Saturday, September 28, 2013

Teachers: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Celebrating a birthday is a great time to reflect upon your life, and ask yourself some questions. Am I living as the person I desire to be? What is my ideal self? How do I want to live my life?

Sometimes with so much coming at me it can be hard to reflect, especially as I approach mid-life. However, getting older also brings new insights which I am thankful for, especially with my career as an educator.

First, I've realized that I want to be a cheerleader. After working in ministry, I told myself I would never again get into toxic situations. Meaning that many times, I felt that I played the middle man way too much--a phone call from one volunteer and then a phone call from another--all looking to me for the answers to their conflicts with each other. I did not enjoy that, and I felt that it made me turn a bit cynical, which I didn't like. So, I made the decision not to bring that attitude into my new career as a teacher.

It can be difficult though, sometimes you don't even ask or talk to anyone, but people just come with the negativity, the problems straight at you, because they know you will listen. It is good I think to be a good listener, but this sort of talk can be difficult on the listener, too. Sometimes, if I start thinking a certain way, I have to remind myself-- is this me--or someone else's influence on me? I think this is a  good question to ask when I get discouraged.

As a cheerleader, I want to be one of those people that supports others and their ideas. Find out how I can help to support them, not sit complain, and not take action like a lump. I don't want to be a grumpy old lady.

So, what can I do?

1. Do It Anyway- I love the poem by Mother Teresa, "Anyway". I believe that the point of the poem is to remember that everything I do is to honor God. Being a strong person, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, teacher is between me and God, first and foremost. Everything I do is to honor Him in all ways. Prayer is so important for me in achieving this.

2. Be Proactive: I hear people get upset about choices leaders or other teachers make all the time. I think there are a lot of misconceptions and people are quick to judge without knowing the whole picture. The Bible states that if we have a conflict with someone we should go to that person first, and not go down the gossip and negativity train. I want to be the person who goes to find the answers and create solutions. I want to be proactive--no blaming.

3. Stay Positive: Life is hard. My mom told me recently that I'm in one of the toughest times in life--marriage, young children, career, bills--house payments, car payments, school loan payments....Sometimes, it can all hit so hard. However, that is when I must think of all the blessings, and do my best to enjoy the little moments and joys within the chaos.

4. Keep First Things First: If I find that I'm working so hard that I'm not spending time reading the Bible, in prayer, not exercising, or eating right I've got a problem. I won't be positive for my family or my students if I'm worn down. I must keep my family and myself healthy and happy first.

5. Just Relax and have fun: Teachers get so stressed about the CRCT!! I cannot say how many times I've heard this year about the students and how they probably won't score highly this year on the CRCT-- I know that it is a different bunch of kids, but let's stay positive! My motivation is not the CRCT-- if it was I would probably just drill and kill everyday. Kids hate that style of teaching. I hated it too as a student. My main goal is to teach the standards in an enriching rigorous way so that my students will succeed in life. Success on a single test is a byproduct.

So, in the year ahead, I will be the cheerleader, the positive person. I will not be a naysayer. I will be proactive-- everyday and in every way!


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Walt Disney: Allowing Creativity Within The Standards

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

My students are currently studying achievers. Today, they compared 
and contrasted a written biography to a couple of film clips. 

Tomorrow students will have three choices in response to their readings.
They may create an animated flip book that includes a biography of Walt Disney, create a play, or write an essay. My requirements will be that the theme is how Disney failed, but succeeded. Students must base their stories on facts from the research, and include two examples of textual evidence. 

This will be based on the following rubric.

Creativity/ideas  50 points
Textual evidence 20 points
Central idea/Theme 20 points
Conventions  10 points

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Learn Your Students and Rise to the Occasion

Learning who your students are is so important, but it does take a while. From the start, I realized that this new crew of mine is totally different from my last students. Last year, I was amazed at how quickly my students caught on, and how quickly they moved into deeper elements of the standards. They were open to talking about serious subjects like the Holocaust and Anne Frank. At times, I felt like I was teaching high school or college students-- they were capable of that level of work. On the other hand, this year has been different. How? Why? Honestly, I've been trying to figure that out for weeks.  Well, today, I think I've figured it out. I'm actually teaching twelve year olds.

What I mean to say is, they are on par with the emotional and intellectual intelligences of the average twelve year old child. Is that bad? Is that good? In some ways both-- yes and no.

Today, I realized after a creative writing assignment that my current students ooze creativity and expression. They had so much fun with the writing assignment, and used a variety of adjectives and active verbs throughout their writing. When I asked for volunteers to share they jumped up ready to share their writing. My students laughed, cried--literally from laughter, and just had a great time. I did not see that kind of creativity from my group last year.

