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Teacher blends history and students into writing

Teachers inspire students in classrooms every day. Then there are times when it’s the other way around.

For Matt Landis, a middle school social studies teacher in the Central Bucks School District, Bucks County, his students and school life have formed templates for characters and settings in two well-received books he has written.

Landis’ current book, “The Not So Boring Letters of Private Nobody,’’ is a Junior Literary Guild selection – the guild recommends books to schools and school librarians look to it for guidance.

The setting is a middle school history class where a male student who is a “history nerd’’ is teamed on a Civil War project with a quiet, introverted female student who barely gets passing grades. Neither has any friends, but they find friendship, personal growth, and acceptance through their collaboration.

“The activities in the book are similar to things we do in the classroom. Much of the stuff is inspired in class,’’ said Landis, who has been teaching for 12 years. “It’s a middle school story with a history twist.’’

His first book, “League of American Traitors,’’ also has a modern setting and contemporary characters – a sixth-generation descendant of Benedict Arnold is stigmatized by classmates with more illustrious ancestors – but it is geared for high school ages.

Landis, who has long loved writing, decided to try a book when he started taking night graduate school classes in 2010 to pursue a master’s degree in history.

“I started to think, ‘I wonder if I could use all the cool stuff I’m learning and write a book,’’’ he said. “But writing a well-worded essay and writing and conceiving a book from start to finish are two different things.’’

Landis credits Bill Senavaitis, an English teacher and Central Bucks EA president, for encouraging his early writing, and for also encouraging the school district to support him.

Landis takes personal days, and the district also gives him unpaid days (he offsets it with speaker fees) to travel to other school districts to conduct assemblies and writers’ workshops.

“The district and PSEA have really been supportive of my endeavors,’’ he said.

With his first two books getting good reviews, and a third book on the way, Landis has found a niche that coincides nicely with his love of teaching.

“Teaching and writing have been the best of both worlds,’’ Landis said. “They say, ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.’ Well, I have my cake and I’m eating it.’’