Saturday, January 26, 2013

A New Teacher's Magical Shiny Black Boots

Can any teacher old or new relate to the story below?

            Click-Clack, Click-Clack went the shiny black boots, as the new teacher proceeded speedily down the corridors of the 6th grade hallway early one morning. She felt a little bit uncomfortable. "These boots I'm wearing are so noisy. I hope the clickity-clacking of my shiny black boots doesn't disturb anyone!" she thought to herself.

            She waved hello to a fellow teacher and quickly opened the door to her classroom.  The new teacher proceeded to turn on the lights, computers, and smart board. For a moment she collapsed in her teacher's chair, and glanced at her boots. She brought them closer, studying the size of the heel, the shine of the leather, and the zipper on the side. She thought to herself, "Sharp looking boots. I’m glad I got them out, but I am a little worried I won’t make it through the day in these heels!”

            Quickly the vibrations of students’ feet approached her classroom, and the new teacher quickly hopped up from her chair and revved up for action. She greeted students gingerly, and said, “Good morning!”

            The somber students, begrudgingly retorted, "Good morning," and meandered to their seats, not enthused for the day ahead.

            Disappointed by the morning greeting, the new teacher quickly paced the floor, knowing that swift action was needed. Her shiny black boots swiftly went click-clack, click-clack around the room. The echoing sound penetrated the classroom.

            Upon hearing the deafening sound made from the boots, students anxiously took out their binders, paper, and pencils and got right to work on their first assignment. Click-clack, click-clack, the shiny black boots guided the new teacher from student to student ensuring that each one stayed on task.

             "Wow!" thought the new teacher curiously. “I wore my delightful grey sneakers on Monday, my fabulous flats on Tuesday, and my comfortable clogs on Wednesday but the students only tittered and slouched. On the other hand, today, Thursday, I stand wearing my shiny black boots, and everything changed. Could it be that my shiny black boots are magical?”

        Throughout the day the students stayed at the ready, watching the new teacher’s slightest move around the classroom, listening to the click-clack of the heel, wondering if she’d visit their desk next. The new teacher, exhilarated, stretched her gait to match the heightened momentum within the classroom. As the school day ended, she contemplated all of her students’ strong accomplishments. With a sigh she wondered aloud, “This day has been truly amazing. The students listened, did their work, and followed my lead every step of the way.”

          The new teacher glanced down and studied her black boots one final time. “Thank you shiny black boots, you are truly magical. I shall keep you always, shiny, black, and new.”

         The new teacher gathered her belongings and locked the door to her classroom. Then she turned, and with a confident smile on her face, she hobbled down the quiet 6th grade hallway listening to the click-clack, click-clack of her magical shiny black boots echoing throughout the school.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Blogging: Students Love It!

This week my students and I have continued to work on their writing. Overwhelming for all of us at times, progress is occurring.

Today, two of my classes created classroom blogs. We thought of a domain name and blog name. They shrieked with excitement, and could hardly contain themselves through the process. I didn't realize that they would have such a strong reaction to creating a blog!

I instructed them not to put their names or names of classmates in their writing for security purposes. They were fine with that, and got to work right away.

Totally engrossed....that is how I would describe it. The moans and groans from learning the writing process over the last two weeks quickly evaporated with the thought of posting their work online.

Wow! How exciting for me as their teacher. It allowed me to quickly glance through their writing, evaluate it, and compare it to other classes. A nice break from reading paper after paper of scratchy handwriting.

I am excited to see what else we can do with this in the coming weeks.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Students' Similes: LOL!

My advanced class wrote a persuasive letter this past Friday to the principal urging him not to allow fast food options in the cafeteria. The letter needed to contain an example of figurative language. Not all the students remembered, but I had a few zingers that made me laugh out loud- literally! So, I thought I would share a few. Enjoy!

Due to eating fast food, students lounge around all day long like fat cats in comfy chairs.

Fast food is like a shark attack: it's a bad thing in this world.

Students lounge around all day like a fat man who drank too much milk.

Fast food is like getting hit by a subway train: it's bad news.

Fast food hurts you like a serial killer.

Fast food causes your heart rate to shoot up as fast as a cheetah runs!

Fast food is like one big death trap!

Side note: I am convinced--no fast food this week. :-)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Paragraph Writing

Have you ever needed to go backwards in order to move forwards? Well, this week we took a step back from essay writing and spent time developing strong paragraphs. I highly recommend Jane Kiester's book, Blowing Away the State Writing Assessment. Kiester offers detailed instruction on how to bring out the best writing in our students.

For the last two weeks we spent time on writing development along with vocabulary, spelling, and reference skills.

The students created paragraphs eliminating all dead verbs (am, are, is ,has , had, etc.) except the first and last sentences within the paragraph. The middle sentences included active verbs, figurative language, and vivid vocabulary. The students enjoyed using fun prompts!

Two student examples-

The School Dance
The school dance was a night to remember. As soon as I walked in, I felt the music vibrate through my body like sound waves vibrate through a drum. Students danced to songs that seemed to worm their way into their bodies and banish all cares.  Everybody laughed with the principal as he boogied to the music along with them. As a slow song came on, one-by-one the students grabbed a dancing partner and flooded onto the floor. The dj shouted along with the songs, and skillfully changed from song to song. This was not a typical night in middle school.


The school dance was outrageous. Students listened to awesome rap and hip-hop music. Teachers jammed as the next songs came on. Boys and girls partied and partied until they could party no more. The dj spun and mixed up songs together. Mrs. Farmer burst in and started to break dance. The dance was awesome.