So--what does this mean for me. Well, it means that I must continue creating fun, engaging lessons that will hit at their instructional level, while still challenging them. I can use their creativity to work for them, and not against them. We may do a bit more creative writing, poetry, etc. along with the traditional essays. I am also going to incorporate more vocabulary games to review. I'm thinking of doing this on Fridays after they type their essay in the computer lab.  These kids must be actively engaged to learn.

It's just a different crew. I must rise to the occasion!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Victories Are So Worth The Effort

It has been a long week. Yes, really long. At times, I felt like my legs were stuck in quick sand, or maybe I was drowning, or was living one of those dreams where I'm back in high school and I'm trying to get to class, but something or someone keeps pulling me away and I can't get to my destination no matter how hard I try. Ever have that dream?

There are other types of dreams though, too. Those dreams that we ponder over in the stillness of the classroom or before we drift off at night. Those dreams we want for our students.

One dream I've had over the last several weeks is to obtain a quality guest speaker for my students.
Over the last several weeks, we have been studying achievement. Recently, we read an article about a local Georgia boy who has raised over $80,000 for charity. He travels the world with his harmonica teaching others how to give back. My students wrote an essay in response to reading the article, and they really connected with this young man. In my mind I thought, "I wonder if I could get him to come speak to our students?" So, I decided to reach out. I e-mailed and called several times with no response. I wanted to give up. "Oh well, I thought. Maybe I'll try someone else." The problem was that no one else seemed to be the right fit in connecting to the kids in my classroom. So, I tried and again. Yes, victory! I got a random call, and I just happened to answer it. After several days of talking back and forth, we have a date set, and this young man will be coming to speak to my students! They can't believe it. To my students, this young man is like a celebrity. His work was in print after all! They are absolutely thrilled.

So, my point is I had to be patient, and I also had to persevere. Sometimes, one call is not enough. Sometimes, we have to knock and knock and knock, but eventually someone will answer, and greatness can happen.

This week has been a long one, but one of the most rewarding I've had as a teacher so far.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Coming Soon: My Own "Nerdy Book Club"

Mrs. Farmer's Book Club

So excited to be starting my own book club soon! What should I call it? 

I have to admit that reading Donalyn Miller's blog, Nerdy Book Club, does delight the reader in me. There are so many book selections out there to choose from. My local library does such a fantastic job of picking the perfect books for their middle grades book club. Also, Books  A Million has a middle grades club, too.  So many possibilities! 

I look forward to growing as a reader along with my students, without the pressures of standards. Just learning how to enjoy a book!

Check out Donalyn Miller's reader blog at 

Maybe I'll start with a classic! Hmmm..,

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Great Recession: Coping and Rising Above Poverty

The book, Million Dollar Throw, hits on the loss of employment in the struggling "great recession" . Nate's father lost his long time high level real estate position. Now, he is working two jobs to make ends meet. As a result, Nate never sees his dad anymore, which makes him sad and a bit vulnerable. My own family was hit personally by "the great recession". Therefore, this struggle sits very close to my heart. I hope that my students not only grow educationally through use of the Common Core standards in this lesson, but also grow in their awareness of the economic struggles of millions of Americans, and discover how we can persevere through it, and help others along the way.

CCL.6.1: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
            a. Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective or objective).

Pronouns. Students will begin with a worksheet on objective pronouns. While they complete the worksheet, students will receive a white board with a dry erase marker, and a napkin. Students will be asked to recall and quickly write various types of pronouns on the white boards. They will be timed. The point for me is to teach them how to memorize and study. They will have a test tomorrow on personal pronouns including subjective and objective pronouns.

CCRI.6.8: Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.

As a class, we will read chapter 6 from the book, Million Dollar Throw. This chapter discusses the plight of Nate's father, who lost his job due to the economy. Now, Nate rarely sees his father, because his father must work two or more jobs at a time to make ends meet.

CCRI.6.7: Integrate information presented in different media or formats to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.

Students will watch a video on the great recession, and children in America who have been affected by the economy.

After we read the chapter and watch the video, each student will receive a copy of the magazine, Tagged. This beautiful publication offers articles on happenings locally in the southern arc. Students will read the article, "Hunger Among Us: Food Insecure Households Emerging In Suburbs."

Before they read the article, I will offer a mini lesson on tracing arguments and how to determine whether or not the argument is supported by data or evidence.

The students must find at least three claims and one example of evidence for each claim. They can write these on the dry erase boards or use sticky notes.

