BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — A west metro middle school teacher has quite the story to tell, and now, to his surprise, his blunt and witty words are resonating with hundreds of thousands of people.
Bloomington dad Matthew Eicheldinger is getting some extra family time these days. He's on sabbatical from the job he says he was was always drawn to.
"I looked back at everything I had done in high school, like I did soccer camps and the coaches always gave me the little kids and church volunteer work, and I was like, I think I am just supposed to do this and fell in love with it," he said.
Middle school language arts — teaching about books and reading, a struggle he understood.
"When I was growing up, I was not a reader either, I read mostly Calvin and Hobbes," he said.
So he got creative with his incentives.
"A lot of other teachers were handing out candy as an incentive for kids to answer questions or volunteer. And I didn't have candy and didn't want to, so I came up with the idea of just telling kids stories from my childhood that were funny if we finished a task early or if we did well on an assessment altogether I would tell the story, and those really took off," he said.
Every time a kid made a good decision, they got to draw a story from the jar — a story from Mr. Eich's past, like the purple grape lady.
"When my wife and I were in college this old lady spit on our car at an intersection and it was really weird and obscure," he said. "I took all those stories and I was like I should probably write them down before I forget them all and as I was writing them I thought I could weave them into a book maybe."
He printed out the book. It was a classroom hit and soon thousands wanted a copy. That's when he started the arduous and long journey to get it published.
"Over those 15 years I received hundreds of rejections. I kept all of them. But I include those students on that entire conversation of, 'I just sent this to a really famous agent, now we have to wait three months.' And then they're asking for three months, 'Did you get that email yet? Did you get the email yet?' And the finally I can be like, 'I got the email. It was a big no.' And then they're disappointed with me, but then they immediately ask, 'Well, what are you gonna do next?' And that's where I get to show them some resiliency and persistence, is, 'Well, I'm gonna write the next one when I get home,'" Eicheldinger said.
"I think for kids they need to see that you need to put in a lot of work to accomplish what you want and it's not all happy either. So I have this goal that I think will work."
Then finally in 2023, those kids got hear some good news.
"We made a two-book deal with Andrews McMeel Publishing. They do all things syndicated so like Big Nate and Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, which that was the only thing I read, so it was this big full circle moment of this dream that I've had for so long that's also connected to my childhood," he said.
He decided to take a three-year sabbatical, and then got another break he never expected. He talks about how when he let his students truly know him, he got to know them. Over the course of a summer, he went from 100 Instagram followers to a quarter of a million. He shares stories about teaching moments, not about academics, but about character. He shares his book progress, too.
"So I am getting all these messages of kids I haven't seen in 14, 15 years who are like, 'You popped up on my feed and I remember when you used to tell those stories and I can't believe you finally got the book published,'" he said. "And those are pretty heavy emotional moments for me because you just don't think 15 years ago that you would be where you are today. Just very thankful for everyone who's been a part of the journey "
And he has documented every single one of those helpers. He creates an end-of-the-year drawing for every single class depicting something funny each kid said.
"That is Audrey and Audrey thought Disney World was full of spies," he said.
That way Mr. Eich remembers every single student, and it's clear they, too, remember him — the teacher who believed he could and did.
"To say I did it, is pretty cool," Eicheldinger said.
for more features.