Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Glimpse Into the Set Up of Atwell's Writing Workshop

I continue to forge ahead through Nancie Atwell's In The Middle. I took a couple of days away from from it, mostly because although I love the book, it overwhelms me a bit. Almost like when I read Martha Stewart's Housekeeping Handbook. Martha is the queen of the home, but as one bookstore clerk laughingly joked to me one day, "Martha has a lot to say." Yes, so can also be said for Nancie Atwell. Therefore, I must do a little chunking of my own and break this text down a bit so I find the right things to use for my classroom.

Classroom set up:

"Getting the room ready for writing and reading means rethinking its physical arrangement. When students walk through the door the first day, I want them to enter a working environment-- to take on the serious, productive affect of writers and readers in a workshop.

No teacher's desk-- In the place of her desk she has a small stool, an easel, and she either supplies a rug, pillows, or whistle-shaped cushions for the students when they gather in a circle for read-alouds or mini-lessons.

Writing Workshop:

Supplies-- Atwell fills two low bookcases with pencils, lined paper, ballpoint pens, scissors, transparent tape for cut and revise lessons, a stapler, staples, paper clips, correction fluid. As well as Post-it notes, stationary, envelopes, rulers, colored pencils, markers, three-holed punch, glue sticks, index cards of different sizes, and a crate of clipboards in case the class decides to write outside.

Reference center-- college dictionaries, copies of The New American Roget's College Thesaurus, copies of Writers INC, copy of The Student's Guide for Writing College Papers, Encyclopedias, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary, Write to Learn, On Writing Well, An Introduction to Poetry, and Writing Poems.

  • The reference center also includes writing samples created by the teacher, former students, or other professionals organized by genre in hanging file folders in a crate. Students can pull them out and read them over when they are having trouble.
  • Genres for the reference center include: book reviews, short stories, memoirs, historical fiction, feature articles, interviews, advertising, songs, poetry, informational writing, profiles, history, and much more.

Author information: Hanging folders with information pertaining to different authors. The folders include interviews, promotional materials, reviews, articles from several publications such as Voices From the Middle, The NewYorker, New York Times Book Review. Atwell refers kids to this resource to learn how their favorite authors create, especially fiction, and she uses it for mini lessons about craft and genre.

Publication center: Instructs students on how to get their writing published. Atwell displays a small bulletin board with information regarding upcoming contests and options for professional publication. She has a file of magazines and publications that publish middle school writing. She displays writing of former students that has been published. Copies of Acorns' (their own school's literary magazine), Atwell expects all of her students to attempt professional publication by the end of the school year. She states that most of her students are published before leaving middle school.

Conference Areas: She has two areas within the classroom set up for students to go to if they are ready to evaluate each other's papers. They must whisper quietly, and the designated areas help to keep the writing going within the classroom. Every student has a peer conference form that they use to assess their writing.

Students' desks: Atwell keeps her students at separate desks or small tables to write. She prefers a quiet space for students to write. Talking is not allowed unless they are conferencing at a specific area.

The Reading Workshop:

Atwell has an extensive classroom library. She purchases all paperbacks and buys most of her books at yard sales. She shelves them all alphabetically by authors' last names; each is marked by a red round sticker on the spine and her initials inside the cover. Atwell separates the books by genre. Atwell has a wooden stand that allows her to introduce or display a new title that was recently added to the collection.

Each student keeps a written record of books that they have completed or abandoned with the date and scale the book from one to ten. The student review the list in June and create a best books inventory, which Atwell uses as her source for future book buying.

Note: Atwell has no check out system. She keeps track through the written record of books that they students use (reading log), and assesses them through student conferences.

The way in which Atwell sets up her classroom and conducts her mini-lessons is interesting to me. Atwell will often bring her students around her. She sits on a footstool with her easel, while the students make notes in the writer's notebook. She confers with them for 10 minutes or so, and then they head back to their desks for reading and/or writing.

I really like this idea, because it breaks things up a bit. 90 minutes classes can be very hard for 12 year olds to sit through. They get fidgety after 50 minutes or so. This could be a way for us to have some structured movement within the classroom. Personally, I don't use my teacher desk, and I agree with Atwell that teachers aren't meant to sit behind them. As soon as a teacher sits behind that desk, class is over-- I can't remember where I read that, but I do agree with it.

So-- this is how Atwell sets up her workshop--a bit overwhelming, but at the same time totally cool. I love the constructivist approach. It is about creating and less about listening. I am still committed to my teaching units, but I think I could incorporate some of her ideas here on the set up of my class.

Anyway-- hope this might give other ELA teachers some ideas for their classroom.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Need Inspiration? These Quotes and Clips Keep Me Going Strong!

We all need a little bit of inspiration. For the last week I've been working on a grant and with any large project the devil is in the details, which can be exhausting, especially when you are unsure if it will all pay off in the end. But worrying about the payoff should not and cannot be the motivation for excellence. Motivation comes from the act itself, knowing that with everyday we, as teachers seeking excellence, gave it our all. That we tried our absolute best. That is all that really matters. As I tell my students, "do your best, and forget the rest." The trick though is that I always check myself, "Did I really do my best, could I have done better, and what would have made it better?" Those questions usually go a long way for me to ensure that I stay on track.

However, I will say that striving to be your best can also be tiring at times. Sometimes, I have days when I need a little push, inspiration to get fueled up again. 

The following are some quotes and video clips that help me to stay motivated. I hope that it may be helpful to other educators. We are here to help each other and keep each other going strong!


Excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity. The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere. Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary.

Nick Vujicic- A man born with no arms or limbs, but he loves life. He has a passionate ministry and always sees brightness ahead. I always feel better after watching his videos.

I love watching this video on Will Smith's success when I need a little extra push. I love that he wants his family and career to count!

"Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!" Who doesn't love Rudy! I have always loved this story. When I need to reclaim a dream I watch Rudy.


           Within Our Walls: Teach Like a  Champion 

I don't know about you, but I want to teach like a champion! I can watch these teachers over and over again if i need a little lift! It's a great book, too! Check out the clip below.


"What will your verse be?" I love poetry, and I love the reminder that teaching Language Arts is about helping our students find their own voice and place in the world. This clip from Dead Poets Society reminds me of my purpose and passion as an ELA teacher.

I hope that this collection will help you as much as it helps me to remember that striving for excellence is tough, exacting, exhausting, frustrating, and much more, but the at the same time it is so immensely gratifying and worth all the pain, because more often than not great achievements happen from not settling. Just by taking it a little bit further, amazing things can happen.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

ELA Teachers: Understanding Ourselves as Writers

" I launch the workshop by exploring my spheres of interest as a writer and reader, out loud in mini lessons, then inviting students to identify and lay claim to their own interests, concerns, and areas of expertise. I call these our territories. When I present my territories as a writer and reader to my students I demonstrate, as explicitly as I can, all the ways that writing and reading matter in the life of their English teacher." -- Nancie Atwell.