Friday, January 11, 2013

My week as a teacher revisited and revised!

Smack! Mrs. Farmer Goes for a Train Ride

The story goes like this....

I jumped aboard the train on Monday, ready for the adventure that lied ahead. Tuesday, I dashed down the aisle, dropped into my passenger's seat and peered anxiously out the window, meditating on the fresh teaching techniques I craved to try. Worn by Wednesday, I trudged to the dining car to seek refreshment, stunted by the abhorrent behavior of a few of my beloved miscreants. When Thursday rolled in, I promptly returned to my passenger seat, recalling my mission to grow into a teacher of excellence. By Friday, the train briskly came to a stop. I breathed deeply, amassed my belongings, and strolled off the train with smile and composure intact.


The story above is based upon my week as a classroom teacher. Currently, we are working on replacing dead verbs (am, are, is has, had, have, be, was, were, etc) with vivid, active verbs.

This task seems simple enough, but it is quite the opposite. Anyway, as an exercise, I decided to try to write one brief narrative, eliminating all dead verbs.

How can we ask our students to do something that we are unwilling to do ourselves?

The answer is....we can't. Here is to better story telling. Cheers!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Trying new things!

Trying new teaching techniques scares me at times. I wonder, how will the students respond? How will the other teachers respond if they hear loud noises coming out of my classroom? As a new teacher, these questions and self doubts can be laborsome at times.

Yesterday, I started focusing on grammar. I know that the CRCT is 40-45% grammar, so the students need to master these standards. Well, grammar, sadly, is my least favorite thing to teach in language arts. I love literature and writing, but the rules of grammar leaves me wanting. So, what is a teacher seeking to become a teacher of excellence do?Well, change my attitude, and make it fun!

I asked around and was offered the book, Mechanically Inclined, by Jeff Anderson. After skimming the text, I found several fun ways to teach the standards. I began with the Common Core Standard for 6th grade ELA: L.4.1f. Produce complete sentences, recognizing and correcting inappropriate fragments and run-ons. The lesson was called "Two-Word Sentence Smack Down" on page 64-65 in the textbook.

Basically, you conduct a mini-lesson on what comprises a complete sentence, which is a subject and a verb. The students, working in pairs, hunt through a text of your choice for short concise sentences to write on a sheet of paper. (I gave them bright green paper to write on with markers to write with in hopes of making it more fun). Next, they underline the subject and circle the verb. Once they have finished their ten sentences, they choose one sentence to share with the class. The groups are given two more sheets of construction paper. They write the subject on one sheet and the verb on another sheet. You, the teacher, then hang up a t-chart (I made mine out of bright orange colored butcher paper) The title at the top of the t-chart is "Sentence Smack Down!" The left side of the t-chart is titled "subject" and the right side of the t-chart is titled "verb".

The pair of students come up, and one student reads the sentence. Next, you can either play music or have all the students do a "drum roll" with their hands on their desks. The drum roll continues, and the first student "smacks" the construction paper with the subject listed on the t-chart, and yells out the subject. The second student then "smacks" the verb on the t-chart and yells out the verb.

WOW!! It was so much fun, and the kids had a blast. It allowed me to go into a quieter lesson today with fragments, which was more traditional.

I must mention...I was totally paranoid that I was disrupting the entire 6th grade hall, but I felt confident that I was reaching the kids.

Yes, it would be easier to do quiet subdued lessons everyday, for the teachers sanity, but what about the kids? Using unusual or out of the box teaching strategies can be scary, but I believe that middle grades students need the unusual, despite our own personal fears about it.

So....I will continue my search for the unusual, let my fears go, and teach!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year

I don't consider myself a "new" teacher. I have been teaching for years. I have been a mother for 9 wonderful years, and in that time I've watched in wonder as my little girl has grown into a soon to be adolescent. My 7 year old daughter and 4 year old son following close behind. Along with teaching my own children, I mentored young children as the Children's Director at my local church for three and a half years. I deligently created lesson plans, chose curriculum, and handled hundreds of volunteers of the span of those years. Yes, I am not a "new" teacher, but I am new to the profession of teaching as an English Language Arts educator.

I felt called to be a professional teacher for many years, but the opportunity of pursuing that dream did not present itself until 2010, when all the stars aligned, and I began my teaching program. The drive to succeed and make straight "A''s in my program gave me a confidence that I had not felt in many years. I loved being a student again. I loved learning all the new theories and techniques. I loved working with the kids during my student teaching. Professional teaching, my calling, was at my fingertips.

Following my degree, I thankfully secured a position teaching 6th grade ELA.

Thankful to all my new students, the collegues I work with, and especially my Principal who gave me the opportunity to fullfill my dream; I anticipate my first full semester as a professional teacher of middle grades ELA.

The purpose of this blog is for me to reflect on my technique and keep myself accountable. I believe that all educators should reflect often. It is what I miss most about my teacher program. Reflecting makes us better, and keeps our ideas fresh.

So, although I do not consider myself a "new" teacher, I am new to the profession of teaching middle grades, and I hope to continue an attitude of excellence throughout my career.

I will do this by reflecting on my work, researching new teaching techniques from other educators, attending conferences, writing for educational journals, and always pushing myself to be my very best, while also keeping a balance with my home life! Wow! Tall order, but as professionals we must stay fresh or we risk becoming stale.

"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement, nothing can be done without hope and confidence." -- Helen Keller