Friday, January 31, 2014

TKES: A Fresh Perspective from an Aspiring Teacher Leader

TKES (Teacher Keys Evaluation System) is a new evaluation system that the state of Georgia is rolling out as part of the Race to the Top Initiative. 

Earlier this school year, I accepted a request from my administrators to be part of the piloting process. I like to be ahead of the curve so to speak, so I decided to dive in head first. I've spent several months studying TKES, and adhering to the rubric, always striving for exemplary marks by my administrators.

The rigor in TKES lies in the fact that to receive an exemplary mark, teachers must demonstrate teacher leadership in each particular performance standard being evaluated. They must prove through demonstration and documentation how they consistently helped to improve other teachers' performances in that area. The teacher must go above and beyond the call of duty to receive exemplary marks.
So far, I've personally received under TKES, exemplary marks in professionalism and differentiation of my instruction. I take this as a positive, and I strive to consistently demonstrate professionalism through my dress, speech, and preparedness.
I've also worked diligently to focus on differentiation this year. I constantly researched and sought out ways to create choice in the classroom. Through this I've discovered that students love choice. It's easy to put together one general lesson, but the students do not respond to that as much as the opportunity to have control over their learning. These discoveries only enhance my desire for a student centered classroom, and commitment to their learning.
How can all teachers benefit from TKES?
First, teachers must understand that we are in this together. It's easy for us to get a little competitive over test scores, and close off, keeping our tried and true strategies to ourselves. This is a tragedy in a sense, because we've spent too many waking hours and late nights not to share together! My hope is that TKES will inspire teachers to collaborate, and stay open. For example, as a student teacher, my fellow aspiring teacher friends and I would be texting all hours of the night, sharing pictures of what we were working on, excited about the day ahead. It was new. It was fun to discover together. I urge all teachers to rediscover their inner student teacher, reconnect, and share!
Secondly, TKES will deepen our instructional knowledge and pedagogy. Under TKES, teachers must submit documentation and upload it to the computer system. Items, such as lesson plans, differentiation documentation, notes,etc. can all be uploaded to provide evidence of proficient to exemplary teaching. This may seem like an overwhelming task, but as teachers of excellence, we should have these documentations in place if lessons are properly planned. It may help to push teachers to develop deeper lesson plans, always seeking that new strategy or method of differentiation to reach the students. As teachers, we should always be willing to provide proof of what we do in the classroom to denote true preparedness as a classroom teacher.
Finally, teachers seeking excellence, should bear in mind that we will not receive exemplary marks every time, and that is fine. We cannot possibly be teacher leaders in every standard. However, we can focus on two or three standards and hone our skills in that area, while remaining proficient in all other standards. This year, I decided to work more heavily on differentiated instruction. I've seen growth in my teaching due to research, and growth in my student's achievement and enthusiasm toward learning. I believe that the key strategy in TKES, is for teachers to focus on those one, two, or three standards in which to develop teacher leadership, and then to find systems via e-mail, social media, classroom visits, or meetings to share their knowledge. If all teachers chose a few things to lead on, and share, we could thrive as an educational community.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Teachers: Avoiding Social Media Pitfalls

My first job as a senior in college was working for a public relations firm in Atlanta, Georgia. Bright eyed and energetic, I practically begged my employer to allow me to write as many press releases as possible for new accounts. My employer at the time took hold of my enthusiastic drive, and allowed me to write freely. However, she reviewed my press releases with a severely critical eye. I revised and edited often, always diligently working to find the right words to place the company I represented in the best light.

As I moved on in my career, I continued as a public relations assistant for a mall management company, and then as a Community Resource Specialist for a large local school system. In all of these positions, I was trained on the importance of public branding and marketing. It was an important part of my job to analyze how the company was being viewed by the public, and work to create the best image possible.

Currently, as a teacher, I continue to critique my message, especially in regards to social media. This is important, because teachers like ministers, police officers, and doctors work in a profession based on trust with the people we serve. By posting or others posting inappropriate messages to our accounts without our knowledge as well as accepting friend requests by our students we run the risk of undermining our authority as service leaders.