I have never read a book on reading and writing that has captivated me more than In The Middle. Atwell truly gets to the heart of the instruction. Today I learned how she sets up and approaches her reading and writing workshops. Atwell believes that to teach authentically an ELA must be a reader and writer themselves. It must ooze from them so to speak. She exclaims her passion for reading and writing everyday, but it is not enough just to say your passionate, we must be examples from our own lives. She demonstrates this through sharing her reading and writing territories for her students during the first days of school. She openly shares what she loves to read and write about. To be wide open to our students is not always easy. It can leave us vulnerable. However, I do agree with Atwell that by sharing our vulnerabilities, our lives, our passions, our heartbreaks help our own students develop their own voices in writing, and help them discover who they are through their reading choices.

Atwell offers her personal list of topics, genres, and audiences that represent her self portrait as a writer. For my own purposes I will reflect on my own story on how I began my journey as a writer and reader.

I really did not begin writing until college. I always enjoyed writing, but most of my high school literature and writing teachers were fairly dull. I remember one teacher in particular who had a serious obsession with Wonder Woman. He had several posters of her hanging in his room, and he had that type of dry inexpressive voice that you might of heard in the classic movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Anyway, I found him a bit strange. However, I did have a fantastic experience from one high school teacher, who helped me to find my voice--literally. Somehow, by accident or God's will I was placed in a debate class in the 9th grade. Painfully shy, I could not believe I was in a debate class. I was mortified! From the start I knew that I would be challenged in this class. I had to organize my arguments, speak clearly with precession, and be able to rebuttal against my classmates! This was way out of my comfort zone, but my teacher pulled out my voice. She strengthened my confidence. I was happy to make a B out of that class, but feeling confident I wanted more. So, the next semester I signed up for a speech class. Writing and performing a public speech resembles a five paragraph essay. I got in the habit of reading texts, writing responses, and speaking them for an audience. I began excelling, and I loved it.

In college I continued. My first semester I signed up for Public Speaking 101. It was the only "A" I made that first semester. I excelled in it so I decided to major in Speech Communications. I loved all types of language in college and pursued a minor in Spanish. I liked the challenge. It was interesting having to analyze texts; novels written in a different language, write papers and present my findings to the class. Then, as a senior, I worked for a public relations firm. I used my English writing skills to write press releases to promote local restaurants in magazines and newspapers. I used that skill for several jobs: paid and volunteer. As a young mother I wrote a column for the Douglas County News & Views, a local magazine, about being a mom-- the trials and the victories. I wrote all of the press releases for my husband's restaurant business. I've written devotionals for my church. One of my favorites to look back on is a time when I interviewed three elderly citizens of Palmetto, Georgia. I wrote their life stories and put them together in a book. The interviewees have all passed on now, but I'm glad they opened their lives to me, and I was able to write their stories. I continue to write today through the use of this blog. I also just wrote a short piece on my grandfather's life. I think people interest me the most. I like to write their stories.

Although Atwell is a writer, and I am a writer I believe that we would both argue that there is nothing special or magical in what we do. Writing is an art, and practice goes a long way. Writers must write and readers must read. I believe the trick is that ELA teachers must know who they are as readers and writers and be able to share that with their students. It is about building relationships and trust.

The following are topics that I like to write about:

  • My students
  • My family
  • My childhood
  • My children
  • My Christian faith
  • devotionals
  • Lives of others: memoirs
  • teaching
  • instruction
  • joys of teaching
  • struggles of teaching
  • gratitude journals
  • what makes me happy
  • motherhood
  • parenting
  • How I teach and why I teach
  • Literature
  • Personal heartbreaks
  • Personal joys
  • Housekeeping
  • Books for adolescents
  • Writing and reading
  • College years
  • Health
  • Success
  • Memoirs
  • Book reviews
  • Short stories
  • Poetry
  • Essays
  • Press Releases
  • Letters
  • Articles
  • Thank you notes
  • Speeches
  • Reactions to writings by my students
  • Grant writing
  • Lists
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Lesson Plans
  • Blog postings
  • Myself
  • My family
  • Other teachers
  • Administrators
  • Students
  • Other Educators
  • General Public
  • Moms
  • congregation
Atwell states that this type of information should be shared with your students. They can journal "my territories" and begin thinking about who they are as writers.

I love this exercise. Middle grades students want to delve into who they are as individuals. This is a great way to begin. There is much more in the book than I can outline in this post, but I believe the main point Atwell wants to get across is that it isn't all about the curriculum. For writers to help others to become writers, we must share our stories, our processes, and our thinking. We must take the mystery away.

Atwell's exercise also makes me think of my earlier blog post on Patricia Polacco and Avi, who both struggled with learning disabilities, but went on to be award winning writers. This is the type of knowledge that our students need to be armed with to become great writers. They need to understand that everyone struggles. It is all about practice, patience, and perseverance. The other post can be found at

I urge other writing teachers to take the time to think about how they became writers, why the write, and who they write for: the answers might be surprising.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Instruction: Building on the Realities of Middle School Kids

"Middle school teachers make the best of our students when we accept and build on the realities of middle school kids. We can't wash away, discipline away, or program away a time of life. We're there to help our students open a window on adulthood, on what really matters in life; we help by opening our curriculi to young adolescents' preoccupations, perspectives, and growing pains."--Atwell

It's interesting to reflect on this statement made by Atwell. As a first year teacher the question I often ask to more seasoned teachers is, "How can I harness all of that electric energy of my students for something great? How can I work with their energy, instead of against it? I find it interesting that seasoned middle grades educators seem so surprised by their students behaviors. The suggestion that I often get to my questions about high energy in the classroom is to not allow group work, discussion, or engagement. Just take the engagement away. Well, I'm not going to judge another teacher for what works for him or her. However, that answer just doesn't work for me.

Adolescent teens need engagement, but learning must be the focus. It is very easy for kids this age to get out of control. I believe the key lies in excruciating details and organization. The teacher must predict and plan for every move within the classroom, being on top of the action at all times. This is not an easy task, but I believe that this is what could make middle school great. However, it would take passionate, dedicated teachers to make this happen. The more I research and learn about middle grades, the more I realize that the most talented teachers should be teaching middle school.

"From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in school comes from his inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside of school in any complete and free way; while, on the other hand, he is unable to apply to daily life what he is learning at school. When a middle school begins to reflect the nature of its kids, the great waste in our schools wanes, and great purpose waxes. School can be good for something. School and life can come to terms in practical, rigorous ways. We make the best of adolescence when we make the classroom the best context we can for the mercurial minds at work and play there." --Atwell

Today, I read the chapter on developing a writing workshop. It is intense, and it will take diligence to make this happen, but the more I read and research, the more I believe that this is where I need to go with my instruction. I already utilize many of Atwell's techniques. However, she goes much deeper with it, and she is very detailed. Atwell offers an education to her students that I never had, but would love to offer to others.

She suggests more freedom in choice of reading and writing themes and texts, but she presents and assesses in a very structured way. She teaches exacting systems of reading, writing, and discussion, Furthermore, Atwell allows her students to read during class, but she has a system for doing so, It is not just a time filler.

