“Hey Mr. Armstrong, did you watch any NFL games this weekend?”

The high school parking lot.

America’s blacktop proving ground since the Model-T rolled off the assemble line and into our lives. The place where lines are still drawn, sleeves still rolled and disagreements still forcefully settled.

So it only made sense that I was asked the combustible question, the question that packed C-4 between it’s subject and verb in a high school parking lot.

It was during my school’s monthly fire drill, as I was in the parking lot taking roll of my 12th grade class, when a voice trigger the conversation with, “Hey Mr. Armstrong, did you watch any NFL games this weekend?”

Looking up from my roll sheet, I find one of my students sporting a grin and a Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt staring at me, waiting.

“Yes, I did.”

“So what do you think about the players protesting during the National Anthem?”

There it was.

The question that has set fire to the nightly news, church sermons, PTA meetings, lunch rooms, board rooms, hospital waiting rooms and Facebook threads.

In the last few days of my life I have felt an immense pressure to have an opinion. To choose a side. To litter my social media accounts with my opinions. As if neutrality is suddenly anti-American.

But why? Why do we have to have an opinion on this issue or other polarizing issues that have no definitive right or wrong? Why can’t we hold our silence until we understand what it is we are willing speak up for?

I’ve read and listened to arguments on both sides.

And I know that it’s our free-will, our freedom to choose that provides our lives meaning and definition and purpose.

But like we’re back in high school again, we let out impulses choose or we side with whoever’s voice is the loudest, scariest so we don’t get pummeled in the parking lot after school.

Be reminded — that it’s in these rowdy, rumbling times that we can practice patience. That we can choose to remain silent until we know what we’re willing to shout for.

We have the human right to nod and smile and retreat into ourselves until we understand what we really believe. What we are willing to stand for, or kneel for, or remain in the locker room for.

As our principal waved, signalling it was safe to leave the parking lot and return to the classroom, I looked at the student and said, “Right now, I don’t know what to think.”

He nodded, smiled and said, “I can respect that.”

Be well,

Jay

“Travel is the best teacher.” The Educator Spotlight is on Spanish Teacher Michele Hill

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

Meet Michele Hill. Michele is an high school Spanish teacher from New Jersey.  An active educational blogger, Michele believes engagement is the key to inspiring students. She recently took a group of students to Costa Rica to further teach them a lesson in altruism.

Check out my interview with Michele, visit her blog and enjoy!

I believe that an empowered student is one who is in charge of his/her learning and wants to pursue it with or without a teacher.- Michele Hill


Besides being an educator Michele Hill is….

a mother, wife and a grandmother, and a world traveler and a kind humanitarian.

What school and what subject do you currently teach?

I work at Delsea Regional High School. I teach Spanish and a special program called SWAG that works with our most at-risk students.

What is the one book ever educator should read? Why?

    There are so many to choose from. I think all teachers should read Todd Whitaker’s “What Great Teacher’s Do Differently”. It’s easy to understand and full of great advice that will help all teachers be successful with their students. It is sage advice on how to connect and manage all of the challenges that teachers face.

On your blog spiritededucator.blogspot.com you shared how you recently took a group of students to Costa Rica. Why are new experiences, such as your trip, so vital for student development?

I love taking students to new places to experience the world around them.  I think that it is so important for our students to be globally minded in the world that we live in today. I also believe that the greatest learning occurs when students are engaged…and new experiences keep them engaged! Travel is the best teacher of all… reading about the Colosseum is one thing, standing in it is another!

What has been your biggest roadblock as an educator? And how did you overcome it? Or what are you doing now to overcome it?

My biggest roadblock is being so passionate about education that others find it annoying. My family certainly gets tired of hearing about school and my students. Fortunately, I have developed great relationships through my PLN,  they have affirmed my desire to make education better and welcome my enthusiasm.

 What is an empowered student?

I believe that an empowered student is one who is in charge of his/her learning and wants to pursue it with or without a teacher. They are on a quest for knowledge and experiences!

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

Make everyone feel welcomed! Celebrate staff and students and let them know that they all matter. Make school a place where everyone wants to be!

 Movie or book– what is your favorite work of fiction?

    Freedom Writers– Love that Ms. Gruell found a way to build meaningful relationships with ALL of her students!

Who inspires you?

Wow! This is a BIG question! I am inspired everyday by the teachers who care for their students, love them unconditionally and make them stretch and grow. Teachers are altruistic by nature. What they do day in and day out is inspirational for everyone!

What is your favorite non-teaching quote?

No matter how talented, educated, rich, or cool you think you are, ultimately how you treat people tells all!

Connect with Michele…

Twitter:@HillMrispo

Website: spiritededucator.blogspot.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

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

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