What Word Keeps You Up at Night?

It’s late and I can’t sleep again.

My mind tosses and turns while I lay still, staring at the ceiling.

My mental restlessness began with the obvious tumbling thought, “I should be sleeping”.

It blooms like an innocent thought. But innocent thoughts can seed big, complex, even damaging thoughts.

I should…

Start eating healthier again.

Be more patient.

Complain less.

Listen more closely to my wife.

Payoff my credit card.

Answer that email.

Get my haircut.

Care less what people think.

Give my boss a piece of my mind.

Spend less time on my phone.

Go to the dentist.

Make tacos for dinner tomorrow night.

Buy new shoes.

Contact an old friend.

Install new windshield wiper blades on the car.

I should be sleeping.

I should…I should…I should.

Should is dangerous word for me.

Because when I think in shoulds,  my focus shifts from what I’ve done, my accomplishments, my successes to what I haven’t done or need to do.

Should punctuates the life I haven’t achieved and I feel unsettled, unsatisfied.

Should causes desire. Desire causes tension. Tension causes unhappiness,

I am happy because I want nothing from anyone. I do not care for money. Decorations, titles or distinctions mean nothing to me. I do not crave praise. The only thing that gives me pleasure, apart from my work, my violin and my sailboat, is the appreciation of my fellow workers. ―Albert Einstein

A few months ago I privately challenged myself to answer as many shoulds as possible. So I…

Wrote more.

Recorded my own podcast.

Started my own business.

Made more time for my children.

Started exercising every morning.

Read books, listened to podcasts and watched movies that were recommended.

No doubt, should motivated me. Should enriched my life. But meeting the demand of should became unsustainable.  The shoulds kept coming and I couldn’t keep up.

My unfulfilled shoulds caused desire, tension and unhappiness. And instead of the pride, and despite my determination, I focused on the shoulds and was left feeling unfulfilled.

Yes, should motivates and inspires. And yes, you must push yourself to achieve more. But should is also the killer of confidence. Because should announces you haven’t.

I should write a book.

I should have more money.

I should practice mindfulness.

I should have a nicer car.

I should lose weight.

What can we do?

Now we can’t control what others say or do.

But we can commit to things we’re passionate about instead of appeasing the interests and suggestions of others.

We can examine how we offer unsolicited shoulds to other people.

We can acknowledge the power of should and know that if we’re reckless with should we’re deepening the discontent in the listener.

A listener who will lie in bed at night, unable to sleep, attempting to steady their tumbling mind as they worry about all the things they should do with their life.

Be well,

Jay

WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight is on Cory Arrighetta

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

In this edition, WoFo features 4th grade teacher, coach and Mets fan Cory Arrighetta. I would like to thank Cory for his interview and dedication to the teaching profession.

You cannot make it in this profession unless you love it.


Besides being a teacher Cory Arrighetta is…

a husband, dad, coach, and passionate fan of the New York Mets.

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

I am currently a fourth grade teacher at Hilltop Elementary which is part of the Chichester School District. This is my fourth year at Hilltop and my 13thyear overall. I have also taught second, third and fifth grade as well.

What is your favorite lesson to teach and why?

Some of my favorite lessons deal with Growth Mind Set. When kids are motivated there is no stopping them. Creating and teaching lessons that give them a goal and path to get there is rewarding for not only my students, but for me as well. I also love teaching math. It is so exciting watching your students use and apply the strategies and see their attitude go from I will never get this to I can teach this!

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

I would go into every room and see the talents of my colleagues. I hear so many wonderful things about the people I work with that I would love to see. Kids will always let you know what their teacher did last year, especially when they liked it, so I think it would be a great opportunity to witness it myself.

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

Some of the quotes I have written on my board are:

  • “The person who says they can and says they can’t are both usually right.”
  • “Failure is the first step to success.”
  • “There are 86,400 seconds in a day. It is up to you to decide how to use them.”

My students really think about these quotes and I think it makes a difference in how they approach their day.

If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be?

I honestly can’t imagine doing anything but teaching. It has been something I have wanted to do since I was in the 5th grade. My teacher, Mr. Reynolds, was the best and I knew this profession was for me! Some of the things I do and say in my classroom are things I remember him saying to me when I was in my class.

What advice would you give to all new teachers?

You have to love it. I am so fortunate I wake up every morning loving what I do. I can overlook the stress and demands of being a teacher because I truly enjoy it. You cannot make it in this profession unless you love it.

If the best thing about teaching is the students, what’s the second best thing?

It is hard to think of something about teaching that is not about the kids. I have been fortunate to work with great people. People who share the same passion about education that I have. I perhaps the second best thing about teaching are the friendships I have made with the people I have worked with.

Who inspires you?