In The Middle has captivated my attention, and gotten me excited about the upcoming year. Her philosophy on teaching middle grades resonates with my own, so I trust her judgment. Again, although I know and believe in my own abilities, I am always open and ready for suggestions. As long as I am a teacher-- I will also be a learner. I just know that I must pull it all together over the next two weeks. I want to start the school year off right! I may have some work ahead of me, but the reward will be sweet.

Another article I read--Atwell talks frequently about Graves in her work.
The Write Way
Donald Graves started a revolution just by watching young children as they wrote in school

Monday, June 24, 2013

Challenges of Adolescent Learning/Tracking in Middle Grades

"The listening and learning mode, complemented by varieties of seat work and busywork, wasn't arrived to haphazardly. I think that losing control looms as our greatest fear. Rather than risk overstimulation we choose not to stimulate. Better to limit the possibilities and keep a neutral tone than to risk a display of adolescents' strong feelings--the shared laughter, overt enthusiasm, and angry outbursts that Goodlad rarely observed. Better to limit the possibilities and keep students quiet and facing front than to risk big, adolescent bodies in motion. Better to blame kids for their exuberance than to help them figure out how to channel it in productive ways." -- Nancie Atwell

Atwell is referring to a study that concluded at least 70 percent of American students spend class time listening to teachers talk.

"Learning is more likely to happen when students like what they are doing. Learning is also more likely to happen when they can be involved and active and when they can learn from other students. When students are tracked according to ability levels, the possibilities for this kind of collaborative learning shut down. Kids tracked into the top groups see their classmates as competitors; measuring themselves against their friends, they worry they're not smart enough and panic about grades. Kids tracked into the bottom groups are plenty smart enough to look around them the first week of school and catch on: "I'm in the dumb group, I'll be here forever, and I know what's expected of me." They also catch on to who's in the top groups when old friends from other sections describe the challenges of their coursework and homework. The students placed in lower homogeneous sections most need interesting, challenging instruction. They most need school to enlighten and make sense. They most need individual conversations with the teacher. And they mostly get remedial work, low-level texts and low level ideas, and teachers faced with a crazy situation: a whole class of kids who benefit from one-to-one help, but mostly need to be disciplined and managed." --Atwell

These are interesting arguments. I believe this debate alone is why I personally feel passionate about middle grades education, and why so many adults have horrific memories of it--Tracking--. As an educator I don't like the idea of tracking. I understand that it must be done for certain reasons, but I don't fully know the answers or why the system is the way it is. I would love to understand it better.

Tracking is interesting to me because it almost seems like three economic classes--rich, middle class, poor. For example, one day near the CRCT, my classes were doing some review. I showed a Schoolhouse Rock video to my advanced class. They begged and pleaded for more. I said ok. Well, they sang their little hearts out, knowing every word to several of the songs. They spoke about their elementary school days, and singing the songs in their moms/ minivans. Well, in my average class only a handful had ever heard of Schoolhouse Rock, and in my low-level class, no one had ever heard of the songs, and they looked at me as if I were a space alien. Furthermore, I would often hear the other kids put down and make nasty remarks about my low-level class. That class really thought they were dumb. As a result, it takes tremendous amounts of energy by the teacher to help this group of students think otherwise. Maybe if kids had more choice, or it was broken up a bit more, and the kids weren't tracked with the same group in every class, all year long, there self-esteem might increase, and so would performance.

As I said, I don't have the answers, but it's an interesting debate. As I continue through Atwell's text I hope to find some answers on to engage readers and writers in spite of tracking systems.

Part II is tomorrow-- Developing Reading and Writing Workshops in the Classroom--I'm very excited about the discoveries I'll make!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Nancie Atwell: 5 Tips For Developing Writers

Today, I began my journey in the text, In The Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading, and Learning by Nancie Atwell. I have to say I've found a kindred spirit and mentor from this book. Atwell's discoveries about her students captivate me, and remind so much of mine own. Also, she discusses how her experiences as a mother helped her to be a better teacher. I know that is true for me. My goal is to work and finish this book before July, because I want to start focusing heavily on my unit planning at that time.

Items of interest that I've learned so far--

1. Belief in a student centered classroom- Yes! Middle grades students need to feel valued. Atwell states that she does much more listening than telling in her classroom. The students write, write, write, while she listens, listens, listens.

2. Offer brief mini-lessons- Atwell's lessons are no longer than 7-10 minutes. She admitted that some lessons go as long as thirty but that might also include some discussion. Many times I begin with the students reading individually an article or chapter. I have them take notes (annotate) while they read, so I can circle around and see how they are progressing. I set a timer and give them a goal for how many notes that I want down on their paper. I check their notes as I circle the room. Then we discuss and the mini-lesson takes place. Following they usually write in response to the readings and discussion.

3. Serve as a model of a writer at work- Teachers of writing need to be writers themselves. I believe in this totally. How can we get kids to follow us if we are not mastering and loving the content ourselves? Teaching from my blog serves as a powerful motivator for my students. They see my planning, my writing, and it creates authenticity. That authenticity helps to develop trust. Atwell writes herself as often as possible and shows her students how writing is relatable to real life by writing a poem to her daughter, writing a letter to the local government, or sharing a short story she wrote about her childhood.

4. Develop relationship with students- Allow your students to have a voice. Ask them what they want to get out of the class. I am a big believer in this, especially in middle grades. This past year I created a classroom contract with each one of my classes. I asked them, "What do you expect from your fellow students?" "What do you expect from me as your teacher?" We brainstormed, narrowed the selection down, voted, and made a final copy. I created a big poster of each contract, had the students sign it, and hung each one on the wall. It was interesting what the students said. One student caught my attention. When I asked what they wanted from me, she retorted sassily, "I want you to teach!" She meant it. She wanted to learn. Another young man said he wanted more opportunities to use technology. I took his advice to heart and we began having weekly trips to the computer lab to blog our writings. Students know what they want. Let's give them a voice in the classroom.

5. Teachers as coaches-- Atwell says, "Teachers, get out of the way." I say, "Amen". As a student I got very impatient with teachers who just liked to hear themselves talk--talk--talk. I like the idea of the flipped classroom. I want them to come in prepared, ready for discussion, and get to work asap. The more they produce, the more that they learn. The teacher can serve more as a coach or mediator guiding the students in the right direction depending on their individual need.

Video of Nancie Atwell at work with her students.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Reflection: Supporting School Leadership

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with a good friend and mentor. She is like the big sister that I never had, and I feel so blessed that she is in my life. We both have served in ministry leadership. She served as the principal of a private Christian school, while I served as a Children's Minister.
There were a few things that we agreed on concerning the difficulties of leadership.

