The Day the Girls Were Given Tampons

Our sixth grade teachers divide us into two groups: boys and girls.

In the boys’ room, the teacher wobbles behind her podium and says words like penis, testicles, erection and sperm and I struggle to breath. I choke on my laughter. My face grows hot and my insides hurt and I’m pretty sure I’m going to die. But it’s okay. Because it’s just so damn funny.

When the teacher runs out of funny words to say, she hustles through the classroom doorway, into the hall, to either cry or laugh, and since we’re boys, and now we’re unsupervised boys — we explode. We laugh and squeal and shake and cry and whimper because it’s just so damn funny.

For 12 year old boys, the word testicles tops the list of funny words. Especially, when your teacher says it — testicles. And if I’m being honest, at 37, the word testicles still makes me laugh.

As girls file back in the classroom with bowed heads, silent, like they just witnessed an execution our laughter tinkles out. Each girl carries tightly a white wand and I think how unfair it is that they got a prize and we didn’t. But maybe we would’ve been awarded a prize if we hadn’t howled like hairless wolves.

A girl with shoulder length auburn hair pinned back with butterfly berets slides into the desk in front of me. I tap on her shoulder. At first she doesn’t turn so I tap again and wait and before I’m about to tap again she turns and levels her eyes into mine, “What?”

“What kind of prize did you get?”

“It’s not a prize.”

“Well what is it?”

“It’s a tampon.”

“A what?”

“A tampon. You know, for when I get my period.”

I have no idea what she’s talking about.

Naturally, men want titles. Titles that will raise both pinkies and eyebrows at cocktail parties. Titles that will earn free drinks. Titles that will get the girl.

As I toiled through my 20’s and into my early 30’s I felt that the most important titles a man could collect were titles like CEO, Supervisor, Manager, Principal, General, Admiral, Chief, Coach, Quarterback.

In our defense, society has taught men that to prove our worth we need to collect titles the way we collect imported cars or empty bottles of imported beer (depending on a man’s financial situation).

For girls, the title of mother comes painfully yearly. They menstruate, wonder why, and a soft, older voice explains they’re now biologically ready to become a mother. About the same time, the same voice explains that mother is the most important title a girl will ever know.

Further cementing the gravity of mother, high school girls endure home economics and child development classes and are evaluated on their ability to care for a plastic baby who cries when it’s hungry or a sack of sugar (depending on a school district’s financial situation).

I find it interesting and, somewhat sad, that boys are not offered classes on fatherhood.

Boys are often evaluated on their ability to build and destroy things. To give commands. To take orders. But boys are rarely, if ever, praised for their ability to nurture, care and empathize.

Maybe that’s why fatherhood is such a confusing ordeal for men. Maybe that’s why the expectations for fathers continues to be shamefully low.

25 years ago I was in 6th grade, clueless about the origin of human life, about collecting titles. I was just a catholic school boy, laughing like an infidel at the pronunciation of the delicate instruments that would gift me with the most important title I would ever hold: Father.

I’m just slightly embarrassed it took so long to realize such truth.

Be well,

Jay

The One Realistic Morning Routine That Will Make You a Better Person

We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. — Howard Zinn

Morning routines are all the rage. They set the tone and increase optimal achievement throughout the day.

According to the ultra successful like Oprah and Tony Robbins — ice baths, hot yoga, soul-cleansing meditation, marathon journal sessions and frolics up a mountainside at sun rise are just a few things you’ll need to do before breakfast in order to be more successful, happier.

But what if an elaborate morning routine is simply not realistic?

What if you’re a working parent who, along with getting yourself together, have to wake up the kids and pack lunches and make breakfast and brush teeth and wipe butts and study for the looming tests and break up fist-fights in the hallway?

Proponents may suggest, “How about waking up earlier?”

Um…how about no.

I wake up at 5:15 every weekday, 6:30 on weekends. I get to bed around 10:30–11 during the week. And on the weekends, I often collapse on the couch by 9.

So if waking up earlier is simply not an option how can we — the breakfast-builders, lunch-makers, teeth-brushers, butt-wipers, teachers and referees of the household get our day started right?

Since I have only about an hour each morning before I leave for work, here’s what I do…

Every morning, for the last 45 days I have practiced a three point reflection.

It’s nothing elaborate.

As I’m having coffee I scratch down three things I am grateful for.

Here’s what it a page looks like…

Here’s my journal entries from 9/4 to 9/15

Some mornings the three points come quick and my reflection takes less than a minute. Other days I have to sit longer and reflect deeper until I find 3 things I’m grateful for. But even on mornings of longer reflection, the practice is completed within 3–4 minutes.

It’s a simple habit which requires no special journal or pen. Just a legal tablet or notebook. But in 45 days I’m realizing the positive effects the practice having on my mental health.

