I Blame My Father

I blame my father for this one.

Last week my principal explained that due to students dropping and adding classes in the first few days of school another English class had to be created.

She asked if I wanted to teach the extra class. If I wanted to increase my already hefty course load of 6 classes to 7.

That would mean 7 classes of 12th grade English. 5 classes of AP Literature and Composition. 2 classes of Honors English.

157 total students.

I told her I needed a day to think about it.

Sure, the opportunity to make a little more money was enticing but it also came with more of everything. More students. More parents. More grading. More planning.

And the way my school schedule works, it would mean that every other day I would be teaching for 6 hours and 5 minutes out of the 6 hour and 35 minute school day.

I fielded advice from colleagues, from my wife. Thoughts were mixed.

This was my 15th year of teaching. I had earned tenure and with it, a misguided belief that I could buckle up my khakis and shift into cruise control. Yes, I knew the course curriculum well but I have health issues and 3 active children at home who consume my energy and demand my attention.

If I was Plan A and chose to decline, my principal would simply have to go to Plan B — meaning another English teacher would have to assume the responsibility.

I noticed that this decision, like a lot of my adult decisions, goes back to my father.

The topography of my father’s work and mine are stunningly different. He graduated high school and marched right into the blue-collar working world. Over the last 45 years he has held several jobs. All labor intensive. All of them involving steel-tipped boots and hard hats and heavy machinery.

As I have grown comfortable in a quite classroom reading the velvety rhythms of Fitzgerald aloud to my students, my father seems at ease with the chugging of a diesel engine.

But despite the auditory differences, we are both laborers. We are still working to provide better lives for our families.

Over the last 10 years, my two brothers and I all bought houses. Houses that needed new floors, new walls, new kitchens. And every time, dad was there. Tools in hand, work boots on his feet, sacrificing his week nights and weekends, his knees and hands to help us. Simply because he knew his sons needed it.

As adults, we honor our parents by building a life founded on the maxims they were straining to teach us when we were kids, when we resisted, when we slammed the door and announced they didn’t know what they were talking about.

Now, with two sons of my own it’s understood that a father is central figure in his son’s mythology. That the father is the first male a son will try to imitate.

Yet as we grow into our own, we often rail against our father’s model in our futile attempt to understand ourselves.

If we spend our 20’s trying not to be our parents, it’s in our 30’s where we begin slowly turning into them.

I’m starting to believe there’s a tipping point in every man’s life. If he decides to meet the demands and responsibilities of adulthood, of fatherhood that he must acknowledge that in certain ways, for better or worse, he’s becoming his father.

The next day I walked into my principal’s office and told her I would teach the 7th class.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my choice was a small gesture of gratitude to my father. The man who taught me to embrace work, lay claim to responsibility and to never cut corners.

Simply — I said yes because I am my father’s son.

And I know, with bone certainty, he would have done the same.

Like I said, I blame my father for this one.

Be well,

Jay

What’s the World’s Greatest Lie?

It was a tradition of sorts.

In the initial months following my diagnosis, after each doctor’s appointment, I would go to the bar

Given my deteriorating health, maybe a few pints and a plate of fried pickles was not the most constructive response, but sometimes nothing soothes a fractured soul like the warm panel walls, a friendly jukebox and the comfort foods of a corner bar.

I remember sitting with my wife and parents and two brothers, talking through the details of my appointment in low, weighty voices.

We had drinks and ate deep fried vegetables and to snap the tension, someone would say something funny and we’d laugh, but not too loud. Because, now was not the time for laughing loud.  Now was the time to make sense of bad news.

I remember the hallow clinks of pint glasses and finding things to do with my hands– bending coasters, tearing bar napkins into confetti–and feeling helpless and powerless. Like sitting in the last pew at my own funeral.

For awhile I believed there was nothing I could do. It was final–I was stricken with some rare disease. Period. And I remember believing how utterly unfair it was.

If our language confirms what we believe, relying on the phrase “it’s not fair…” cements our belief in the world’s oldest lie, which according to the novel The Alchemist is:

At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”– from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

A few years ago, a student suggested that I start a blog.

Why?

Because sometimes you say interesting things in class.

Sometimes?

Yeah, sometimes.

Not to go all Hollywood here, but in serious ways this blog, saved my life.

Because I’ve learned that it’s not the bad news that matters, it’s our response that does.

Our self-victimization vexes others to where they will lose patience and tune us out. Their previous pity sours to apathy.

By bemoaning our bad news, we empower our bad news. We waste vital energy needed to command a positive response to conquer such bad news.

And plus, self-victimizers with their bloated bellies of self-pity and self-delusions make for terrible drinking partners.

