Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Family of Writers

It's interesting about big family gatherings. At first, I'm hesitant to want to get all the kids ready and go. I guess it's the unknowing of what I'm in for, and I think, "I haven't seen most of these guys in a year. What will we talk about?"

The cool thing I realized tonight is I love my family. We share so many similar passions. There are two bloggers/writers in the family besides me, and the word "blog" is not a four letter word to them. They get it and they enjoy it. Besides writers, I also have several educators in my family, and I can connect with them on an entirely different level since becoming a teacher myself.

I would like to pass on the writings of my family. If you enjoy reading my blog you might also enjoy reading theirs as well.

My uncle, Ed Wyrick, is a recently retired high school counselor and published author, who has overcome personal struggles, while also maintaining a phenomenal career. He documents his journey to healthy living through his website and blog called, "My Reclaimed Life." which can be found at Check it out. He has some great advice!

My cousin, Julianne Wyrick, is a freelance writer, finishing her master's degree in journalism from the University of Georgia. She loves to research and write on nutrition and food science. She has a true passion for science, and is even thinking of applying her knowledge to the classroom one day. She would make an excellent teacher. Check out her website at She has links to her work, which is excellent.

Insights that I'm constantly discovering about my family is their desire to achieve, their desire to learn, and their desire to share their discoveries with others knowing that we are all apart of life's journey together. I feel happy and proud to share my own discoveries along with them.

The Wisdom of Our Elders: 5 Lessons That I've Learned

I love listening to the elderly. I believe there is so much we can learn by just spending time with them.

Over the past year, my family and I have spent every Saturday morning enjoying breakfast with my 93 year old grandfather (my mother's father). He is still extremely healthy and independent. This Christmas I also spent time with my 90 year old grandmother (my father's mother). She's lived alone for many years, and is voraciously independent. I admire both of my grandparents, because in their 90's they are still vibrant and strong. The following is a few of the lessons I've learned from them.

Lesson One: They both have a strong commitment to God, and put their faith as a top priority. My grandparents still go to church every week. My grandfather still goes to a weekly Bible study. My grandmother told me this week, "I know the one Sunday I wake up and think, 'Oh, it's just too hard. I don't want to go.' That is the day it will all be over. You've got to get up and keep moving. The day you stop is the day it's all over." How many of us already think that? How easy is it for any of us to get lazy, and keep God from being our central focus.

Lesson Two: They always put family first, even if it meant sacrificing their own desires or needs. Throughout their lives, my grandparents made choices so their families stayed together. It doesn't mean that either spouse was always happy about the decisions, but they did the hard work, and it always worked out. Also, they both took care of their spouses who both needed great care until they passed on. Neither one of them allowed their spouses to be placed in a retirement home. I admire them for their demonstrations of love and commitment even when it wasn't easy.

Lesson Three: They never slow down. Both of my grandparents have always been known as "busy bees". After my grandfather retired as an airline pilot, he went straight into a second career as a cattle farmer. In his sixties, he was out in the pasture for hours everyday. He didn't sit around doing crossword puzzles. He was active. My grandmother is still known for her impeccable house keeping skills. My father says that he always remembers her with a dust rag in her hand hopping around the house cleaning with fury. Today, she continues to walk straight as an arrow, full of vibrant energy.

Lesson Four: They care about what they eat. My grandfather drinks a lot of water. He hates soda, and will offer great insights into how bad it is for you. He's always been pretty aware of his sugar intake more than anything. He doesn't worry about the fat count as much as the sugar count. On the other hand, my grandmother loves sugar, but she stays away from soda and alcohol. All in all, they've always eaten healthy meals with plenty of fresh veggies. My grandmother still plants her own garden, and eats her own vegetables.

Lesson Five: They are mentally strong and face their fears. My grandfather is a very scheduled routine person. Every Saturday, he took my grandmother to the local Waffle House for breakfast. My grandmother took her last breathe one Saturday morning over breakfast. The very next Saturday, my grandfather returned to the restaurant alone. I believe he did this as a test of will power. He had to keep going.

My grandmother continues to live on the tobacco farm that belonged to my great grandfather in North Carolina. She lives alone on the farm. She is not afraid. She'll say, "I just pray for God to protect me when I go to sleep at night, and I don't worry about it."

