What Are You Doing With Your Life?
When a teenager tries to break into her home, Joey Garcia asks him an unexpected question.

By Joey Garcia

I was at my laptop working on a poem when I realized that late afternoon had darkened into evening. I should probably close the windows in the front of the house, I thought.

The early evening light was dim but when I walked into the kitchen, I could clearly see the young man straddling the windowsill, breaking into my home.

He was a teenager, 17 or 18 years old. I felt strangely calm, probably because of my two decades as a high school teacher and life coach for teens. So it didn’t surprise me when a sincere question came into my mind:

“What are you doing with your life?”

He froze. I asked again, louder this time, my hands flapping emphatically: “What are you doing with your life?”

Watching me carefully for a moment, he seemed to ponder the question. Then he began to back out of the window.

I told him I would count to three and yell for help.

The young man ran. With shaky hands, I closed and locked my windows, careful not to touch the one he had entered, or the screen he had removed to break in. Evidence, I thought.

When the police officer arrived, he asked me what happened. When I explained, he asked if I knew the young man. “No” I said. The officer narrowed his eyes. “Then why did you ask, ‘What are you doing with your life?'”

I don’t remember what I told him. But the truth is, I feel responsible for all kids. Every child is my child. I believe that every adult is responsible for guiding teens to maturity. We must all help every teenager we meet to navigate a path into a rewarding life.

Looking back, I think I understand why the young man ran away. To be asked, “What are you doing with your life?” is to be acknowledged as if you matter, are loved and are valued.

In the end, I committed the bolder theft. He tried to break into my house, but I tried to break into his consciousness.

With a Perspective, I’m Joey Garcia.

Joey Garcia is an advice columnist in Sacramento



In his address to the Congress of the United States on September 24, 2015, Pope Francis expressed great respect for the American people in the way he discussed what he values about us.  That was especially clear as he described how Abraham Lincoln fought for liberty, Martin Luther King, Jr., struggled for equal rights for all, Dorothy Day worked for social justice for everyone, and Thomas Merton promoted discussion and peace between peoples and religions.  But then, as Pope Francis elaborated on the efforts and ideas of those four representative Americans, he challenged the Congress, and he challenged each and every American, to live up to those role models, to apply what we can learn from their examples to the many crises facing our world today:  poverty and income inequality; immigration; heightened racial and religious tensions;  global warming. He acknowledged our value, and then challenged us to live up to that inherent value, to the beliefs that we hold.  And he told us he was confident we could do it.  Then, from the porch of the United States Capitol, he asked for the prayers and well-wishes of the thousands before him, an acknowledgment of the value of each person in the throng. What a wonderful and, I hope and suspect, effective example of respect Pope Francis has given us.


 What a wonderful example of respect.  I hope the effort continues, becomes an annual tradition, and spreads far and wide!
What a beautiful way to show the kids in your community that you care about them.


Students need respect, too!  The following list from Resetting Respect offers some suggestions for all those who work with students.

 unnamedWays to Respect Your Students

1) Listen carefully to each student.

2) Give appropriate and helpful feedback.

3) Be clear about and give frequent reminders of expectations.

4) Be clear, fair and consistent about consequences.

5) Don’t compare students to their siblings or make frequent references to them.

6) Recognize the attention spans and activity levels of your students and design the day accordingly.

7) Avoid demeaning or humiliating any student either in front of the class or in one-on-one situations.

8) Avoid using sarcasm with students. They frequently won’t understand it and will be further confused by it.

9) Allow students to participate in establishing classroom guidelines.

10) Find out what the students want to learn, and incorporate as much of that as possible into the curriculum.

11) Present new material a variety of ways that address different learning styles, providing an opportunity for all students to learn the new content.

12) Create an atmosphere that encourages the students to share their problems and concerns with you, and then strategize with the students to address those issues.


Note to Communities, School Administrations and School Boards: For students to feel respected and to understand that you consider their education valuable and important, as well as for them to be able to learn, schools themselves must be safe, clean, and in good repair.


In honor of the new school year, here is an excerpt from my book, Resetting Respect, that offers some things for students of all ages to think about.images

Ways to Respect Your Teacher

1) Try to give the teacher your full attention.

2) Follow the classroom rules and guidelines.

3) Use good manners with your teacher.

4) Do your best to get to school and class on time.

5) Let your teacher know if you don’t understand something or have a concern or a problem.

6) Keep your hands to yourself in the classroom and on the playground.

7) Try not to disturb the other students.

8) Do the assigned work to the best of your ability and on time.

9) Participate enthusiastically in classroom activities.

10) Offer to help the teacher when you notice something that needs doing.


Note to Parents: For a classroom to be successful, teachers need to respect the students and students need to respect the teachers. Therefore it is imperative that you model respect for teachers at home. If your kids think you don’t respect their teachers, it is likely they won’t respect their teachers either.


I just saw this wonderful post on Facebook.  This teacher was thoughtful enough to recognize, respect, and go the distance to take care of her students at a very stressful time.  I’m sure she not only helped them through the testing, but helped them realize why they should respect themselves, too!  Kudos!