Be well,

Jay

Why I Celebrated My Worst Day

When I decided to celebrate my worst day I had romantic dreams of baking a chocolate cake, coating it with vanilla icing and beautifully decorating it with some unabashed inspirational quote.

Here’s what happened.

It’s okay to laugh. Seriously. I know, it’s high fructose, high caloric train wreck.

Just in case you can’t read it, beneath the scattered sprinkles, squiggled in red gel is the iconic line from Bruce Springsteen’s Badlands — “Aint no sin to be glad you’re alive.”

Here’s why.

This past September 4th was a big day for me. An anniversary of sorts. So I baked and decorated a cake to commemorate the day.

On September 4th, 2013 I had my first MRI revealing my brain damage–large chunk of my cerebellum had degenerated.

The date has now become a personal milestone. In the days and weeks following September 4th, 2013 there was, as you could imagine, a quiet tension. The kind of quiet tension that lingers between the pages of hospital waiting room magazines.

With every test, with every confused doctor I grew more desperate, more convinced that I was going to die a young man.

Four years later my brain damage is still unaccounted for.

However, eighteen months after the MRI, a muscle biopsy revealed an autoimmune disorder, sarcoidodsis, that causes inflammation not degeneration.

Four years later doctors are still nosing through medical journals searching for precedent. They are still hypothesizing.

I say let them hypothesize. For the only fact that matters today is — I’m still alive. And according to the Boss, that ain’t no sin.

If the September 4th picture marks my worst day, a day which initiated the worst stretch of days I have ever experienced, I’ve learned that celebrating your worst day is an important step toward healing. Though I’m not physically healed, and may never be, mentally, emotionally and spiritually I’m stronger for having endured my worst day.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances, to choose ones on way. Victor Frankl author, psychologist, neurologist

Suffering is lonely work.

Often, when we suffer we alienate the very people who take us to our appointments, who hold our hand, who cry alongside of us.

It’s understandable that when we suffer we become selfish. We fall into ourselves. Yet by doing so we fail to recognize the anguish others are in because of our suffering.

Cutting cake (even a poorly decorated one) and celebrating your worst day is an important step toward healing.  A sugary reminder of how resilient the human spirit can be and how our lives, whether we want the responsibility or not, are the models that others will follow.

Be well,

Jay

13 Classroom Maxims: Helping Students Develop a Growth Mindset Before Adulthood

Instead of classroom rules, I have maxims in my high school classroom. Fundamental truths that reach beyond the rudimentary walls of a school building. My goal is not for students to master these maxims because frankly, they can not be mastered.

By year’s end, I want all of my students to adopt a growth mindset and develop an appreciation and understanding of each maxim. I want them to know that they are in just the infancy of their learning. If they can do this, they will leave high school with and mature and rich perspective.

Here are my 13 classroom maxims:

1. Perfection is the enemy.

2. The process is just as important as the final product. (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People– Stephen R. Covey)

3. Failure is the perfect opportunity for growth.

4. Success in high school does not mean success in life.

5. Independence is great. Interdependence is better.

6. If you think you’re the smartest person in this room you should find a new room.

7. Do. Reflect. Improve.

8. Your voice is the most powerful thing you own.

9. Character is having the courage to claim ownership of your actions.

10. You will become much stronger by embracing your vulnerabilities.

11.To be uncertain is to be human.

12. Do not believe your own fiction.

13.The most important thing to learn in high school is self-awareness.

For students to adopt a growth mindset they must understand that learning is not limited to school. Students must understand that when they graduate they are still responsible for their maturity and development. If Instituted and reinforced, these classroom maxims will help your students recognize and embrace learning as a life-long process.

The Importance of Goal Setting: The Educator Spotlight is on Teacher and Writer Mari Venturino

Write on Fight on’s Educator Spotlight features insights, reflections and best practices from classroom teachers and administrators.

 Meet Mari Venturino. Mari is an elementary school teacher from San Diego, California.  An active blogger and editor of the book Fueled by Love and Coffee: Real Stories by Real Teachers, Mari is a reflective force.

Check out her interview, visit her blog and you will certainly learn new reflective strategies to help improve your own practices. Enjoy!

Without goals, I just go aimlessly through the school year. I’m always working to be a better teacher, and I don’t want to settle for good enough.


Besides being a teacher Mari Venturino is…

…an avid reader who loves YA and nonfiction. I also enjoy spending time with my boyfriend and dog.

Where do you currently teach, what do you teach and for how long?

I teach 7th grade science and 8th grade AVID at Mar Vista Academy in San Diego, CA. The 2017-2018 school year is my 6th year of teaching.