In closing, I would encourage anyone to speak with a relative or neighbor who has lived to their 90th year. Both of my grandparents have lived through trials as well as joys. But, they keep going strong. What a great example for all of us!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Teachers: Stay Passionate. Stand Strong. Never Apologize.

All great educators have critics, fellow educators who want to bring them down, which can be difficult. I believe education is one of the most rewarding yet toughest professions, because you truly have to put your full heart into it to be successful. But, any time you put your full heart into something, there is the possibility of being let down by others.

The following are three ways to be strong despite critics:

1. Stay Passionate: Do what it takes to stay passionate about education. Reach out through social media, call an old friend or mentor, read, and reflect. Focus on the positive, and those who are there for you, and want you to succeed. Create a personal mission statement, and stand by it.

2. Stand Strong: I believe that it is human nature to want to fit in. No one wants to be an outsider. However, never worry about fitting in if it means you have to compromise on your values, principles, or work ethic. Don't lower your standards. Don't hold back to please others. Bring your best everyday.

3. Never Apologize: I was raised in the south, and as a result I was brought up to be kind. I was raised not to stand out, or be too forward. This can be good and bad. Of course, I want to be humble, and I want to be kind, but not to the point of weakness. I would suggest that all educators stand by their work, and never feel bad or apologize for bringing your best to the classroom.

Additional Reading for Staying Strong:

In the book, Real Talk for Real Teachers, Rafe Esquith has a chapter entitled, "Haters". I loved reading this book, and Esquith's advice always sets me at ease. Although I believe that most teachers truly mean well, and I would not consider them "haters", I do believe some teachers can be hurtful without even realizing it.

The following is an excerpt from Esqiuth's book. It is worth the read.

I am sorry to raise the issue, but it's an important one, and something all good young teachers will likely encounter. We live in as Don Henley sang in "The Heart of the Matter," in a "graceless age." Time and time again, when I meet outstanding teachers, they relate a tale about a coworker who was mean to them simply because they were doing a good job. Jealousy is an ugly emotion that often leads to unprofessional and cruel behavior.

Hate can arise from the simplest of issues. One of our school's teachers was on maternity leave, so a substitute was brought in to finish the last several months of the year. She was outstanding. One could not ask more from a replacement. Rather than simply going through the motions, this woman wanted the class to finish strong. She began a book club during their lunch hour to help her students discover a love of reading. She was bothering no one. She simply stayed in her room during the lunch hour reading with children who voluntarily joined the activity.

A few teachers who taught in the same grade approached her and asked why she did not come to the teacher's lounge and join them for lunch. She said that she would love to, but she had started a lunch time book club that had picked up steam and significantly helped some of her students. This information was greeted with an infamous question:

"What are trying to do--make us look bad?"

Any good teacher has winced upon hearing this. Of course the substitute was doing nothing of the kind. But it depressed her to have fellow teachers frown upon her effort. The majority of the staff admired her work, and some teachers began similar clubs. Still she told me she felt uneasy every time she passed this small group of colleagues infected with the green eyed monster.

It can and probably will happen to you. When it does. It hurts. No amount of advice can take away the pain if you are a sensitive person. Ironically, that sensitivity is a blessing and a curse. It drives you to do more for your students because you care deeply about them, but it provides little armor against tactless comments.

Try not to take it personally. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the person slinging the arrows. Your school is not unique. I have had the privilege to speak with teachers from all over the world and the story never changes. From Bangkok to Taipei to Rio to Main Street, U.S.A., every school has mediocre individuals who tear down rather than build up.

Equith's Last Thoughts For Consideration...

  • Never forget the words of an extraordinary teacher named Jeanne Delp. She once observed: "When what you are reminds other of what they are not, hostility results."
  • If you come up with a new idea or do something different in a school, someone will be unhappy with you. Your class could be discovering the cure for cancer and a hater will criticize you for it.
  • Good teachers do not hate extraordinary educators. They emulate and collaborate with them.
  • When feeling down about a colleague's unprofessional behavior, take solace in the fact that many teachers in your school are fabulous human beings. A couple of bad apples can make a person forget the fact that the majority of educators make the human race look good.
  • Always remember that you do not have the power to make anyone look bad. Bad teachers look bad all by themselves. They don't need your help.
  • As difficult as it may be at times, take the high road when dealing with a hater. If necessary read chapter 3 of To Kill a Mockingbird and watch Atticus Finch handle the wheelchair bound Mrs. Dubose. She is hell on wheels (literally), but Atticus treats her with respect and dignity. Being polite to disagreeable people is a strong message to model for your students.
I am planning to reread Esquith's book over the break. I suggest that all new teachers take heart, stand by their work, and continue to strive for excellence.