1. Many leaders deal with a lot of negativity.-- As a leader, whatever scope it as been--it seems that if the buck stopped with me, than complaints were the majority of communications that came my way. I believe that many leaders are selected because they are good listeners and they want to help others. They are solution minded, and people feel comfortable talking to them, which is good. However, it can also be emotionally draining on the leader. I know that one of the biggest mistakes that I made in ministry leadership was that I allowed too much conversation. I did not set enough boundaries. I let the negativity set into my consciousness. That was not good. I've realized since that I have control over my thoughts and that boundaries are good. So, as teachers seeking excellence, let's try to bring positivity to the leaders in our lives. Be solution oriented. Keep a smile on our face, and bring the problems only when it is really on our hearts, and we can find no other way out.

2. We can't all be chiefs-- Let your leader--lead. There is an old saying, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." This saying can be tough to digest sometimes, but I think that there is a lot of wisdom in it. Sometimes we are called to lead, other times we are called to follow. As a ministry leader it was difficult to manage all the different personalities, and all their ideas and opinions for what needed to be done. The problem was mine though. In ministry, my vision was not strong enough. If I had had a strong vision and planned better than maybe I wouldn't have had so many team members trying to be chiefs. Since then I have learned to be stronger, and understand that not everyone is going to be happy or even like me, and I'm ok with that. As a teacher I try to be solutions oriented, help, but trust the leaders to do their jobs, and know that they will trust me to do mine.

3. It's really all about the kids-- As PTO President, the principal would often tell me, "Whatever we strive to do, we must remember--it is all about the kids." I internalized that bit of wisdom, and carry it with me as I plan my lessons, read articles, or how I approach the day. If a teacher upsets me for some reason, or even another student, I work to remind myself, "It's all about the kids." Yes, I want to be a great English teacher. Yes, I would like to be a leader in my field one day. However, I must use my students as my inspiration and guiding force. I want to come in looking sharp, so they will see that I cared enough about them to do so. I diligently plan lessons, not to win awards, but so they will have a top rate education. I don't work hard to one-up the other teachers. I work hard, so my own children and my students knows what it means to persevere. I want to set the example for them. In the end, leadership for me is setting the example in ways that count--for my students.

So, let's all remember these struggles, find ways to bring our best everyday, support our leaders the best we can, and use our students as the guiding force for our own instruction and leadership in the classroom.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Teachers: Dress for Success


Kate White is the author of I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know. I absolutely love how straight forward this book is, and I've read it several times. Summer is a great time for teachers to reflect and think about what type of professional they want to be. Yes, I believe that teachers are professionals just as doctors or lawyers. Most teachers are highly trained and specialized in their craft holding several advanced degrees.

White offers tons of great advice, but for the purpose of this post I will focus on her advice for dressing for success.

1. It's absolutely true what they say: dress for the job you aspire to.-- "There are a lot of workplaces where you can dress casually or even totally grunge. But, just because everyone in your pay grade is doing so with management's blessing, it doesn't mean that you should. And just because your workplace supports casual Friday doesn't mean that you have to adhere to it."~ White

I've always believed in dressing for the job. I've heard teachers use lack of pay as a reason not to dress well.   However, there are ways to be strategic and still look fabulous. I always begin my quest for professional attire at --Goodwill-- yes, I said it. I have found several dresses, and other professional tops with the tags still on them for 2 or 3 bucks! Then, I move up to Wal-Mart, Target, or T.J.Max. I look for classic items that can be mixed and matched easily. My dad, always very stylish, taught me that trick years ago. There are ways to look great on a small budget!

2. Buy great looking shoes.-- "Most women you interact with will notice your shoes. And though guys say they don't notice, on a subliminal level they're certainly picking up on things such as run down heels and scuff marks"~ White

This is a difficult issue for many teachers, who are on their feet all day, which makes it almost impossible to wear heels. However, it doesn't mean teachers have to wear items such as flip flops. My father in law calls them "shower shoes", because back in the day people only wore them in the shower! If I were to suggest spending a little extra money it would be on a couple of great pairs of comfortable, but attractive pairs of shoes. There are so many out on the market that it's not too hard to find.

3. Buy clothes that fit you-- "Clothes that don't fit right or flatter your shape look unprofessional, and that's the biggest mistake that Lawerence sees women making. The main thing is that you are looking for styles that work with your shape." ~ White

As an educator, I have five or six "work" outfits and I leave them for work. Having been a mother before a teacher it always made me feel a little uneasy if I saw female teachers or even administrators looking too sexy. Skin tight skirts or blouses seemed out of place in a school setting. I know it can be tough, but conservative dress is best when it comes to working with children. Save sexy for after hours.

I would urge educators to think about White's advice, and how using her tips might create more excellence for teachers. Dress makes a strong impression on students. Let's show them what it means to be professionals.

Mantra of the successful, gutsy girl: Go big or go home!

Click on the link below for another related article and video from The Today Show interview of Kate White.

Author Kate White shares her secrets in “I Shouldn't Be Telling You This”

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Debate: Whole Class Novels vs. Individual Choice

Currently, there seems to be an increasingly heated debate on how to teach reading.  The new movement is against teaching class novels especially some of the more traditional literature novels such as To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, or Lord of the Flies. Some educators argue that teaching these novels as well as elements such as figurative language and tone take away from the joy of the book and ruins the intrinsic pleasure of the read. Students should choose for themselves what they would like to read, and it should not be mandated by the teacher.

As I study and plan for next year, I've thought over both sides of the debate. I know that I don't have all of the years of teaching experience under my belt as many of these educators, but I must decide how I will pursue my own teaching.

First, I would like to explore the true purpose of teaching literature.  I agree with educators who believe students should have reading choice, and develop a love of reading from that choice. It is a large component of the job to help develop this love of reading in our students. However, I also believe that it is our job to expose our students to classic literature. I applaud teachers who assign "the classics" to read during the summer. Yes, many students may choose not to read them. However, at the very least they are being exposed to great works of literature. By letting students read whatever they might find pleasurable even if told to complete certain genres as a sole source of teaching reading and literature takes away the opportunity to dig deeply into great works that they would never choose otherwise. I believe that procuring a love of reading is only part of the job. The other element is developing in our students an appreciation of great literature. For example, if I go to the library, my natural instinct is to go to non-fiction section. I look for books on how to improve my teaching methods, cooking, finances, parenting or health. I spend less time reading classic works of literature during my spare time. However, as a college and graduate student I spent great amounts of time reading the classics as well as poetry from all cultures and centuries. At times, I will go back and reread those classics, but they are usually not my first choice for pleasure reading. On the other hand, I do appreciate them a great deal, and feel that I am a better person for having been exposed to them. If we, as English teachers, do not take the time to read these classics as a class and expose our students to great works we risk weakening the scope of their education. It is not all about the love of reading. It is also about the exposure to things greater and broader than ourselves.

Furthermore, English should teach elements of literature such as figurative language and tone, so that students will be ready for college. From my experience, teaching figurative language and discussing it with our students equates to a deeper appreciation and understanding of the text. Once students start connecting the dots they realize that these texts do relate to their own lives. That's when greatness happens. That cannot be accomplished unless whole class novels are apart of the curriculum and instruction.

