Category Archives: Advice

From The White Lady At The Front Of The Classroom: Election Fallout


My heart pounded in my chest as the electoral college number creeped toward Donald Trump’s column.  It was 3 a.m., my cat curled against my side as I looked to Facebook for solace and CNN for information. When John Podesta told us to go to bed, I knew it was over.  I trudged upstairs, hoping a miracle would happen overnight, like when you find $20 in your jeans pocket.  I cried to my husband, my mind whirring about how I would talk about this with my high school students.  How would I, as a white woman, explain how white America voted against them, my beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, students of color? The LGBTQ+ students I advise in our gay/straight alliance?

After asking for help on Facebook, I came to these conclusions:

  1.  It was a day to listen.  During the riots in Ferguson, when I felt just as helpless, a wise, African-American colleague told me to just listen. That advice has never failed me since.
  2.  Art heals, so I’d give my high schoolers space to create.
  3. We would  do a lesson in communication skills, practicing “I feel” statements.


    This student wrote a message to her nephews who are autistic.  She is upset our next president mocked a reporter with a disability.

I arranged my tables in a rectangle and covered the surfaces with long strips of butcher block paper.  I put out markers and a talking piece for the circle we would have.  It was a small, orange pumpkin. Orange, the color of the solar plexus chakra, of creativity.  Seemed fitting.

I invited each student to sit where they were comfortable and to do their warm up in Google Classroom: How are you today? What’s on your mind?   Answers ranged from tired, hungry, and fine, to expressions of sadness and fear over the election of Donald Trump as their president.

Then I talked to them about how their feelings are never, ever wrong, despite the messages they might get from other people.  I told them about times people were successful in calling me a troublemaker when I was expressing concerns over a loved one and how I have learned to ignore that and speak my truth.  Then I added how no matter how we feel, we have to do our best to treat people with respect.

I asked for a “tough” student volunteer.  I  was clear what I was going to say wasn’t true, but to go with it.

Me: I am going to say two sentences to you.  What is the effect of each one?  Jose, you are annoying.  Jose, I feel that you are annoying.

Typical Student Answer:  When you say I’m annoying, it makes it sound like the whole world thinks I’m annoying, that it’s true. But when you say you feel that I’m annoying, I know it’s your opinion only.


So we passed the orange pumpkin around the circle, each person having the opportunity to say what was on their minds using “I feel” statements.  Some shared, some passed, all listened.

Comments included:

Is this a real pumpkin?  (because ninth graders)

I feel angry.

I feel that it’s not right for the president to think it’s OK to touch women without their consent.

I think  Trump might do good things, but I’m nervous because my brother is a Marine.

We have to come together.

I feel unsafe.

I feel unsafe.  That was the word that, by 7th period, had me in tears.

We have an awesome responsibility to do our best to offer safety to each other.  An ear to listen, open eyes, open hearts.  We are responsible for standing up for each other, even when it makes someone else uncomfortable.

And …

….it’s OK to tell people their vote makes you sad, makes you uncomfortable.  That you feel disappointed.  That they have to accept responsibility for their vote.  That their  vote for Trump was a vote for bigotry.

Just remember those “I feel” statements.

I’ll leave you with some of my students’ artwork.  I hope I served them well today.

Onward in hope.


#SmarterSunday: 2016 In Three Words Or Less



My life became unmoored in 2015: my beloved uncle died in January; my amazing grandmother died in April; I left a job that was my professional home for ten years; I started an amazing new job that challenges in me in tough ways; my cousin is very sick with lymphoma.   The image that comes to mind when I think of 2015 is a balloon floating into the sky.  It’s not at all what I anticipated.

This article by Donna Talarico  has given me a way to feel more anchored as I end this bittersweet year and look forward to a happier 2016. I hope her words can help you frame your bliss, too.


Make Today Count Again


Suzie and I making today count at a Penn State Game #girlfriendsrock #selfcare

Sometimes a piece of writing sticks. I’m really proud of this post I wrote for life coach Suzie Bichovsky’s blog, so I’ll share it again.

The best part: I’ve been in touch with Sue Jeffer’s family and have been able to personally tell them how much their sister and aunt’s mantra means to me.

Enjoy. Read it here.

Give The World A Reason To Read: Thriving In A Creative Writing Program

Give The World A Reason To Read: Thriving In A Creative Writing Program


My Writing Bucket List includes having an advice column, à la Dear Prudence or Dear Sugar, so I indulged myself for this post, in honor of the Wilkes Creative Writing MA/MFA ten year anniversary. Five bonus points if you can tell me how I got my pen name…

Dear ChaCha Tuscadero,

I am applying to creative writing MA/MFA programs. What’s your advice?


Juana Rite

Dear Juana,


#tbt 2007 with my mentor  and future publisher, the amazing David Poyer (

First, I hope that this isn’t your get-rich scheme or retirement plan. Second of all, good for you. As a graduate of the Wilkes University’s Creative Writing MA/MFA Program, here are my tips for your surviving and thriving in your program:

#5 DON’T allow yourself to be paralyzed by intimidation. You are going to be interacting with talented, successful writers who are living your dream. This can be intimidating. Just remember they teach in your program because they want to connect with and support new writers, because the love teaching, and for many other reasons. I was paralyzed by fear when I started my program. It had nothing to do with the faculty, it was all in my head. One I realized I belonged there, I exhaled and opened up. What a difference.

#4 DO STHU and listen. Yes, LISTEN. Shut your piehole. I don’t care if you have literally been given the title of Coolest, Most Interesting Person In The World, you have more to learn than to offer at this point.


With Lenore Hart, writer, teacher, ally, publisher  (

#3 DO ask people questions when it’s time to talk. You have a captive audience of professional writers who want to work with you. They have a body of knowledge and experience that is enviable. They are there to mentor you.   And, like many writers, they love to talk about it all. So go for it. Ask them about their backgrounds, their hurdles, their successes, their advice, their opinions. Your day to talk and talk and talk about your success will come, if you work hard enough.

Do the same with your classmates – ask them questions, find out about them. They have skills and insight, too.

#2 DO find your allies. Your program will have all types of writers and students: shy, outgoing, egomaniacs, introverted, extroverted, eccentric, modest, intense, low-key…you get the picture. Get to know as many people as possible and create a tribe who shares your vibe. Don’t smoosh yourself into a category because you want to be “cool.” Find the instructors and the classmates who will push you new directions, who will make you think, who will support you. This leads me to my most important piece of advice:

#1 DO write what YOU love. The story knocking around my brain during grad school was a thriller about an event planner from Northeastern Pennsylvania. I wasn’t going to fight it. Sure, I was surrounded by many poets, playwrights, screenwriters, novelists and memoirists who were very literary. This was intimidating. But once I owned my funny, smart adventure narrative, once I decided this was my thesis, everything locked into place.

The best part about the Wilkes program is that it nurtures all kinds of writers: literary fiction, confessional poetry, horror, middle grades and more. My manuscript would find a home and it did. My formal mentor, the steady and wise David Poyer, did intimidate me at first, but I didn’t let that hold me back. He made me think differently, he made me work differently and most importantly, he believed in my talent, which gave me all of the confidence I needed to press on. I also had other mentors, too, who believed in what I was writing. Did I connect personally with all of the faculty members? No and that’s OK. I wasn’t writing for them exactly. Again, your tribe is your vibe. Write what makes your heart sing and you will find your people.

So, to Juana and all of the other people out there considering a creative writing program, good luck, find one that honors what you write and work hard. To paraphrase Kid President, give the world a reason to read.


Graduation Day, May 2008, Cohort 2 aka Cockeye Book Club. That’s me on the right on the end.