Smyth County native Josh Stamper published his first book, “Ugly Me,” in April and hopes it will help to bring awareness to the suffering many of today’s students encounter in their home life.
“Ugly Me” tells the story of Randi Lewis, a seventh-grade student who comes from a troubled home that she shares with her mother.
Randi lacks stability.
Her home is sometimes filled with strange people she doesn’t know. There is usually no food, sometimes the water is turned off, her clothes and shoes are old and worn, she smells bad, and she gets into trouble at school.
“If you knew her story, would it change the way you see her? If you knew her pain, would you care?”
Stamper asks these questions and tells Randi’s story, providing insight into why she is the way she is, why she reacts the way she does.
“I want my readers to walk away with a new empathy for the suffering children of our nation. I want people to realize that often what lies behind the behavior of a ‘bad kid’ is a story of trauma and suffering. I want people to want to share love and hope with everyone around them,” Stamper said.
Stamper is in a good position to relate to these troubled teenagers. He is currently the assistant principal at Virginia Middle School in Bristol, Virginia.
Before assuming his current position, he taught English at John S. Battle High School.
After graduating from Chilhowie High School in 2003, Stamper attended Emory & Henry College, earning his degree in 2007. He earned a Master’s Degree from Virginia Tech in 2014.
“For lack of a better term, I felt that I was ‘called’ into education. I never felt like being an educator was a conscious choice; rather, I felt, and still feel, that being an educator and helping those around me is a calling to service,” Stamper said.
Prior to writing “Ugly Me,” Stamper considered a career change, but his desire to make a difference caused him to stay.
“I had entered a pretty difficult time in my career. I was absolutely beaten down and left feeling helpless by the sheer amount of suffering that I saw my students and their families go through and put each other through. I was on the verge of throwing in the towel when I hit upon a realization: yes, my job was difficult and stressful, but I got to go home to a loving family and a plentiful table. Many of my students don’t have that luxury. Many of my students leave school and go to a home devoid of love, safety and nourishment. Many of my students go home to face abuse, neglect, and starvation. But despite their challenges, many of them come back day after day. I realized that if they can do it, so can I. I realized that my students need me. I just had to remember that I could share light and hope for them, despite the challenges of my job,” Stamper explained.
Realizing that he could not allow himself to be defeated by the suffering he saw his students going through, he decided to stay and use his unique position to attempt to provide a voice for these students, “to share their stories so that people might see the dire need for love and hope.”
“The one message that everyone, no matter the age, involved in any way with public education needs to learn and live: love. Every decision, every action, every word needs to be formed with and shaped by an empathetic, uplifting love,” Stamper said.
Realizing the hurt students can inflict on each other, he has a message for his students.
“You never know what goes on in a person’s life once they go home. Your words can either hurt or heal. Choose kind words always. Because your harsh comment, your hateful words, your ugly talk may be just the thing that causes someone to give up hope. But your kindness, your love, your light may be the thing that saves someone’s life,” Stamper added.
Stamper has a similar message for educators.
“Be beacons of positivity and hope for your students. So many of your kids go home to nothing but yelling, put-downs, and harsh words. Don’t be just another adult who makes them feel unwanted. Let love and empathy drive your decisions. And by ‘empathy’ I don’t mean to just feel sorry for your kids. I mean that we should realize where our kids are coming from, make a commitment to be a ray of hopeful light and give our kids the skills, hope, and grit to, one day, rise up into a better future.
“You don’t have to be a believer to gain some insight from these words of scripture: If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. You can be the smartest, most intelligent teacher with the perfect lesson plans, but if you don’t go into your classroom every day and treat your children with love and kindness, you won’t get very far. Your words and actions loudly communicate how you feel about your students, and if your students feel like you care about them, they will do anything for you,” Stamper said.
“Ugly Me” is available on Amazon. Stamper is currently writing a sequel to “Ugly Me” and has published a short story prequel to the book that is available for free by signing up for his mailing list at www.quill andcarbon.com/sign-up. He is also currently working on a fantasy series.
Stamper and his wife have a son and a daughter. He attends Emory United Methodist Church and enjoys reading, writing and spending time outdoors with his family.