I've also heard and read the same arguments against teaching poets such as Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman. My reading professor was one of them. However, I disagree with it. There are so many ways to relate these poets to students lives today. These poets are not dry or boring. They are amazing. We, as teachers, must bring them to life! We must build students knowledge of history so they understand the times and viewpoints of the authors. It is difficult to understand the poem, "Oh Captain! My Captain!" by Whitman unless the reader knows about the Civil War and Whitman's feelings about it, and that the poem was written in response to the killing of Abraham Lincoln. I love Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, but we can go deeper and should go deeper than these types of poets, even in elementary and middle school.

My hope is that teachers take the time to bring classroom novels to life. Throw away those Scholastic worksheets and exams that come with the book. They are boring! Have fun with it. Get creative and teach from your perspective and your heart. Read the books you want to teach and discover literature elements that you want to explore with your students. Yes, this does take time and effort. Don't settle for easy! This passionate debate for not teaching classroom novels may not be so debatable if we as teachers just took the time to make our teaching great.

Teach a love for reading. Let students have choice, but also expose and teach them great works of literature as well. Take the summer to create, and keep these wonderful books alive for future generations! I know that I will.

Also, remember the movie, Dead Poets Society--let's reclaim our love for the greats and inspire!

The basis of this posting is from my readings of the following:

What Kids Are Reading, In School And Out

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Staying Healthy: A Necessity For Classroom Teachers

Summer is a great time to reevaluate, not just your teaching, but your life. Since becoming a teacher I have realized that my personal health matters. An unhealthy person cannot perform with teaching excellence. Although many schools avail teachers the opportunity of ample sick days, it is not productive to students if  teachers are out for too many days. Also, many teachers juggle being spouses, mothers/fathers, coaches, etc.  Why do teachers tend to have so many roles? Well, because typically teachers are givers. We want to help and do for others, often putting our own needs and especially our health at the bottom of the "to do" list. But, this mentality must change for us to perform at our peak in the classroom and at home. But, where do we start. Well, it is different for every person and every family. In this post, I will start with the rules that I continue to live by to stay healthy and on top of my game.

5 Rules That I Live By To Stay Healthy

1. No Alcohol-- Personally, I am not against alcohol for religious purposes and I don't have alcoholics in my family. It just makes me feel bad, and I keeps me from being my best, so I choose not to drink it.

2. Reduce Sugar-- I love desserts. Yes, all kinds, and I don't believe that someone has to totally eliminate sugar to stay healthy, but it needs to be consumed in very small amounts. Soda, juice, granola bars, certain yogurts all have lots of sugars. It is important to be aware of how much sugar is being consumed in a day, and keep it limited. I have watched several videos on how sugar causes all types of problems with health. I will share one later in this post.

3. Exercise-- Throughout the years I have done about every workout fad out there. In the 90's it was Buns of Steel, Tae-Boe, the step workouts. Then it was yoga and pilates. Now, it is P90X, Insanity, Body Pump, etc. As a part-time worker/mom I found it fairly easy to work in a daily workout routine. Now, as a teacher, it has become increasingly difficult. I had to change my outlook to get exercise in everyday. So,  I try to include the family. Depending on the day, we might go play soccer at a local field, walk at the local track, jump on the trampoline, or dance the night away to Just Dance. It isn't as intense as some of the more structured work out regimes, but family workouts offer exercise and family togetherness, two great goals for working parents.

4. Eat Your Veggies- Recently, it seems that more adults are struggling with cancer. Through study I've found that some cancers can be prevented by eating your veggies. Dark green veggies are the best- super foods they are called--broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts. I have a friend who gave me a recipe for baked brussel sprouts proudly proclaiming that her children ate them like candy. "Wow, really!?" Well, my kids did enjoy the recipe, not sure about comparing it to candy, but they did like the dish, and try to incorporate in the weekly dinner rotation as often as we can.

5. Pursue a hobby-- My hobby is writing. It keeps me happy. I try to spend no more than an hour a day at it so that I can balance everything else, but everyone needs something that is special to him/her to stay balanced. Experts say that antidepressant medication has increased 400 percent in the last two decades. This is an epidemic! Pursue something a little every day that will keep you happy and healthy without turning to drugs.

Health like education is very much a journey. I strive to be healthy because I want to be present for my family and my students. Some days being healthy doesn't work like I want it to just like my classroom lessons don't work out all the time, but the goal is there to strive for everyday. Small steps count!

Videos and articles that have helped me in my pursuit to stay healthy!

                                              Is Sugar Toxic - 60 Minutes Investigates 

Anti cancer with Dr. David Servan- Schreiber

There are also many free workout videos via YouTube: I enjoy The Biggest Loser Workouts. I have found them to be pretty intense workouts, and many are 30 minutes or less!

                                                          A Biggest Loser Workout

Psych Central
Antidepressant Use Up 400 Percent in US

Moving From Student Teacher to Teacher

Over the last two days I have been thinking about this blog. As an English teacher, I love to write. The process can be a type of therapy so to speak. Last year I entitled the blog, Becoming a Teacher of Excellence. The title of the blog gave me focus, desire and drive to maintain excellence throughout my first year as a teacher.

As I plan for the next upcoming year, I still feel like a new teacher--stumbling at times--feeling inadequate at times. However, I know that I am a teacher, not just a student teacher. Toward the end of this past school year, I was sharing a lesson from my blog. One of my more talkative students, after reading the name of my blog, shouted, "But, Mrs. Farmer, you already are an excellent teacher." I appreciated his comment at the time, and now I know it is time for a change. I am a teacher and a good one.

Furthermore, often it is good to read and research the excellent teaching strategies of other educators. Personally, I love to research and I love to dream. The problem lies when the researching and dreaming becomes bigger than the doing. There comes a point when we, as teachers seeking excellence, must believe and be confident in our abilities, without running to other educators for approval. We must take control of our own teaching and find our own way knowing and believing that we are doing the right thing for our classroom and our students.

So, this is a turning point, my plan is to just do more and research less, realizing that my strategies work. I am a teacher now.

Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

6th Grade ELA: Thematic Units Ahead

It is difficult to nail down themes, novel choices for a school year. There are so many possibilities that my mind can spin until-- well I'm just exhausted, but it also brings momentum and excitement too. That is the awesomeness that is teaching--creativity.

The following is a brainstorm of my thoughts so far for the 2013-14 school year.

The Common Core suggests that units have a unified theme to pull the texts together. It is important that students understand the bigger picture. We are not just teaching a novel with various characters, but rather an idea or message. The texts should not only increase their IQ (intelligence quotient) but their HQ (heart quotient) as well.

Last year I was able to do this with two units, but two other units focused just on a genre such as poetry and mythology. This upcoming school year, I would like to combine all the various genres under one thematic idea. So instead of just teaching a poetry unit, I will use various poetry throughout all units, and teach mini-lessons on different poetic elements and styles within every unit. Additionally, students will have set individual goals for their own private reading that will cover all genres: poetry, contemporary literature, fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, biography, autobiography, memoirs, informational, non-fiction.