What is your favorite lesson to teach and why?

I love our lessons and units on health and nutrition. These topics are so applicable to students’ lives, and line up with my science passions. We weave in nutrition within our chemistry and properties of matter units, and students are especially engaged as we’re analyzing nutrients and food groups.

If, for one day, you were in charge of your school what would you do?

We would have a fundatory (you’re required to have fun, and you’ll like it!) spirit day with school-wide activities and games. When we laugh and play together, our school community is happier!

If you could write one quote on the board for your students what would it be?

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m possible.” -Aubrey Hepburn

On your website blog.mariventurino.com,  you write about teaching strategies and best practices. How has writing helped you has a teacher?

Writing helps me reflect on what works best for my students and my school, and figure out what areas I need to work on. I write to share just as much as I write as a personal reflection tool. I love the conversations that spark up from blog posts, and I find myself constantly improving my teaching.


In a recent post, “2017-2018 School Year Goals”, you discuss your classroom goals for the upcoming school year. Why is goal setting so important for a teacher?

Without goals, I just go aimlessly through the school year. I’m always working to be a better teacher, and I don’t want to settle for good enough. One of my favorite twitter hashtag’s comes from Lisa Thuman’s keynote, #onenewthing. Instead of trying all the things at one time, just focus on trying #onenewthing.

One of your goals for the 2017-2018 school year was to build relationships with your students first. Why is building relationships so vital for teaching and learning?

In our classrooms, the most important thing is to build relationships with our students. When we form trust and mutual respect, we build empathy and work better together. Our collaboration and cooperation improves, and all of us are willing to take more risks. Just as I need to get to know each of my students, they need opportunities to get to know me.

You recently published your first book, Fueled by Love and Coffee: Real Stories Written by Real Teachers. All proceeds of the book will be donated to classrooms and teachers ( which is totally awesome!). Why is it so important for teachers to share their stories?

I’ve seen too many teachers say “I’m just a teacher” when I ask them to share something they’ve done in their classroom, whether on social media or in person. My goal is to elevate the ordinary teachers to share the incredible things they’re doing. It’s an honor to take the lead on this project, and work to get more teachers’ voices heard. You can read more about the project here, and buy your copy of the book on Amazon.


My classroom superpower is… because…
My classroom superpower is bionic eyes because I can see what you’re doing, even with my back turned.


Mari can be found at…  
Twitter & Instagram: @MsVenturino

Blog: blog.mariventurino.com

Email: mari.venturino@gmail.com


Do you know an awesome educator dedicated to inspiring and teaching others?

If so, please consider nominating them to be featured on Write on Fight on’s Teacher Spotlight Series. You can contact me at writeonfighton@gmail.com.

Be well,

Jay

12 Things I Learned This Summer

As a teacher, my relationship with summer is complicated.

I love being lazy at 10 am. I love long afternoons on the beach, watching my children build sand castles and dig for shells. I love impromptu BBQs and staying up past 11 pm on a Tuesday to watch reruns of The King of Queens.

Yet, after a few weeks of freedom, I miss the routine and discipline it takes to survive each school day.

Sure, I love spending time with my children especially when they’re smiling and sharing…not so much when they’re being loud, selfish jerks.

Summer’s complications provide good reflecting material. Here are 12 things I learned or came to better understand this summer:

1. The movies are (still) outrageous

As a kid, when mom would take me to the movies, she would stuff her pockets with contraband– homemade popcorn packed Zip-lock baggies, juice boxes and shoe string licorice from Woolworth’s– and tell me that concession prices are simply too outrageous to buy anything. That was 30 years ago.

Embarrassed and annoyed, I’d tell her that when I’m a father I’m going to buy my kids food at the theater.

On a rainy summer day, I left the wife home and took the kids to see Despicable Me 3. Yet after 4 tickets and 4 sodas (yes, I bought each kid a soda because I’m dad and I’m awesome) and the the 5 gallon tub of popcorn totaled $72 I firmly announced to my children that the movies are outrageous and they’ll never be dining at the theater again.

I think I owe mom an apology.

2. Your credit card company may have a “pay down program”

On a recent statement I noticed how much I was paying in interest a month. Embarrassed and annoyed, as if my credit card company had courted me to the movies with its deep pockets filled with pre-bought snacks, I called and talked to a representative and learned that my credit card, Discover, has a “pay down program”. After you enroll (which is free) simply pay any amount over the minimum monthly payment and Discover will apply a 5% credit to your minimum payment.

Which means, if your monthly minimum is $100 and you pay $100.01, Discover will apply a 5% credit to your statement, subtracting your balance by $5.

