hear news stories about storm damage, I am reminded of a book I read which tells the tale of a remarkable teacher who opened a school for New Orleans evacuees following Hurricane Katrina.

When surging flood waters from Hurricane Katrina forced thousands of families to flee from their homes, New Orleans residents had their minds more on survival than on whether their children would be missing school. But when a group of evacuee parents who landed in New Iberia, Louisiana, realized they would not be returning to their homes any time soon, they knew they had to find a strategy to help their children cope with their enforced and unexpected exile. They pooled their financial resources and hired a fellow refugee, teacher Paul Reynaud, to establish a one-room school for their children in an abandoned office building. The story furnishes valuable lessons for dealing with this latest example of nature’s fury.

The book is entitled Sugarcane Academy: How a New Orleans Teacher and His Storm-Struck Students Created a School to Remember.The author of this intriguing true story is journalist Michael Tisserand, and the volume was published in 2007 by Harcourt. You can find the book on at the following link:

For other intriguing stories about remarkable teachers in America’s sometimes turbulent history, check out my book Chalkboard Champions. You will find it on the web site for Amazon or Barnes and Noble.