Although I have a nine month daughter who has stolen my heart, my inspiration is my son, Cory. The fact he looks up to me inspires me in so many ways. When we have, “Bring Your Child to Work Day” Cory is so proud to come to my class and spend the day with my students. Once he even suggested that he too be referred to as, “Mr. Arrighetta.” He lights up when someone says to him that they think his dad is a great teacher. Seeing that inspires me to be the best teacher I can be; I feel like I have to keep him proud of me! After every goal he has scored in soccer or play he has made in baseball, the first thing he does is look at me. Anytime he has been recognized for one of his accomplishments, Cory allows me to share his moment with him. He is truly a kind and good person and although he is seven he inspires me to be a better person.

My classroom superpower is…

I asked my students what they thought my superpower was and their responses were interesting. The one I would say is the most accurate with how I see myself is a motivator. My students have admitted that my style excites them, energizes them, and pumps them up. They know my enthusiasm is genuine and that I am truly invested in their learning. I will never forget one of my students writing assignments; the classic topic, “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” My student said they would send me to Hawaii because, “Mr. Arrighetta works his tail off!”


Hey parents, does your child have a teacher who inspires them? Does your child look forward to school becasue of an awesome educator? If so, please consider nominating your child’s teacher to be featured on WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight Series. Contact me at writeonfighton@gmail.com


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Prince Harry Just Taught Men a Life Saving Lesson

It’s an old story. A bit cliched. But still a worthy one…

A man and a woman are in a car.

The man drives as the women navigates through unfamiliar territory. They have no map, no cell phone service. The woman acknowledges the pending darkness and lightly suggests, they stop and ask for directions.

The man keeps driving, keeps his focus, pretending not to hear her.

The sun is all but gone. The street lamps start their work.

The woman looks out the window and clears her throat. She protests, this time with a bit more force, causing the man to snip. He insists he knows where he’s going. He speaks in phrases like, “we just got turned around a bit” and “no big deal” and “any second now”.

The woman runs her hand through her hair and exhales. The man wonders if the heat is on as he, grips the steering wheel and glances out the window hoping for something familiar– a landmark, a sign, a motion from God.

The 17 Year Old Male

A high school classroom serves as a great observatory for human quirks.

It’s always interesting when I ask my 12th grade students about their life-after-high school plans. The females often confess they don’t know. They have some ideas but are mostly unsure. A lawyer, maybe.

When asked, males are quick to verbalize their plan. Business or engineering or medicine or general awesomeness, for sure.

As if, to the 17 year old male, being lost, confused and unsure is a sign of weakness.

Prince Harry Finally Talks

by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images

This week, in a New York Times article, Prince Harry explained how, for almost 20 years after Princess Diana’s death, he struggled with anger, with depression. And how his behavior was often erratic and destructive.

Harry, 32, attributed his recklessness to his inability to address his mother’s death.

An now an advocate for mental health, Harry credits his recovery to counseling and finding the courage to do what so many man can’t– talk.

“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well.” –Prince Harry

 A Moment of Honesty

A few weeks ago I had an conversation with a male friend of more than 20 years.

The friend, I assumed, was doing well.

Then, over a drink and an hour conversation, he opened up about his crumbling marriage. How he’s been married for twelve years and that it had only been good for about three.

He explained how he’d been living a life of silence. A silence that drove him into a depression.

His eyes filled with tears as he looked across the table, held his drink and said, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who to talk to.”

The Condition

For most men, self-expression is hard. And only gets harder with age.

The longer they cling to a prolonged silence, the more difficult it is to talk. Men often consider stubborn stoicism as dignified and respectable. Yet they often fail to see how their hardness taxes themselves and those around them.

As a male writer I’m torn.

Because I know in order to write well, to produce meaningful work,  make others feel–I have to feel. Yet the square-jawed history of men has conditioned me not to. To remain quiet in pain. To accept my feelings as weaknesses. To emotionally alienation myself to remain accepted.

When you’re 17 years old, you’re inclined to define courage as being bold in the face of danger. You also think courageous men are always decisive and strong.

And it’s shocking to learn that 20 years later, remnants of that teenage ideology still remain steadfast in me.

The Tension Mounts

The sun is down now and the man still refuses to talk.

The woman eyes him. There’s been a growing distance between them for some time now.  Why can’t he just stop? Ask for help? Why doesn’t he ever talk?

He wants to say he’s been conditioned not to. He wants to tell her about the misaligned tenets of masculinity. He wants to tell her vulnerability is something men don’t do yet long for because they secretly know talking could very well save their lives.

But for now– the man and the woman stare out different windows, wondering how they got so lost, listening to the engine hum, moving, aimlessly, into the darkness.

Be well,

Jay

 

WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight is on Lauren Boyle Plaxa

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

In this edition, WoFo features 9th grade history teacher, writer and joke teller Lauren Boyle Plaxa. I would like to thank Lauren for her interview and for her dedication to the teaching profession.