Teachers: Create Some Spark Before a Long Break

"Welcome to the Starlucks Cafe! The best cafe in town!" I exclaim to my students as we begin our poetry recitation.

The room was dimly lit with Christmas lights, tablecloths on the desks, lit candles (fake ones from the dollar store), sparkly confetti around the table, plates, napkins, and cups. I walk around to each student filling their cups with warm cocoa and topping it with mounds of whipped cream and chocolate syrup. "Wow! Mrs. Farmer, that looks so professional! I just want to take a picture of it!" says one student with a bright smile on her face. I smile back with delight as I pass the bakery items around for all to enjoy at the Starlucks cafe.

Then, I offer a quick lesson on poetry recitation. We discuss the importance of eye contact, voice, and movement. I allow them to pick from a handful of props, so that they might feel more playful with the poem. I section off a part of the room as the official stage, and then called my first student to the floor.

The students adorned themselves with various props, and recited their poems with great flair. They worked even harder when our Principal came in for a visit. The students showed off their tremendous talents to him by acting out their poems, using different accents for fun, and not using their notes. What a great connection between the principal and the students. That was awesome to watch!

At the end of the day, I felt very content that my students were able to do something fun with poetry, but also learn. Ninety percent of my seventy-six students knew their poems word for word, including title and author. My hope is that will never forget their special poem, and that a lasting memory was created, and that all my students will be pumped about returning back to school in January.

Now, I would like to reflect on a few things that any teacher should keep in mind before delving into a classroom activity like this one:

1. Time, Extra Effort, and Planning are Required: The majority of my students come from low income families in a rural area. There is no local McDonalds or Starbucks. The fact they got cocoa with whipped topping, and chocolate syrup was magical to them. That is one of the main reasons it is so rewarding for me to conduct enriching activities with my students. It's new, different, and exciting for them. However, it does cost money and I don't always feel that I should ask the parents to chip in on the items needed. My advice would be to create a budget, always be on the look out for sale items, shop around, and know that the Dollar Tree has almost everything a teacher needs for a dollar! Also, give jobs to the students. Have them help with decorations around the room. Take 5-7 minutes of class to get them to do odd jobs in preparation for the big event. It gives them ownership of the project, especially middle grades. They want to feel that they are contributing.

2. It's Worth the Time and Effort Required: First, I believe that lessons like the poetry cafe demonstrates to our students that they matter. Anyone can show a Christmas movie and hand out candy, but does that show that their learning is of essential importance? We can make learning fun, and accomplish learning goals before a break. Additionally, I believe that planning these types of lessons teaches my own children how important it is to serve others. I have three children ages ten and under. They willingly help me with my lessons, shop for my students with me, often for two or three hours after school. But, they hardly ever complain. They support me and what I do. I know they will look back at these times, and understand what it means to work hard and serve others. Finally, it gives students a reason to come to school. A wonderful teacher told me yesterday, that two or three students explained to her that they weren't planning on coming to school, even though she was giving a test. They decided to come to school because they wanted to be apart of the poetry cafe! Wow, that was so great to hear, and I told her she should do something cool next time. Wouldn't it be great if teachers all took turns creating magical days in the classroom. Students would never want to stop coming!

So, teachers, sprinkle in some magic on those last days before the break. It will make the time off that much sweeter!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Importance of the Writing Process for Bloggers be or not to be...that is the question. Over the past few months I've developed a bad case of blogger burn out. This burn out led me to begin reading more personal blogs of other educators to get a little perspective. I concluded the following:

1. Bloggers Tend To Scream-- As I read many of the posts, I felt the emotions of the writers just jump off the page right at me. It literally felt like they were screaming at me. Now, reflecting, I know that I do that too at times. But, when do I do that? Well, often when I haven't spent the time to develop my ideas, or have someone else read them. Writing is a process, and that process takes patience. (Pre-write, draft, revise, edit) These are the recursive stages of the writing process. Once, that is done, and done well, it's time to press publish.