The Thematic Units
Rising up From Hate: Equality For All
(The Diary of Anne Frank, Weedflower, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice)

Endurance: Surviving In The World Today
(Hatchet, Endurance, Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems)

Overcoming Adversity: How to Combat Economic Struggles Through Education
(Out of The Dust, Grapes of Wrath, articles, poetry)

Native American Literature and Poetry: Qualities of Teamwork, Endurance, Perseverance
(Moccasin Trail, poems, mythology, short stories, articles)

Believe It and Achieve It: Bringing Your Best Everyday
(Homer Hickam's Rocket Boys, Million Dollar Throw, articles,poetry)

These themes may be outlined in greater detail in future blog posts with alignment with the 6th grade ELA Common Core Standards.

Each of these units have the potential to be  taught with great breadth as well as depth. I look forward to their progression in the coming weeks.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Read Alouds in Middle Grades: Are They Important?

Many educators debate on whether reading aloud to middle grade readers is beneficial. Some believe it is too passive of an experience. Why read to the kids when they can already read? Well, I have done some research, and I would like to explore what two reader teachers have concluded and try to relate those conclusions to my own experience.

First, we know that language development begins with listening. Infants learn language first from listening to their parents. Also, when someone learns a second language, he or she will listen and understand first before repeating and speaking. For example, in college, I minored in Spanish and spent a summer abroad studying at the University of Guadalajara. I will contend that it was much easier for me to understand what others were saying than it was for me to repeat an intelligent answer. It took almost the entire three months before I really felt comfortable interacting using basic conversation skills, despite understanding most of what was being said. Therefore, listening comprehension comes before reading comprehension. If I heard a word spoken in Spanish frequently than it would be easier for me to pick it up in my reading comprehension of the text. In the language lab, I spent hours listening to tapes, while following along with the text. The more hours I worked with read alouds the greater my reading comprehension skills became in the new language.

Trelease, the author of the Read Aloud Handbook, states that listening vocabulary fuels reading vocabulary, and that there is a difference between a students listening level and reading level. He argues that parents and teachers should be reading higher level texts aloud to students or their children, which in turn will introduce new vocabulary and comprehension. Furthermore, he argues that the book should be promoting the IQ (intelligence) and their HQ (heart). On the other hand, individual reading can be set on each student's personal reading level, and is different from group read alouds. Finally, Trelease concludes that read alouds should be apart of all classrooms across all grade levels.

Donalyn Miller, the author of The Book Whisper, and vogue writer on the topic of engaging students to read, states, "Your (teacher) ability to fluently read a text that is inaccessible or challenging to many students aids their comprehension, vocabulary development, and enjoyment. Students can apply their mental effort to building meaning from the book instead of decoding language." In addition, she concludes that share-read alouds are beneficial. "Share-reading involves you reading aloud to students while they each follow along in their copy. Share-reading may increase students' reading speed because they have to keep up with a reader who reads at a faster rate then they do. Students' sight recognition of vocabulary improves because unknown words are pronounced for them. Again students' focus can be steered toward comprehension versus decoding."

Personally, I agree with their claims. Let's look at teaching classroom novels. It is not easy to teach a novel, and the Common Core wants teachers to compare and contrast possibly two at a time along with other shorter texts all within the scope of a thematic unit. This can be a challenge time wise, and it is very difficult to hit on a classroom novel that all students can read fluently on their own. I have found that it is more engaging for the students to read shorter texts on their own, and I read aloud the novels to them. For example, if we are reading The Diary of Anne Frank, which has very difficult vocabulary, I might begin the lesson with students reading an article on World War II individually and silently. They could use their close reading skills, write down any new vocabulary, and it can be accomplished in fifteen minutes or so. Then, we could discuss as a class as I then introduce the novel reading for that class period. As a result, I am able to assess how each student reads individually, while also offering an opportunity to increase their reading vocabulary through the read aloud of the novel. In my experience, middle grades readers enjoy articles that supplement the text because it can be accomplished in a short period of time, and it creates a deeper understanding of the novel. Students also enjoy being read to as well. Many seem to crave it, especially if you have an art for it. I believe it is nurturing for them, and they need a reader role model.

My final thoughts are reading taught in the classroom should be a combination of silent sustained reading, read-alouds, and reading between students (group reading). There is not one perfect strategy, because all students are different. As with everything in life, there needs to be a balance. My desire is to achieve that balance in the upcoming school year in hopes of creating a love for reading among all of my students.

Sources for post:

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Igniting a Passion:My Grandfather's Journey: Achieving His Dream of Flight: Part 3