…if you love what you’re doing and you can’t help but talk about it at parties, you inspire me.


 Besides being a teacher Lauren Boyle Plaxa is…      

A politics junkie, an amateur writer, and wife to a musician.

~

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

I teach one section of World Cultures to ninth graders at Freire Charter School in Center City Philly. For the last two years, I’ve taught a social studies as needed, depending on our enrollment. I was an English teacher at another school before that. I’m a college counselor and academic adviser as well.
 ~

What is your favorite lesson to teach and why?

Any time I can, I try to infuse current events into our work, because I want students to be engaged in the present world, not just in the past. This year, my favorite lesson was on Brexit. As a warm-up, my ninth graders students planned their “exit” from the rest of our school, and in doing so, they echoed so many of the benefits and challenges that Britain is currently navigating.
~

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

With any luck, I’d take us to New York City, after begging Lin-Manuel Miranda to donate tickets for a Hamilton matinee. I’ve played clips for my kids in the past, and judging by how much they loved the short clips, I think seeing it live would be amazing for them. So, Lin-Manuel, if you’re reading, call me!
~

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

 This one’s on my wall in my office: “Good things come to those who hustle.”

~

If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be? 

I’d want to be a lawyer who focuses on education policy.

 What advice would you give to all new teachers? 

Ask for help. Work hard, but don’t beat yourself up. And get some sleep!

 ~

If the best thing about teaching is the students, what’s the second best thing?

My colleagues are not only some of the smartest people I know, but they’re also great friends. I laugh a lot every single day.
~

Who inspires you?

 Anybody who is doing what they love to do and working to be the best at it. You know these people – if you talk to them about a project, their eyes light up and they nerd out in the best way. Art, athletics, science, literature, medicine, teaching – if you love what you’re doing and you can’t help but talk about it at parties, you inspire me.
~

My classroom superpower is… 

 .My corny sense of humor, because I can tell a joke poorly enough that you can’t help but laugh.

Do you know an awesome educator dedicated to inspiring and teaching others? If so, please consider nominating them to be featured on WoFo’s  Teacher Spotlight Series. You can send their contact information to writeonfighton@gmail.com

Defining Fatherhood: A Letter to My Daughter on Her 9th Birthday

Dear Haley,

It’s incredible. It really is.

9 years ago, a nurse loaded you and your mom into the back seat of our silver Chevy Malibu, shut the door, stepped back, offered a smile and suddenly our lives began together.

Surprisingly, sometimes life is that cut and dry.

One day you’re curled inside your mother and the next day you’re here, swaddled and waiting for a ride home.

I remember the drive home from the hospital.

As the engine hummed, I tried to comprehend how 9 months raced by like they never happened, and now you were suddenly here, snuggled in the back seat with your blue eyes fixed out the back window, watching the world in reverse.

Nervous and sleep deprived, I ordered myself to pay attention, turning off the radio, checking mirrors and gripping the steering wheel at the recommended 10 and 2 positions.

In that moment it became clear–I was a father. I was your dad. And on that day, my soul responsibility was to drive my most precious cargo, you and your mother, 4 miles from hospital to home. From point A to point B without incident.

Things Change, Things Remain the Same

Haley, somehow you’re 9 years old.

And some things have changed. You’re taller, smarter, louder and more self-sufficient then I could ever imagine. You know how to divide, multiply, work an Ipad and yesterday you informed me about the central nervous system and all its complicated functions.

Yet like our first car ride together (which was an absolute success!) there remains a certitude. I’m still your dad. I’m still responsible, no matter your age or crisis and no matter how nervous and sleep deprivation I am, for getting you from point A to point B.

Raising a Daughter

As a kid, I was raised on pro wrestling and domestic weaponry.

I spent most of my young life on athletic teams bolstered by boys, roughhousing with my brothers, proving my toughness, my invulnerability.

So understand, fathering a daughter is a little odd for me. This may sound strange, but sometimes you’re a familiar mystery. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with you.

You’ve change so much, so fast, that some days I stare at you, watch you smile, cartwheel about the house and watch your blue eyes sparkle in the sunlight and wonder how all this incredible stuff happened.

And I sometimes wonder how I will handle all the incredible stuff that’s yet to come.

Defining Fatherhood

Watching you grow up is both exciting and terrifying.

As we stand at the threshold of those tumultuous adolescent years, I’ve been thinking greatly about what kind of dad do you need right now?

The answer, I believe, is a simple one.

A dad defined is like any good driver.  Present. Focused. Anticipates dangers. Ignores distractions. Guides their child through the unpredictability of life.

A dad is there to help a child get from point A to point B.