2. Bloggers Risk Becoming EgoCentric- I believe in today's world of social media, it is hard not too fall into the trap of, "Look at me! I'm awesome, and I've got something awesome to say!" I do think it's important to have a voice, but I think bloggers just need to be careful. It goes back to the writing process again. If we want to produce quality work--then we must revise and edit. Bloggers don't need to post everyday, or every week for that matter for their voice to be heard. Blogging too much can create noise. It loses something- like it's just not special anymore.

3. Keep It Simple: When I wrote a blog post for The Nerdy Book Club, I had to keep it within 800 words. The editor sent the post back to me at least twice for suggestions on how to improve the post. It took extra time, but it was well worth the effort. The best writers know that they must seek out editors who will take a critical view of their work, and offer solid suggestions for improvement. Creating quality content with fewer words is an excellent goal.

As a writer, I don't want to give up on writing. However, I do believe that I need to get back to my roots. It's time to slow down, and follow my own advice.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

ELA Teachers: Students Fighting the Mid Year Blahs? Fire Up Your Readers Again!

The beginning is so great, isn't it? Your students look up at you with wonderment, their eyes sparkling with all that might lie ahead. You are so excited to bring your best everyday, too, knowing that you are ready to change lives and create readers! But, now, as Christmas draws near, you look out at your students to see only dull, lifeless faces, painfully grabbing their novels for personal reading time. Yes,  there are still a few that look to you with hopeful eyes, and that offers some inspiration, but you know deep inside that something has to change. It's time to step outside the box.

I set out to create a reading and writing community within my classes this year. It started out great, and many of my students have already read 30 books or more.  For some, the fire ignited and they are reading for pleasure for the first time ever. Awesome! But, many still see it as a chore, which bothers me.

Now, I am a big believer that it is never too late for change. So, I've been thinking, and here's what I've decided.

First, there is no silver bullet: Just offering time to read is not enough to create a classroom of readers. Making the students write reading responses, book reviews, etc. will not create readers either. In fact, sometimes, it does the exact opposite, because it can cause reading to be a chore. Who enjoys chores? Not me. We have to mix it up. Instead of a book review this week, I'm having my students bring in one item (drawing, picture, or thing) that connects to what they are currently reading. We are going to go to the media center, sit on the floor, and share with each other. I may have to change this every week. I don't know. But, I do know for kids to stay excited about reading, repetition has to go!

Secondly, students need to show off what they are reading: I saw this post, and loved it! Check it out at

I loved the idea of taking pictures of the kids with their books and posting them on bulletin boards. I'm going to do this, because I think it will be exciting to them to see it in the halls, in my classroom, and on my teacher website. I believe it could create a sense of identity, and something to talk about.

Integrate technology: I created a wiki for for summer reading program, and I would like to do that again. It helps to faciliate an online discussion about what students are reading. Students can post when they like, and I can respond when time permits. I am going to do that again. I will also create a classroom blog where the students can write and upload their book reviews. They can add pictures or book trailer videos. I'm going to research into Skype, and see if we can't have some authors visit us in the classroom via the Smartboard. I believe we have cameras. My first contact will be Mike Lupica, author of Million Dollar Throw or Karen Hesse, author of the novel, Out of the Dust. Why did I not think of this before?

Sometimes, in our desperate attempts to get students to learn, I think we forget that learning is supposed to be fun. We've got to put ourselves in the shoes of our students. We must keep asking ourselves, how can we connect the content with students in ways that will be memorable?

Wishing all ELA teachers a happy journey as we embark on the second half of the school year. Remember, it's never too late!

~It is never too late to be what you might have been.~

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Always Striving For Personal Excellence

The title of my blog is Teacher Excellence: Passion, Planning, and Perseverance.

I got the three P's last year, while researching a lesson for my "Dream It and Achieve It" Unit. I was watching a video by Homer Hickam, author of The Rocket Boys. The video inspired me, and rung true to my own passion as an educator.

In this post, I will revisit the 3 P's, knowing that sometimes, we all need a little reminder on what it means to be excellent.

Check it out....

Passion: The definition of passion changes daily for me I think. I do believe education is absolutely my element. I do love it, maybe too much at times, because it can interfere with a balanced family life. I'm still striving for excellence in this area, but I know that it is all about setting priorities and being proactive in the right ways.

Check out this video on being in your element...

Don't Let Your Laddar Lean Against The Wrong Wall...
As a person seeking excellence, I must make sure my priorities are straight, and my personal mission statement is the focus. For me, God and family come first. But, do I always demonstrate that in the actions I take? Not always. Sometimes, I put work ahead of family, which is understandable, but cannot be a habit or I risk pushing my family away.