Oh, have mercy. Look at what a reader’s child came home with in her folder today. You teachers: you handle this insane testing pressure by tapping into deeper and deeper wells of compassion, perseverance,creativity and grace. TEACHERS- WE SEE YOU!!
YES to this letter and YES to the teachers!!!
Parents: Read this to your babies!!

UPDATE!! We’ve just heard from the daughter of warrior teacher Mary Ginley, who wrote the first version of this amazing letter of encouragement back in 1999. THANK YOU TO MARY GINLEY AND TO ALL THE WONDERFUL TEACHERS WHO ARE SHARING THIS MESSAGE!! Love Wins!!

Momastery's photo.


I thoroughly enjoy Joan Morris’s “Animal Life” column in the San Jose Mercury News and her blog at She answers questions and addresses issues about pets and neighborhood wildlife with good humor, good advice, and lots of respect for the many varied critters that make our lives so interesting.

In the November 28, 2014, column, Joan included this wonderful letter from a reader:

DEAR JOAN: I had an eye-opening experience a couple of years ago. I was an employee at a high school in what might be considered a tough part of town.

One day, shortly after school was dismissed, I walked into the quad to see three boys coming out of a science classroom. These boys were probably about 17 years old, but they looked much older. One had a goatee and mustache, and all  had slicked back hair and baggy jeans. The middle boy had his hands cupped in front of him. I thought, “Oh my God, they have something alive.” In a second or two, the boy opened his hands, and a little bird flew away.

I looked at them questioningly, and the middle boy said, “Yeah, this little dude, like, flew into the classroom, and, ya know, he was going to hurt himself, so we had to get him outta there.”

What a lesson this taught me.



Yesterday was election day. I had the radio on almost all day as I went about my chores, went for a walk, ran some errands, and basically waited for returns to begin coming in and election parties to open. I was anxious to learn what the next two years were going to look like — locally, statewide, and nationally. I heard a lot of prognosticating, a lot of hypothesizing, a lot of hope and fear and nervous laughter.  Some of the commentary provided good background for many of the day’s races, much of it was rehash and pretty tedious.

My favorite story of the day, however, was one I heard fairly early in the morning. It was about student poll workers in San Francisco. Students from many of the high schools in The City had applied and been accepted to the High School Poll Worker program which allowed them to work at the election polls, earn extra money, gain civic experience, in some cases earn extra credit for a class or fulfill required volunteer hours, and even act as translators.

Just on the surface it’s such a smart program! There’s nothing better at building interest and enthusiasm than getting kids working at real jobs where they are needed and valued and accomplishing something. What was even more powerful, however, was to hear the excitement in the voices of the several high school poll workers interviewed for the story. They were all immigrant kids who were thrilled to get a bird’s eye view of the voting process in this country, and they were awestruck by the democratic process in the United States and its availability to all citizens. They exuded respect for our system of government and all expressed an interest in pursuing careers in politics or public policy. And they liked helping people. Doesn’t get much better than that — for them, or for the future of this country.

Then this morning I picked up the San Jose Mercury News and saw an article entitled, “Students help out at polls.” The article was about students in Ferguson, Missouri, where the shooting of a young black man by a white policeman several months earlier had caused weeks of civil unrest. In past years only a handful of students had responded to a request from the St. Louis County Election Board for student volunteers, but this year 26 were participating. A civics teacher noted that the summer’s events had prompted a heightened interest in the election process and students were taking advantage of an opportunity to participate in that process in an effort to make their voices heard. Again, these Ferguson students exhibited a respect for the system, as well as respect for themselves that allowed them to recognize their right and ability to be heard in and work within the system.

We hear so much about low voter turnout, especially among the youth of this nation. I’m so glad to have heard this part of the story, the part that tells of students not only wanting to vote but also wanting to participate in the system, and would like to encourage more of just this kind of activity. It clearly helps our young people see just how interesting and important the political process of this country is, as well as understand they can actually have an impact on that political process, that that process is worthy of respect, and that one can work within the process respectfully.


I was wandering through Facebook this morning, when I came across a friend’s “share” of a photo that offers some excellent Halloween advice.  It goes like this:

“With Halloween upon us, please keep in mind, a lot of little people will be visiting your home.  Be accepting.  The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy may have poor fine motor skills.  The child who takes forever to pick out one piece of candy may have motor planning issues.  The child who does not say trick or treat or thank you may be non-verbal.  The child who looks disappointed when they see your bowl might have an allergy.  The child who isn’t wearing a costume at all might have a sensory issue (SPD) or autism.  Be nice.  Be patient.  Its [sic] everyone’s Halloween:)” (

As I see it, it’s all about respect.  We all need to respect those around us, on Halloween and every day, children and adults alike, for who they are.  And we need to support them as they work with whatever issues or baggage they’re dealing with rather than slamming them for not already being perfect.  We’re all works in progress, just at different stages.