CCSL.6.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Students till partner up and compare and contrast their findings. Then, we will discuss as a class.

CCW.6.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Students will write their own experience with a struggling economy. This story could be their own or someone that they know. They must pull evidence from the article, "Hunger Among Us" to support their story. They must also write how they can contribute to make a difference, and help someone else in need.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I'm Nobody Who Are You?: Grappling with Invisibility

I am speechless. Honestly, I wanted to reflect on my week yesterday, but so much happened in the classroom this week that just blew me away, I've found it difficult to focus on what to write about.

When I started this year, the students were very well behaved. Whatever I planned, they just did it. I went home with more energy, and I thought, "Hey, this is alright!" But, after a few weeks, I got bored. This group is too quiet. Growing up, my mom always thought I was borderline ADD. It would bother me that she said that, but I know she was right. In school, I would get bored so easily, and as soon as I got bored, the doodling would begin-- flowers were my favorite. I could easily have an entire garden drawn by the end of one class. I think that is why I get so bothered if I catch a kid doodling. I know it's not them-- it is me. I'm not engaging them in the learning.

So, although it is tough, I work to figure ways to keep the students at the center of the learning. It's not about me being tired or not. I've got to keep them moving everyday. The momentum must be high. For this achievement unit, the students clicked quickly with the book, Million Dollar Throw. The characters relate easily to their own lives. Yesterday, we read about a character named Abby, the best friend of Nate, the main character. She loves and supports Nate. She pushes him to be the best at everything, and wants him to be in the spotlight. However, she does not. She likes to be in the background. Abby states, "You know me. I like to be invisible and let everybody else tell the story." This statement made me think of one of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson, "I'm Nobody, Who Are You".

After reading the chapter from the Million Dollar Throw, the students read a biography of Emily Dickinson. We discussed her life and her decision to live secluded from others. Then, we read the poem. I discussed that in our world of glorifying celebrities, it is difficult to understand why someone would want to be invisible or live in the background of others, but Dickinson offers a voice for all those who don't find celebrity appealing. That maybe it's ok to be in the background. We also discussed the difficulties of feeling "invisible". It can also be difficult when we feel invisible when maybe we don't want to be.

Next, I had the students write their response to the word, "invisible". They were asked to write--just write--their feelings, their experiences. My only request was that they relate their writing back to either the character Abby or the poem by Dickinson, and add in textual evidence from the texts.

I timed them, and pushed them to write quickly, not hesitating on how it sounded. Whatever they thought is what I wanted on the paper.

Once, I felt that I got my best out of them. I offered my own "invisible" story-- a time as a 6th grader when I was rejected socially by someone I thought was a good friend. When that happened to me, I wanted to be invisible. I also offered a mini lesson on public speaking, because I wanted students to come to the front and share their experiences. This was huge, because this was a very sensitive topic. However, my goal was for my students to know that all of us, as humans on this earth, have experienced moments when we wished to be invisible.

I discussed the fear of public speaking, and what I thought of it as a timidly shy 6th grader myself. However, although shy, we must learn to persevere and put ourselves out there, so that we can be confident and strong! I discussed the importance of supporting each other by listening intently during the presentations, and clapping when each student finished.

Well-- I am still recovering from the amazing stories my students offered to share. They were so honest about their feelings, their experiences, their lives, it floored me. What was even better though was how well the other students supported each other. They clapped and said, "Way to go!" "That was awesome!" I offered praise to each student, but also offered suggestions on how it could have been better. I asked them to go ahead and add my suggestions right then. The students got right to work.

The momentum is there. Now, my mind spins on how I can keep it coming. How will I get them to be there with me everyday in everyway? No boredom. No doodles.

Quote to live by---
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Technique Makes All The Difference!

What a great day! My students loved the pronoun challenge! The boys really got into it. One exclaimed, "Mrs. Farmer makes learning fun!" Yes, he melted my heart in an instant. 

I was also so pleased that with the help of my tried and true transition techniques, we were able to conduct the activity, but also move on to our reading assignment quickly and easily. This was so encouraging. 

New teachers-- I could not do what I do if I had not read and practice the techniques from Teach Like A Champion. It is such a fantastic book! 

I also decided to stay for a softball game today. I enjoyed it so much! It was so nice just to sit and watch my new and old students play. It felt good to feel that I was apart of the school. 

Today was a good day! I wish all teachers a happy Friday!

Tomorrow-- comparing and contrasting the theme of "invisibility" with Million Dollar Throw and the poem, "I'm nobody, who are you?" By Emily Dickinson. 