If your looking to pay down your credit card it’s worth finding out if your credit card company has a similar program.

3. Surprise your children

When I recently asked my daughter what the best thing about this summer, she replied, “The surprise trip to Tennessee.”

In July, Cindy and I surprised the kids with a trip to visit family in Tennessee. We rolled the tikes out of bed, assembled them on the couch and announced we were boarding a plane to Tennessee in 4 hours. They had no choice but to brush their teeth and be excited.

A family trip is great. A surprise family trip makes it that much more memorable.

4. Your marriage requires you to be proactive

This summer I read a lot about living a proactive life. It’s apparent that addressing your problems before they gain mass and weight is critical to living a healthy, happy life.

After 12 years of marriage ( I’m not an expert by any means) but a proactive marriage–one where you address feelings and choices as they arise– is the healthiest thing a married couple can do. Passiveness and inactivity in a marriage creates tension, frustration and division which only further compound the relationship.

5. You control your destiny

I found one of my new favorite books this summer–The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s a simple, parabolic read. A boy journeys through the desert searching for wealth yet along the way he learns about the realities of life.

The Alchemist stakes this truth– no matter the circumstance, we hold ownership over our actions. By victimizing ourselves, by blaming others, by skirting responsibility we stunt our growth, we immobilize ourselves.

I’m so glad I found this book and, if it hasn’t already, I hope it finds you.

6. Vitamins are good

After a friend’s suggestion, I ordered and tried a vitamin package from The Melaluca Company called Peak Performance Total Health.

I take two vitamin packets a day, one in the morning and one at night. The packets are filled with 12 supplements and vitamins.

After two months, I’m happy with the results. I have more energy, better focus and my joint and muscle pain have noticeably decreased.

Also, I began taking Vertisil, which is an all-natural supplement to help relieve symptoms including balance, vertigo and motion sickness. You can order it on Amazon but it’s a little pricey at $40 for 60 tablets. However, I would highly recommend it for anyone struggling with balance issues.

7. Trust your change

I kicked-off summer by delivering the commencement speech at my high school’s graduation. Trust Your Change was the speech’s title.

Trusting your change is hard. But what helps to better accept change is having a set of cemented principals like honesty, discipline and patience that stand as everlasting personal pillars, that weather uncertainty and provide us the courage to trust our change.

Having such principals lessens the stress of change.

If you work on establishing principals, trusting your change becomes more natural.

8. It doesn’t hurt to ask

This summer I interviewed authors, teachers, entrepreneurs and professional storytellers because I wanted to learn more about their craft.

At first it was a little intimidating cold-emailing strangers and slightly disappointing when a few didn’t respond. However, in the end, more people responded than those who didn’t.

I talked to some great people this summer, like award-winning storyteller Hillary Rea, and learned that if you’re genuinely looking for help most people are willing to field your questions and offer such help.

9. Sometimes no one shows up

In consecutive years, August has proven to be my toughest blogging month. As summer concludes the traffic on writefighton.org is at its thinnest.

Sure it’s a little frustrating, but it’s the serving of humble pie I occasionally need.

August is a reminder that writing is about honing a skill and putting in unseen work, like shooting foul shots in an empty gym.

Writing requires practice even when no one is reading.

10. Medium.com is a great place to spend time

If you’re looking for something interesting to read or thinking about blogging but don’t want the hassle of building your own blog I recommend medium.com.

Medium.com is free site where you can write, share and read articles on essentially any topic. (I’m a big fan of the life lessons and writing articles).

I joined medium.com last summer but didn’t get serious until this summer. If you want to read more or publish your own work then you should definitely check out medium.com.

11. It’s ok to let your children go

Just as I pulled into the parking lot for her soccer practice, Haley said, “Dad just drop me off here. I will walk up to practice.”

“It’s ok sweetie, I’ll park and we’ll walk up together.”

“No, I can do it myself.”

When she turned 9 in April, Haley’s feet began growing roots in the soil of stubborn independence. Seeing her everyday this summer made me realize how she’s distancing herself from childish things and stretching into adolescence.

12. It’s only nature that summer passes by

There’s a tendency at the end of the summer to lament how fast the summer has passed. But that’s life. The brevity amplifies the beauty of it all. Watching the seasons, watching people you love transition from one phase of life to the next is what gives brilliance to the human experience.

I hope your summer season was filled with a lifetime of warm moments that ride with you deep into the future days of your life.

Be well,

Jay

“If we’re not taking risks we’re not growing”: WoFo’s Educator Spotlight is on Principal Eric Fieldler

Write on Fight on’s Teacher Spotlight features awesome educators who are dedicated to teaching and inspiring young people everyday.