And whether point B is your 10th birthday or some prom dress calamity or marriage or motherhood, if I did my job, if I was the dad you deserved, you’ll be prepared. You’ll meet your challenges with a patience, honesty and humility.

It’s become clear, fatherhood is not about meddling or interjecting or inflicting my will on you or filling your head with fiction. In fact, fatherhood really isn’t about the father at all. It has and always will be about the livelihood of the child. 

In 9 years you’ll be 18 and things will have undoubtedly change.

You’ll be driving yourself. You’ll be standing at the cusp of adulthood and may not need me the way you do now.  But despite my dwindling demand, my job description remains.

You need the dad who drove you and your mother home from the hospital 9 years ago. A dad to remain vigilance and focus.

You’ve entrusted me to listen, eliminate distractions, anticipate danger, embrace the incredible and enjoy the ride.

And my girl, I don’t want to let you down.

Happy birthday!

Love,

Dad

3 Strategies You Need to Know When Teaching Writing to Teenagers


Teenagers often swagger into an English classroom with a fixed mindset.

A mindset of either:

1. I’m not good at writing and never will be.

or

2. I’ve always earned high marks in English and past rubrics indicate I’ve achieved mastery in writing.

My experiences have shown me that though it’s difficult to transform a fixed teenage mindset into that all important growth mindset– it is possible.

In my first seven years of teaching English, I struggled with writing instruction. The class and I would slog through writing assignments. The writing was forced, inauthentic and painful.

I was doing a disservice to my students, to writing. In order to change their mindset, I had to change mine.

My change began when I realized writing is not about mastery.

In fact, even the masters– Stephen King, Anne Lamott, have openly reflected on how language and writing can never be mastered.

(And I often think what a blatant and harmful lie it is to tell a 16 year old that they have achieved mastery in writing!)

In my efforts to make writing more meaningful, more real for students, I began to approach writing in a more authentic way. In a way that encourages students to make a mess and to understand that mastery in writing is a myth.

Here are 3 strategies I’ve learned (with a lot of trial and error) to help change your student’s mindset and help you achieve a more fun and authentic classroom writing experience:

#1- Your Language is the Hook

At the beginning of the school year,  I ask my students to do a little word association with the word writing. Popular choices are, “dull, boring, structured, rigid, painful.”

I believe the ‘hook’ for teaching writing begins with the teacher’s language.

Knowing my students initial thoughts on writing allows me to immediately understand their writing ideology.

From then, when I conduct writing lessons, I use words and phrases that grab attention and interest.  Words and phrases like “messy, deviant, don’t care, whatever, no rules, wild, fast & furious”  litter my lessons. These words help show teenagers that writing is exciting. (This is also a great time do mini-lessons on how in certain time periods, for certain cultures and genders writing was viewed as an act of defiance).

I’m not saying all teenagers are deviants but the idea of breaking rules intrigues and engages them, as if they are doing something wrong, as if they are literary outlaws.

#2 Teenagers love Autonomy

As a writer, when someone tells me to write something a certain way my first reaction is often, “No!”

My writing process needs to be organic and has to sprout from my passions. This is why I believe it’s so incredibly important for teachers to allow students time to pick passionate topics.

And fortunately, teenagers don’t have to work hard to find passionate topics. Guilt, fear, uncertainty, joy, anger, love and even apathy all paint the teenage landscape.

In my classroom, the writing process always begins by making a mess.

I often instruct students to pick a strong emotion and using a brief, designated time (1-3 minutes) to make a mess. I encourage them to scratch down words/phrases, working story titles, drawings associated with the selected emotion, word maps, idea clouds, etc. I simply want them to explore.

I have found that this brief, but focused activity, encourages spontaneity and messiness, two things that attract teenagers.

I then use the selected emotion as a springboard into a writing piece.

For example, if I want them to write a narrative I will have them write a personal story about the chosen emotion or if I want them to do an analytical piece on the emotion, I will have them conduct research on the chosen emotion.

#3 Teenagers need Models

In my practice I’ve learned that modeling brainstorming is incredibly important.

First, when the students brainstorm, so do I.

When the brainstorming session is over, I project my brainstorming on the board, allowing students to see my process. This is helpful since my brainstorms are messy and full of misspellings and grammatical errors.

For students, seeing their teacher’s thoughts in their raw form is an empowering model.

This model promotes messiness yet fosters creativity and vulnerability. It also tells the students that we’re a long way from mastery.

Call to Action

Writing is a powerful form expression. A form that is challenging yet incredibly rewarding. Next time you’re teaching writing I hope you consider these activities. I hope you consider the impossibility of mastery.  I hope you consider making a mess.

Let’s Talk

I’m looking to grow my teaching arsenal and would love to hear what successful writing strategies you have used to encourage teenage writers to embrace the writing process!