Here’s what I learned…

My first thoughts of the day are positive

It’s so easy to wake up on a Monday morning and think negatively about the day ahead and about all the things you have to do before you limp back into bed at night. The 3 point reflection requires you to develop positive thoughts before the chaos of the day begins which helps you embrace and welcome the impending day.

I get to have me time

Parenting gives you little time to yourself. But as a parent you need to find time for yourself. You need to be constructively selfish. By doing so, by taking care of yourself, even if it’s only a few minutes, you will have more patience and energy for others.

I’m more present throughout the day

Identifying good moments each morning has trained me to look for good moments and appreciate good moments as I encounter them throughout the day. The daily chaos often distracts us from finding meaningful moments that we should acknowledge and celebrate. The simple 3 point reflection allows you to celebrate those moments which in turn inspires you to find more of those moments as the day stretches on.

I’m learning humility

It’s so easy to complain. It’s so easy to take your life for granted — to forget that you have electricity and running water and food in the refrigerator. It takes only a few minutes a day to recognize all of the luxuries you take for granted and how humbling it is to have such luxuries.

I just feel happier

Happiness and gratitude are a package deal. You can not be happy and ungrateful at the same time. Learn gratitude and you’ll find real happiness. The 3 point reflection is a daily emotional inventory that allows you to acknowledge things in your life that make you happy. It’s also a daily reminder that you need to give the present day your best effort so tomorrow, when you sit down to reflect, you will have three moments worth writing about.

Daily life is dizzying. Sometimes I feel all I do is run, run, run and sometimes it seems impossible to find a moment’s peace. But finding those quiet moments in the day are crucial for your mental health. It’s those quiet moments that help you to slow down, gain perspective, better yourself and realize that despite the impending chaos of the waiting day there are at least three things to be grateful for.

Be well,

Jay

Let’s Take a Look at My 11th Grade Report Card

On a recent cleaning binge, my mom found my 11th grade report card stuffed in a file box along with old writings, homework assignments and a certificate announcing that I had passed Drivers Education class in August of 1997.

I’m 37 years old, and a high school teacher now, and everyday I witness the enormous pressures that 11th graders (and their parents) place on their still-rounding shoulders.

High school mythology decrees that 11th grade is the Acropolis. It’s the most important 10 months of your life. The make or break year. The one that demands academic greatness. The 11th grade transcript is the one colleges scrutinize and consider the most when deciding to accept or decline your admission. According to legend,11th grade is the year where your destiny is formed and fated.

Below you will find my 11th grade year end report card.

It’s apparent that at 16 years old I wasn’t overly concerned with achieving academic greatness. To be honest, my main concern was scoring a date with the pretty girl in Spanish class. Spoiler alert….9 years later I would marry that senorita… muy suave!

My Class Ranking

If my 11th grade report card is an approximation of my destiny, I’m destined to be stunningly average.

I ranked 168 out of 337 students in the 11th grade class. If you do the math (because, clearly, my algebra grade indicates I don’t math) 337/2 = 168.5

Analysis: In high school I was absolutely, fantastically, beautifully average.

Religion 3

Final Grade: 87

Analysis: Religion was my second highest grade in my report card. I believe the grade is slightly underwhelming given the fact this was my 11th year of Catholic education.

But like a true B+ Catholic, I knew the basics of the Bible, received the required sacraments and was a semi-annual church goer (Christmas & Easter) who pretended to go every Sunday.

English 3

Final Grade: 85

Analysis: This was a massive blow to my current (and slightly bloated) ego.

I have presented at writing workshops for college professors.

 My article, “It’s called The Alchemist and you should read it”was recently retweeted by International Bestselling Author Paulo Coehlo.

I will be featured on an upcoming episode of the television show, Classroom Close-up, NJ to highlight writeonfighton.org and the writing events I host for my students.

Yet, in spite of all that, an unimpressive B in 11th grade English will forever be etched in the annals of time.

American History 3

Final Grade: 89

Analysis: Everything I know about American History I learned from watching Forrest Gump.

Algebra 2

Final Grade: 74

Analysis: In high school I clearly did not understand algebra which, interestingly was the very last time in my life I was forced to multiply numbers by letters.

Environmental Science

Final Grade: 84

Analysis: According to my teacher, Mr. Krier, I was “one of the top one of the students in the class.” I earned an 84. Either he was just being nice or I was, in fact, the one star in a constellation of street lamps.

Spanish 3

Final Grade: 77

Analysis: I blame Cindy for this one. I spent the entire year distracted by her legs and perfecting such romantic expressions as “Coma estas, chica?” and “Muy caliente” in a deep, seductive inflection.

Gym

Final Grade:99

Analysis: One of my students once told me that he was going to be an accountant because in 11th grade he did well in accounting class. If 11th grade grades are indicators of future professions I clearly should have been a professional athlete.