In the second edition of the 2017-2018 school year, WoFo features elementary school Principal Eric Fiedler.  I would like to thank Eric for his interview and dedication to the educational enterprise.

Taking risks in both teaching and learning yields far greater growth and achievement then playing it safe.


Who is Eric Fiedler?

Besides being a principal at Forked River Elementary School, I am the son of William and Barbara Fiedler, brother to William Fiedler III and Carolyn Sheppard, husband to Kara Fiedler, and father of Dylan and Dakota Fiedler.

Personally I am passionate about all things outdoors, daily workouts, and visiting cool places with family and extended family.

Tell us about your background in education.

I am a career change educator who left the financial world after working for Merrill Lynch as a financial consultant to attain my elementary education degree and certification from Richard Stockton College.  I went on to earn my graduate degree and administrative certifications through New Jersey City University.

I taught first grade for five years in the Little Egg Harbor Township School District.  I then moved into administration as a vice-principal and curriculum coordinator at Sea Isle City Public School and then  Elementary #1 in Middle Township Cape May County.  In 2007 I was hired by the Lacey Township Board of Education to serve as the principal of the Forked River School in my hometown where I have spent the last ten years,

If you could give your entire staff one book, what would it be and why?

I would give our staff a copy of The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney  I would want this wordless adaptation of one of Aesop’s greatest fables to serve as a reminder to our elementary educators that despite the pressures of our current standards based environment, every child should be given opportunities often to create their own versions of stories free of the confines we find in so many “teach to the test” educational climates within today’s classrooms.

What is the one essential ingredient needed to build a successful school culture?

Trust.  The development of trust between all stakeholders provides the necessary safety for risk taking without fear of judgement or any other negative repercussions.  Taking risks in both teaching and learning yields far greater growth and achievement then playing it safe.  If we’re not taking risks we’re not growing.  If we are not growing we are not striving for self-actualization.

If you could build the perfect leader, consisting of three leaders, living or dead, who would you pick and why?

I would choose Walt Disney for his transformational leadership style that motivated and inspired his employees to achieve using their own personal beliefs, creativity, and strengths.

Next, I would choose Harriet Tubman for her servant leadership that modeled humility for the selfless-sacrifice she endured for the betterment of humanity.

Lastly, I would choose General George Patton for his situational leadership that provided the flexibility necessary to read and react to the ever changing and complex situations of our world past and present..

If you weren’t an educator, what would you be?

If I wasn’t an educator my third attempt at a career would involve pursuing a job as a harbor pilot.  I enjoy time on the water and the challenges of operating complex machines.  Navigating a harbor provides discrete technical challenges in a maritime environment without enduring the long-term passages that take ocean going captains away from their families for extended periods of time.

What advice would you give to first year teachers?

Plan and develop your lessons based on the most current research and best practices.  Self-assess your lessons often using your own video/audio recordings and communicate with professionalism and care with students, parents, and colleagues.  Lastly and most importantly, have fun and don’t sweat the small stuff!

What is the worst advice you commonly hear given to teachers?

In various phrases with the common message being “Fly under the radar and get the job done…” is the very worst advice that I have often heard be given to new educators. 

I expect all staff members to play an equal role in the collaborative environment of the school house.  Everyone has their own unique educational, career, and life experiences that bring perspective and innovation to the team.  This serves to enrich and improve upon the collaborative efforts of our mission.

What is your favorite movie?

One of my all time favorite movies is The Man Without a Face (1993).  Based on Isabelle Holland’s 1972 Novel of the same name, it teaches us the importance of tolerance and reserving judgement.   It also demonstrates the incredible influence an educator can have on his or her students.  An influence that is boundless.

 Who inspires you?

This is always an interesting question.

Certainly my family members each serve as inspiration for me in unique ways. Rather than sharing specifics regarding the inspiration provided by my family, I am going to choose a more broad response as to who inspires me.  I find myself absolutely in awe of and drawn to those folks who I encounter in life who have reached our ultimate goal of self-actualization.  I find these folks to be incredibly genuine, kind, and free of judgement and negativity.  They bring out the best in those around them and are inspiring to be around!

 

Follow Eric on Twitter @FRSprincipal and can be contacted by email at efiedler@laceyschools.org .

You can also check out Eric on the Forked River School website.


Do you know an awesome educator dedicated to inspiring and teaching others?

If so, please consider nominating them to be featured on Write on Fight on’s Teacher Spotlight Series. You can contact me at writeonfighton@gmail.com.

Be well,

Jay