Ed: “After the cancellation of the Army Air Corps training program for the war I was asked to help train female pilots for another government program called the WASP program in Sweetwater, Texas. WASP stood for Women Auxiliary Service Pilot. There were a total of 1,800 women that had been trained as pilots through that program. I trained three young ladies during that time. The training time also afforded me the opportunity to receive my Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) instrument rating. The holder of a CAA can fly airplanes, helicopters, and airships. The WASP program paid for me to get that certification, which in my mind was another link to getting were I needed to go.”
It was late in 1944. Ed accomplished a great deal at a young age. By 24 years old, he captured his dream of becoming a pilot and trained hundreds of men to fly for the war. But, were would his dream go now? Newly married to a beautiful young lady named Lois May Thurman from Joplin, Missouri, he decided that the best thing would be to move back home to Missouri and get a job. He did not see how he could fly anymore now that the war was ending. But, then came a surprise visitor to the base were Ed was training the female pilots. A captain from Eastern Airlines arrived looking to recruit airline pilots, and one paid a call to Ed’s training facility.
Ed: “The Captain from Eastern Airlines came to check out and recruit airline instructors for their commercial airline. I never spoke with him. I didn’t really think there was much point to it at the time. I figured my color vision problems would not allow me to fly with the airline, and honestly I wasn’t sure that I would like to fly commercially, just flying from one place straight to another. I guess it seemed kind of boring. I liked acrobatics and stunt flying, which was daring and had a bit more adventure to it. But, when I went home to tell Lois about it, she could not understand why I wouldn’t speak with the airline captain. After all, I was out of a job, and now we were expecting our first child. Still, I felt it best to head back to Missouri, but just as we were talking I got an unexpected call. As a picked up the phone and listened, I soon realized that this call might change the course of my career forever. His name was Dr. Andrews. He asked, “Mr. Wyrick, have you thought of flying for Eastern Airlines?” I told him that I would be interested but that I had issues passing tests because of my color blindness. He retorted, ‘Well, you just come on to my office tomorrow, and I will check you out.’ So, that is what I did.”
The following day I went to his office, and he administered the “yarn” vision test, which was not as difficult to pass as the military tests. Dr. Andrews looked me squarely in the face stating, “Mr. Wyrick, you are fine, and besides you have many hours of flight time. I’m going to pass you.”
Elated at the prospect of flying now, Ed went home to tell his wife Lois. Overjoyed she packed his bags to help him get ready for his next set of interviews in Miami, Florida.
Ed: “I packed up and headed down to Eastern’s hub in Miami, Florida. For two days, I went through extensive interviews. Then, I had to pack up again and go home. I didn’t know whether or not I got the job. Then on Monday, November 27th 1944, I got the call. I got the job. Within a month, I was co-piloting a DC-3 airplane. I could not believe that my love, my dream of flying was a reality."
Ed led a phenomenal career with Eastern Airlines beginning that Monday in November of 1944 until his last flight on October 26, 1980 at the age of 60 years.
Ed: “Flight 86. I will never forget. I charged an L-1011 over the blue ocean waters from San Juan, Puerto Rico en route to Atlanta, Georgia, now also my home. The Rolls Royce engines thrust us forward, and I realized at that moment-I would never experience this moment again. I enjoyed the flight thinking back on my career and back to the beginning as a little farm boy when a stranger gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, to know and experience flight."
"I remember that last flight as I pulled into the Atlanta terminal and was met by two fire trucks. The firemen offered a farewell salute, and made an arc of water over the airplane with their fire hoses. Once I walked out of the terminal and into the arrival gate, I was greeted by family, friends, and coworkers. The retirement speeches were given and I was awarded for my services. I decided after the awards and speeches it was time to show my family that I was ready to embark on my next dream. Flying had been my passion and my dream for many years, but at the age of sixty it was time to embark on another dream that had haunted me for years. I leaned over in front of the crowd surrounding me, and opened my briefcase. I reached up for my airline hat, and removed it with my right hand, but with my left hand I placed on my head an old western Stetson. To me this symbolized a new dream, a dream to farm. You see my life at this time had come full circle. I grew up on a farm, and loved planting, harvesting, the animals, and nature. Those experiences as a young boy on my grandparents’ farm never left me. With a lot of luck I was able to pursue my dreams of becoming a pilot, and I succeeded in achieving that dream, but we always have to be on the lookout for what’s ahead. For me, it was owning my own farm. It is now 33 years since my retirement. I have spent those years dedicated to my farm, my wife, and my family. I am a lucky man.”
Sitting with my grandfather, listening, and writing his story has given me a deeper appreciation for who he is and how he accomplished his dreams. Always quiet and humble, he pursued his dreams without fail. Yes, he admits to being lucky, but he knew his dreams and he was passionate about them. When he met my grandmother, he fell for her instantly. Although he was dating another young lady at the time, he quickly averted his attention to my grandmother and proposed to her on their second date. He could hardly wait the allotted 5 minutes he gave her to make up her mind! Luckily, she said, “yes”. They were married for an amazing 68 years with four children, 11 grandchildren, and 7 great grandchildren to show for their union.
My grandfather knew what he wanted and once he landed on his passions he never let them go. My hope is that others learn from his example, find their passions, and dedicate their lives to them knowing that by holding fast they will make a positive difference for themselves and those closest to them.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
~Langston Hughes


Lois Thurman Wyrick
Wife of Edwin L. Wyrick for 68 years
Passed in 2012

                                                               Ed headed outbound on a trip.
                                                             Ed in Eastern airlines uniform.
                                                                      Getting ready for take off.

Awaiting the arrival of Ed's last flight. (1980)
Awards for service.
Beginning of a new dream.
                                                                          On the farm.

Another dream lived--a strong and lasting marriage.

Igniting a Passion: My Grandfather's Journey: Achieving His Dream of Flight Part Two