Conduct

Final Grade: 97

Analysis: Minus a shirttail infraction, which was sheer blasphemy in a Catholic school, I was absolute saintly.

It’s time to be serious.

I didn’t learn much in high school.

It’s nothing against my teachers but, aside from meeting Cindy and a group of friends I’m still close with, the educational experience was uninspiring.

In fact, I can’t name one high school teacher who inspired me to become a teacher.

So why did I become a high school teacher if my experience in high school was incredibly forgettable?

It’s a question I’ve tussled with lately.

Selflessly, I want to spend my days talking and teaching about reading and writing. But I also think I’m attempting to vindicate my own stale high school experience.

Work is a tricky thing. Immersing yourself in work for only a paycheck is a soul-sucking existence. Working for personal fulfillment is righteous but doesn’t pay the electric bill.

Maybe, if we look hard enough, we find work that fills a previous void.

Maybe, teaching is my attempt to provide students with experiences I never had. And maybe, selfishly, I stand and deliver in the classroom everyday attempting to fall in favor with the teacher, earn some extra credit and improve that 85.

Be well,

Jay

“Questions help us wonder”: The Educator Spotlight is on Noa Daniel

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

Meet Noa Daniel. Noa is teacher, educational consultant, and Chief Building Officer at Building Outside the Blocks. An active educational blogger, Noa believes authentic learning and effective questions are the key to inspiring students.

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

  “Questions take us beyond the status quo and help us wonder and be thoughtful about the world.”


Besides being an educator, Noa Daniel is…

….many things to others and herself. We have three daughters who help me be a better person and educator. Raising them with my husband is the greatest challenge and reward of my life. My girls call me a meacher because I’m a very teacher-ish mom. Even though they do it to make fun of me, I know that it’s out of love and appreciation because teaching is so much more than my profession. Okay, I know that you said besides education, but that is a tough ask. Education is always on my mind and in my heart.

I am a very creative person who loves to write. I am also a connector of people and ideas, which actually helps to feed my creativity. I am a risk taker. Though I am often afraid to take risks, that has  never stopped me from trying new things. I often do it in spite of my fears and in view of the greater good. I either succeed, or I collaborate and create something totally different than what I set out to. Alternatively, I learn. All are worth the leap.

Tell us about your experience as an educator.

My experience as an educator has been an adventure. I started off as this young sit-on-the-desk, dramatic, we-can-find-a-way type of educator. Now, I am a better educated, seasoned sit-on-the-desk, dramatic, we-can-find-a-way educator who feels lucky to be able to engage in meaningful conversations about teaching and learning. I am an educational leader and change agent.

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

There are so many great books out there, but if I could only pick one, I would have to say Daniel Pink’s Drive.

ASDC did a great interview with him  that articulates the key need for change in education. We must move from compliance to engagement. In order to do that, we must understand what motivates our students. This book helps the reader understand why external motivations like rewards or grades actually impede deep learning. Ultimately, the understanding the reader gets about intrinsic motivation is essential to teaching and life. The text takes the reader through autonomy, mastery and purpose. Drive helps the reader understand these fundamental aspects of education.

You have developed an educational initiative known as “Building Outside the Blocks” (BOB). A BOB approach uses personalized projects to enhance student learning. Why is autonomy such a crucial component of the learning process?

Autonomy allows students to be part of their learning equation. It is an essential ingredient in engagement and in owning their learning. Using a BOB approach, students choose their presentation dates for the projects, within the teacher-determined timelines. That helps students learn to own their calendars and organize their home time in view of this self-selected date. They backwards design the time and effort required to create and prepare to present their work.

Further, they chose the product that best suits their needs and interests or the product is something that comes from their personal lives and interests. I will co-create outlines and rubrics with them to deepen their sense of agency. In order to move students from compliance, they have to have a say in the learning journey. It is important to give students opportunities to have and use their autonomy.

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 road block is my greatest gift- the whole “outside the blocks” thing. I have learned that the only way to overcome it is to embrace it and let the creativity flow. It’s about autonomy and being able to use my drive to find new roads. When I am on a journey without a horizon, I stop looking for one and start constructing it. Whether through the projects that I develop or the leadership offerings that I create for students,  I respond to road blocks by making them into a foundation and building over them.

 If teachers want their students to be curious, teachers must design curious questions.Why is designing good questions so important to enhancing and improving student learning?

Besides fostering curiosity, it is the pursuit of the question more than the answer that matters. In our world, questioning skills are paramount for critical thinking, developing global connections and appreciating the power of perspectives. Questions are catalyst for inquiry. Questions take us beyond the status quo and help us wonder and be thoughtful about the world. Questions beget questions and allow people to grapple with ideas that drive deep learning. Inquiry is also a way that people can reach inside themselves and ask meaningful questions about who they are and where they are going or want to go. I am on a journey to help teachers reach and teach every child using questions that propel a personalized inquiry.