Check out the following video, which illustrates the importance of character and trust...

Planning: This element of excellence is an absolute necessity for the field of education as well as home life, but it can be difficult. Personally, I struggled with organization for years. As a result, I commit myself at work to spend the extra time needed to make sure that I'm on top of things. However, at home, I can easily get distracted by various projects, and things like grocery shopping falls off the to do list. However, unless I want my family to eat peanut butter everyday, I must plan accordingly.

The following video is a different perspective. It highlights the hum drum reality of daily life, and how we can choose to react to it. Hopefully, we all look for the positives in our daily routines.

Personally, I still love the Covey organizing system as far as planning goes. It just works for me...

Perseverance: I don't believe anyone can make it in education if he/she doesn't have the strong commitment to persevere passed the difficult days. But, the same can be true for marriage and family. Everyday will not be a blissful experience. Our students can be challenging as well as our spouses and children. It's just the way it is. People of excellence know that, are willing to face those challenges, and make the most of it, knowing that life isn't all "sunshine and rainbows," as Rocky is quoted as saying. However, although difficult, the joys override the trials every time. The best things in life never come easily.

Clips for women who need to stay focused and persevere:
Lead Your Home
7 Secrets of a Confidant Woman by Joyce Meyer

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Writing the Formal Research Paper

Over the next couple of weeks, my students will be working on formal research papers that will support the reading of The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

This is usually a fairly difficult task, especially for 6th grade teachers, because many of our students have never done formal research.

This is what I have ready for tomorrow.

Standards: W.6.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources.
EQ: How to write an effective research paper?

Beginning with something funny....

One of my fellow English teachers showed me this video, and I thought it might be a way to lighten the mood as we continue with the research process.

Serious and slightly boring video on the steps of the research process.

Prezi on the steps of the research process

The students will take notes on the processes, and then we will return to the media center for more research time and note taking surrounding the various topics of World War II, The Holocaust, and Anne Frank.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Publication: Bring It to Life

My middle grades students and I decided to write a book as a project for this unit. I'm so thrilled about it, and I think it will be really great.

My last class had a few extra minutes today, so we decided to brainstorm the outline of the book, and this is what we came up with...

The theme will be grit/perseverance. (The demonstration of stubborn courage, bravery, and tenacity).

The main sections/chapters of the book will include:

  1. Family
  • overcoming death of a family member
  • jail time of a parent/sibling
  • fights/disagreements
  • divorce
     2. Friends
  • rejections of friends
  • fights
  • breaking promises
  • having each other's backs
    3. School
  • teacher and student relationships
  • overcoming disabilities
  • struggling with grades
 4.  Sports
  • Striking out
  • injuries
  • getting hurt, but getting up again
The book will include short stories based off these themes. The students will be writing daily. The goal is to have a completed draft by March.

I think this could make for a great book, and we are all excited about it!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Rising Up From Hate: Equality for All

Tomorrow, I will begin a new unit entitled, "Rising Up From Hate: Equality for All". My students will compare and contrast the Holocaust with the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. I will do this through the use of two books, The Diary of Anne Frank and Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice.

My students have a goal to write and publish a book from this unit. I believe that this would be very easily accomplished, because the unit relies on self reflection and discovery. Therefore, a collection of essays and poetry with this theme could make for an excellent read.

I will begin the unit with Anne Frank, and work in Claudette Colvin later in the unit.

Ok...on with the lesson.

I will introduce the lesson with writing and discussion.

The students will have to write for 5 minutes responding to the unit title, "Rising Up From Hate: Equality for All".

Once they have completed their writing, we will have a classroom discussion on their responses to the prompt.

I will then give every student a copy of the Diary of Anne Frank, along with a KWL chart entitled, The Holocaust.

The students will take a few minutes filling in what they already know about The Holocaust or Anti Semitism.
Then we will read a biography of Anne's life and watch a couple of clips from the following source. They will fill in the KWL chart as we read, listen, and discuss.
Finally, we will read the introduction to the novel, The Diary of Anne Frank, together as a class. We will also review the chapters, and observations such as vocabulary usage by Anne.
The students will also begin a formal research paper based off either World War II, The Holocaust, Anne Frank, and Jewish traditions this week along with the reading of the novel.
I can't wait to begin the unit tomorrow!