Edwin now called “Ed” by his friends and family continued to grow on the farm. He prospered in school, making straight A's which honored him a coveted spot in the National Honor Society. Ed’s height and physical agility helped him excel in sports, which he played as often as he could.
Ed: “I loved school. I enjoyed learning and reading, but I also loved sports. Basketball was my favorite and I played it as often as I could. I studied hard, and made straight A's. I hadn’t really gotten an interest in girls yet. I was too busy with farm chores, study, and sports.”
Ed worked hard academically, but he had not forgotten his passion for flying.
Ed: “I would read articles on flying as often as I could. Sitting at my desk, I would open my textbook so it looked like I was studying, but I would actually be reading a flying magazine. One time my teacher caught me, and yelled, “Ed Wyrick, you better put that magazine away! Your attention needs to be on your studies!” I never understood why she cared so much because my grades were good.”
Although Ed studied and read about flying as often as he could, he felt in his heart that becoming a pilot was out of his reach.
Ed: “It was expensive to take flying lessons. There was a small airport in Joplin, Missouri and I could take lessons there, but we were poor and my Dad didn’t know how we would pay for them. My dad ran small little grocery stores. He had the idea that maybe we could trade groceries for flying lessons, but that didn’t really pan out.”
So, the dream of a young teen stayed at a distance, while the country wrestled with a deep economic depression. It was 1937; Franklin D. Roosevelt was serving his second term as president.  Roosevelt created many reform policies and work relief programs in hopes of stimulating the economy. One of those programs included the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which began in 1933. The purpose was to provide employment and occupational training for unemployed youths as well as war veterans, and Native Americans, aged 18-25 years. The program was established under The New Deal that President Roosevelt established. The CCC’s purpose served to implement a general natural resource conservation program in every state. The employees worked by planting billions of trees throughout America, constructing more than 800 parks, upgrading state parks, and developing public roadways in rural areas. Under the CCC, Roosevelt decided to implement a pilot training program, which was passed by Congress in 1939. The program granted schools across the nation funds to begin a piloting program. Joplin Junior College was among those chosen.
Ed: “The Depression was hitting us hard. Many people were out of work. At the time, now 1938, at the age of 18, I had finished high school. I began my college studies at Joplin Junior College. We didn’t have any money, but lucky for me I had an athletic scholarship for basketball. I can’t say that I studied hard during those two years. My mind was on other things like basketball, football, and girls. Also, I found it difficult to keep my mind on my studies. I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming a pilot. There was a heightening awareness of Hitler and the European conflict. I knew that something was going to happen soon, but much of the country did not want to get involved after what had happened in the first world war. As a country we wanted to stay out of their business, but pressure was mounting. I continued with my studies at Joplin Junior College. One of my professors knew that I had the dream to become a pilot, and he approached me one day with an idea. He stated, “Ed, the college is now offering a Civilian Pilot Training or CPT course under the Civilian Conservation Corps. I think you should try for it.” I signed up right away after passing the necessary physicals. There were thirty students in all, twenty-seven boys and three girls. The government mandated that 10% of flight students had to be women. The college hired an instructor from the local Joplin airport. He conducted one to two hours of ground school training and then instructed us in flight for the rest of the day. So, we started flying practice right from the beginning. I was 19 years old when I began the program. I was never really sure why President Roosevelt began the program, but I felt that he wanted a secretive way to train fighter pilots for the impending war. At the time, we were not a belligerent nation. The nation as a whole did not want to get involved with Hitler’s rampage, but the pressure was mounting. I had my suspicions, but at the time, I was just happy to fulfill my dream of becoming a pilot.”
Ed went on to finish his first round of flight studies with great success. He continued to play basketball, and completed his other studies. He felt the tensions mounting across the country due to the European conflict, so he decided to try and enlist as a pilot for the Army Air Corps.
Ed: “I was ready to fight Hitler. I wanted to get in my fighter plane, and fly over Europe, and do away with the evil that existed over there. I decided to try for the Army Air Corps. I was nineteen, tall and strong, so I thought the physical exam would not be a problem. There were several parts to the examination, and an eye exam was included. It turned out that I had a color vision problem. I could not believe it. I had already passed other physical exams with flying colors. I was rejected and not allowed to enlist. Devastated, I decided to try the Navy. The Navy had similar exams, and once again, I failed due to color vision problems. The Navy rejected me. I felt dejected, but I wanted to fly. I could think of nothing else.”
Ed went back to Joplin Junior College. He still needed to finish his studies, and he soon learned that the college was beginning an advanced flight school.
Ed: “It was the fall of 1940. I began my third year of college and I was about to turn twenty years old. My mentor and professor told me about the flight program and instructed me to enroll in the advanced flight school. I wanted to do it, but I needed money. My basketball scholarship was for only two years. As I approached another school year, I had to find a way to fund it. So, I decided to try football. I excelled and another lucky break gave way. I received another year of athletic scholarship, which allowed me to enter the advanced pilot training program. One more hurdle came up though. To enroll in the advanced courses I had to pass the color vision exam. First, I went to a medical doctor in town, but I failed, so I decided to drive out of town to Chanute, Kansas. I took the exam again and passed. That was a lucky break.”
For the next several months Ed pursued his studies, and stayed at the top of his class in flight school. He ascended passed basic flight skills to a more advanced aeronautical training.
Ed: “I was now doing flying acrobatics. I flew a PT19. It was a biplane that was used to train cadets to become combat pilots. Although, I loved acrobatic flying, I knew that the program served as an avenue to train future fighter pilots. As I said before, at this time we had still not gotten into the war. Pearl Harbor had not occurred yet; no one was being drafted to the war effort yet. No one told me that I was training for combat, but I knew that is what we were doing.”
During this time Ed had learned of another avenue to pursue his passion of flight. In the fall of 1941, the Royal Air Force was recruiting American pilots to fight for the British in the fight against Hitler. This recruitment for young American pilots was led by the Clayton Night Committee.
Ed: “The Clayton Night Committee, led by a man named Clayton Night, saught to transport Americans over to Britain to fly in combat against Hitler. I thought this might be a great way for me to fly in combat since I failed the examinations for the Army Air Corps and Navy. So, I went to the interview, but at the age of 22 I didn’t understand the psychology behind their questions. During the interview, a stern RAF officer sat in front of me drilling questions on how committed I was in the cause against Hitler. I remember him staring me straight in the eye and asked, “What if King George wants you to dig ditches?” I told him that I just wanted to fly. The next day I went to see if I had made the cut. I glanced up at the roster to see a large slash through my name. I walked up to the officer and asked why he slashed my name off the list. He responded by stating, “I’m sorry but we want soldiers who want to destroy Hitler, not just want to fly.”
Discouraged, Ed got a job at the local Long Bell Lumber Company in Joplin.
Ed: “I felt that I had exhausted all possibilities of continuing my dream to fly. I could not afford an airplane or the gas that it took. I had been rejected from the Army Air Corps, Navy, and Royal Air Force, so I just got a job. It was toward the end of 1941. I worked as a shipping clerk, and played basketball for the company basketball league. That’s how I got the job. They wanted a good player for their basketball team. I enjoyed playing ball, but I hated the job. I was going stir crazy. I worked there about three months when the country got devastating news. I was driving in town with some friends when the news came over the radio stating, “Pearl Harbor was attacked.” I couldn’t believe it. I was more desperate than ever to find a way to fly. Something had to change. Something had to break. I had recently heard about a third Civilian Training Pilot (CPT) course being offered in Pittsburg, Kansas. The advanced course instructed pilots to fly across country and to be flight instructors themselves. I wrote to my old professor who had introduced me to the the initial flight program a few years earlier. He made a call and got me in. Elated, I packed my bags, quit my job, and hopped the first bus to Pittsburg. I finished the program in June of 1942.”
In the summer of 1942, the United States was almost one year into the war against Hitler. Thousands of men were enlisting into the Army. As a result, there was a tremendous need for fighter pilots to fly across the Atlantic, but the pool was shallow. Men needed to be trained, so the Army Air Corps sought out civilian flights instructors to train Army Air Corps cadets.
Ed: “The Army Air Corps recruited me as a flight trainer, but I maintained my civilian status. I moved down to Stamford, Texas to train the cadets, but this became problematic when the draft began. The civilian flight trainers were being drafted out of the program. Not long after beginning my work there, my parents informed me that I had received my draft notice back in Missouri. The Army Air Corps did not want to lose me to the draft, so they enlisted me as an Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserve. That way I was no longer subject to the draft. As a reservist I continued to wear civilian clothes. The other guys and I would go into town with our civilian clothes on, and the public didn’t know what we were doing. They’d look us up and down seeing that we were young men and began to mock us and saying, “Why aren’t you fighting the Nazis?” So, to keep us from further torment the Army Air Corps put us in full uniform. I was thankful for that.”
As an instructor, the color vision problem did not affect him. Ed continued to instruct future fighter pilots, with a small limitation of not flying at night.
Ed: “I was assigned five cadets every nine weeks beginning in June of 1942. I was 22 years old at the time. The instructors and I taught nine weeks on with one week off. Depending on the weather, we might not get any time off. There were three levels of fight training: primary, basic, and advanced. I instructed the initial primary training. It was a strenuous training program with a wash out rate of about 30%. It was my job to be the first to cut those that weren’t going to make the grade. That was difficult for me at first because I felt that a few cadets would have gotten it if they just had a little more time. One of my students in the first group that I taught was almost there, but I worried that he may have trouble once he reached the basic training. Well, I hate to say it but I was right. He washed out during basic, and the upper level instructors came down on me for passing him. I realized that I would have to get tough. Only the best could move forward. Once the pilots passed all three levels they had the choice of being a bomber pilot or a fighter pilot. It made no difference. It was the pilot’s choice. Once the young pilot chose, he was sent off in an airplane across the vast Atlantic to fight the Germans.”
The fighter pilot training continued for two years until the war began to wane and Hitler began losing ground.
Ed: “I continued instructing for two years. Nine weeks on, training 5 male cadets at a time, with one week off until September of 1944. This was my contribution to the war effort. The Army Air Corps did not allow me to fly as a fighter or bomber pilot due to my slight color blindness, but I was able to train hundreds of men to fly and fight for our country. In September of 1944, the government shut down the program. I was not sure what to do after the program ended, but soon came another stroke of luck that kept my dream alive.”
                                               Edwin "Ed" Wyrick Joplin Missouri High School
                                          Travelaire 4000 Secondary Civilian Pilot Training CPT (1940)
                                                Uniform for open cockpits. Cold in the winter months.
                                                         Trainer for Army Air Corps 1943
                  Flight line in Stamford, Texas. Army Air Corps Flight Training Detachment. 1942.