The students will write and share about times when they wished they were "invisible". 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Million Dollar Throw: Achievement Unit

It fascinates me how some books work with some kids and not others. Last year, my students loved the story of the rocket boys, but so far it's not working this year. So...let's move forward to the book, Million Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica.

My students have a good bit of review ahead of them tomorrow concerning pronouns. I will also be teaching strong paragraph construction. Therefore, I will only be introducing the book tomorrow.

I will be offering several themed prompts based off the books theme to choose from in regards to their paragraph writing.

The following clips will be used to introduce the book.


Million Dollar Throw Book Trailer

Mike Lupica author video, Million-Dollar Throw
Possible prompts for paragraph writing.
Have you ever had a difficulty in a sports game? Explain.
How would you describe a perfect player on a team?
What do you think the theme will be for this book? Explain.
What attributes make up a good friend? Explain.
What do you think Nate will have to overcome in his life?
The class will focus on using the web graphic organizer from:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Overcoming the First-Year Teacher Rollar Coaster

Today, I saw the following diagram representing the emotions that a new teacher feels throughout the year. I feel that my own roller coaster would look a bit more like the Goliath, going from tremendous highs to flying straight down, screaming all the way, to flying high again, and so forth.
Personally, I want to demonstrate excellence for my students, and always bring my best every day. In a world full of cynics and critics, I want to stand out to them as an example of what it means to be a positive leader. This isn't always easy, and sometimes it can be hard to know where to turn to make sure inspiration and heart are at the center of all that I do, especially as a new teacher.
The following are a few things that I do to make sure my attitude stays positive for the upcoming week.
1. Sweat It Out- When my mind starts to race, and not every thing is positive, I know it is time to exercise. I sweat it out, until those feelings are gone, no matter how long it takes. I love kickboxing. Just punch those feelings away!
2. Watch Inspirational Clips- It can be great to watch inspirational clips of others who had a dream to achieve, but knew it wouldn't always be easy. It can be reassuring to see the struggles of others and how they overcame them.
3. Seek out articles to read- There is so much out there for teachers. Read and learn how others stay positive in the classroom.
4. Focus on the good- Don't focus on the few difficult students that are giving you fits or said something rude to you. Focus on the kids that believe in what you are doing, and those that are wanting to make a difference in the classroom. Understand that by focusing on the negative students, we give those students control over our moods and ultimately the results we get in the classroom.
5. We have control over our feelings: I try to remember that I always have control over my feelings. I can be proactive and make a positive difference, despite negative things that happen whether it be at school or home. It is up to us, as new teachers, to reach out, and get help if needed.
Clips that I enjoyed watching today, as I prepare for a new week! Champion Teachers stay positive! We can do it!!
                                                Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion
Million Dollar Baby


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tribute to Rafe

I love--love--love-- Rafe Esquith. He is such an inspirational teacher to me. He is a genuine, one of a kind educator, and when I feel doubt about myself as a teacher, his advice always makes me feel normal again. The following are some helpful quotes for all teachers who strive to make a difference, but understand it takes patience, passion, and understanding each and every day.

The following are a list of quotes by Rafe. I hope that they bring comfort to all teachers new and old.

“There are so many charlatans in the world of education. They teach for a couple of years, come up with a few clever slogans, build their websites, and hit the lecture circuit. In this fast-food-society, simple solutions to complex problems are embraced far too often. We can do better. I hope that people who read this book realize that true excellence takes sacrifice, mistakes, and enormous amounts of effort. After all, there are no shortcuts.” Rafe 

“I'd like to give every young teacher some good news. Teaching is a very easy job. Administrators will tell you what to do. You'll be given books and told chapters to assign the children. Veteran teachers will show you the correct way to fill out forms and have your classes line up.

And here's some more good news. If you do all of these things badly, they let you keep doing it. You can go home at three o'clock every day. You get about three months off a year. Teaching is a great gig.

However, if you care about what you're doing, it's one of the toughest jobs around.” 

“To quote the exceptional teacher Marva Collins, "I will is more important than IQ." It is wonderful to have a terrific mind, but it's been my experience that having outstanding intelligence is a very small part of the total package that leads to success and happiness. Discipline, hard work, perserverance, and generosity of spirit are, in the final analysis, far more important.” 

“Most of us have participated in the trust exercise in which one person falls back and is caught by a peer. Even if the catch is made a hundred times in a row, the trust is broken forever if the friend lets you fall the next time as a joke. Even if he swears he is sorry and will never let you fall again, you can never fall back without a seed of doubt.” 

“That's the beauty of art--we strive for perfection but never achieve it. The journey is everything."