 The BOB approach relies on making real-world connections. Why are real-world connections so fundamental for creating active learners?

Real world connections are important because learning shouldn’t be an isolated experience. Beyond the classroom, there is a big, beautiful, crazy world. Teaching content and skills should enable people to be global citizens. Creating awareness of global or local issues or connecting with yourself are authentic tasks that make the learning more transferable than the alternative. When learning is oriented to reality, it becomes more meaningful.

What is the worst piece of advice you have heard given to teachers?

After a recent #ONedmentors show, I recalled that I, too, was told to be careful about how much energy and passion I put into my work because I would burn out. Not only have I not burned out after over two decades in the classroom, but I continue to improve, grow and be infused by teaching. I think that teachers have to be mindful to nourish themselves and that self-care is important in any profession, but your can’t burn out if you live every day being true to you and doing what you love.

 Who inspires you?

Many things inspire me. People fighting daily battles, facing each new sunrise with optimism amazes me. The innovators who aren’t afraid to share their ideas and keep moving forward in view of a big vision, in all areas of life, inspire me. Educators who work tirelessness to reach and teach every learner in their space are an inspiration. Kids, with all of their curiosities and wonderment amaze me. I am inspired by nature, music, art, poetry, prose, and other forms of creative expression. Grit is also a pretty incredible thing to witness, and that can be a real motivator. My daughters inspire me all the time.  As you can see, I glean inspiration from a variety of place and spaces.

What is your favorite non-teaching quote?

There are few a quotes that are exempt from a teaching application. One that keeps me moving forward, especially when I hit a road block and am creating something new, is Erin Hansen’s: “What if I fall? Oh, but my darling- what if you fly?”

Those words, as questions, become a mantra for me and are part of my mission in supporting educators. Change is scary, but with the right support, the possibilities are limitless.

Connect with Noa at…

blog: noadaniel7.wixsite.com/bobblog 

twitter: @noasboabs

podcast: VoicEd Radio 


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 Educator Spotlight Series. You can contact me at writeonfighton@gmail.com.

Be well,

Jay

 

A Moment with Tom Petty

When Tom Petty died I was suddenly 19 again, wearing headphones and slumped in the backseat of a rented minivan.

Dad is driving, Mom is riding shotgun and my two younger brothers are tucked in the middle bench watching Home Alone on a TV/VCR combo dad had strapped to a milk crate to entertain the kids on our first family road trip — a traverse through New York state and into Canada.

To pass the time, I brought a pen and notebook, a discman and a binder with stuffed CDs.

 I’ve forgotten large chucks of my teen years but I remember, with absolute clarity, the songs that soundtracked the most confusing, polarizing, contradictory, painful and fun years of my life.

On that trip, I listened the contemplative “Time to Move on”, the third track on Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” album over and over and over again, convinced it was written for me.

“It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing”

I remember, as the New York tree line flicked by, writing out scenes for what I thought was going to my first novel. A fictional yarn about a rich 19 year old kid who declined a scholarship to Princeton so he could make a year long transcontinental hike from New Jersey to California. Of course, his hard-boiled father disapproved and his mother was too busy stroking the pool boy to care. It was a massive idea. Too massive for me then. Maybe too massive for me now.

When you’re 19, life gets complicated.

Choices become harder, they have more gravity and greater consequence. Time is suddenly finite. Reality is tangible. You realize you need to do something with your life. And as sad as it is, you realize your on the verge of comprising your dreams to appease the status quo.

At the end of my freshman year of college, I was 19 and had a growing awareness of how hard it was going to be to become a writer. It was a life of discipline and sacrifice and deep examination only to be rewarded with self-doubt and rejection.

When it was convenient, like in the back of a minivan in upstate New York, I would scratch down stories but I wasn’t committed. I grew frustrated by the amount of work being a writer took and I remember being 19 and concluding that writing was a cute dream, but ultimately a dream for other people to entertain.

“Broken skyline, which way to love land?
Which way to something better?
Which way to forgiveness?
Which way do I go?”

At 19 you’re wedged between the adulthood and childhood. You’re letting go of romantic ideas of adulthood and submitting to reality —  the one with time clocks and car insurance and parties that end at 9 pm. At 19, I didn’t want that adult life. And, in a way, I still don’t want.

“It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going”

When Tom Petty died, like when all great musicians die, the alchemy of music twists time and somehow the past becomes present.

And suddenly you’re 19 again, slumped in the backseat of a minivan, rolling through the mountains of New York. You’ve got your headphones on and a scruffy guitarist from Gainesville, Florida is singing out your secrets. There’s a fear swirling in your chest. A fear that will settle, take its shoes off and rest heavy in your chest for years to come.

Because you’re afraid to move on.

You’re afraid to get going.

Be well,

Jay