Additionally, teachers are vulnerable in that we serve children who are impressionable. Our students look to us as role models, and they want to connect with us. As a result, they will test the boundaries. However, adolescents may not be cognitively capable of setting boundaries themselves. As mature adults, we must do that. For example, in the marketing/public relations spheres social media is often compared to a digital cocktail party. It could be argued that by friending students to our personal Facebook pages, we are inadvertently inviting them to our own personal cocktail parties. From a public relations stand point, this is dangerous territory.

So, how can we use social media appropriately, and prevent a public relations mishap, while also maintaining trust with parents and the students we teach?

First, teachers should defriend any student from his or her personal Facebook account who has not graduated from high school yet or is under 21 years of age. Teachers can create a separate account for personal use and a separate account for the classroom. Facebook affords an easy and effective venue to keep parents informed, share pictures, and updates through a newsfeed. Allowing comments for the teacher account is questionable. For the sake of privacy, leave an e-mail address for further questions or concerns. In regards to personal accounts, teachers should be aware that parents, students, and administrators are still watching and reading what is posted. Every post is a personal branding of you. It's important to be aware.

Furthermore, it's best advised not to blur the lines of personal and business on any social website whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, or Instagram. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Kate White, the former editor and chief of Cosmopolitan and author of I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know. White states,  "Unless you’re in a field that has more of a casual vibe, like sports or show business, it's smart to keep your Facebook and Twitter pages professionally focused. Post and tweet about a great article you read or a talk you heard that’s related to your profession. Trust me. Even if your boss doesn’t seem like the type who would be bothered by updates on your partying or dating life, on some level, she will find it unprofessional and that alters her view of you."

In closing, it may seem like an overwhelming task for a teacher, school, or school system to take on an issue like social media branding. However, with the constant growth of social media, it cannot be overlooked. Teachers represent their schools and communities. A professional image and set boundaries are vital to success.

Other articles related to this issue:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Educators: Staying Positive in Trying Times

"If I had twenty-nine years of teaching ahead of me, I think I would go ahead and shoot myself," exclaims a fellow colleague.

"Gee, that's inspiring, " I say only to myself, but then laugh along with her knowing that would just be easier.

 As a career switcher in my mid-thirties, I'm thankful I've lived long enough to know the importance of tuning out this type of negativity. But, sometimes, I think, "Was this the worst time to enter the teaching profession? Has it always been like this?"

Headlines swarm with news of teachers exclaiming how they can't take it anymore, the hypocrisy of education and government. They exclaim, "I, quit!" Other veteran teachers hear their cries and rapidly pass on their messages through the social media grapevine. As a new teacher, I hear and see this frustration. The heavy weight of it presses against me, and I feel suffocated. No, this is not why I entered teaching.

So, how can teachers stay positive despite all the negativity out there right now.

First, we must all remember to be grateful to have employment. The economy stinks, and no matter how burnt out or hurt you feel presently, please know having no employment hurts much worse. Reclaim your love for education, and write down all the things you are grateful for about your classroom, your students, and your school. Focus on the joys, not the hurts. Pray, and have faith that things will turn in your favor.

Secondly, learn to laugh. I'm a high achiever. I want success for each one of my students. However, we all need to learn to let go, sometimes, and just relax.

Also, do not make friends with toxic people and avoid gossip. It has been said that if you tell anyone something personal, there is an 80 percent chance it will be retold to someone else. Make sure that whatever comes out of your mouth is uplifting, and not hurtful. This can be hard to do, especially when a frustration occurs, but that is a great opportunity for self-reflection. Before running to another teacher with bad news or gossip, take a moment to close your classroom door and reflect. Remember that it is better to have one trustworthy friend then a hundred so-called friends.

Finally, realize that we really do have a choice. Do you want to be a glass half-full or a glass half-empty person? It is really up to us. Are you going to wake up tomorrow and exclaim, "Good morning, Lord!" or are you going to grumble and mutter, "Good Lord, it's morning." I hope we all choose to wake up feeling grateful, knowing that we have a special calling on our lives as teachers. We have been chosen to make a difference. Let's live out that promise with love and enthusiasm.

1 Corinthians 15:58         
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Reflection: Alternatives to Traditional Written Book Reviews

Teachers, are you getting tired of reading the traditional written book review? Are your students getting burned out on writing book reviews? Do you want to keep reading goals alive in your classroom?

As a sixth grade ELA and Reading teacher, I would answer "yes" to all of those questions. As a result, I'm always looking for ways to assess my students' reading in new ways. However, it is not always easy to do. I began this year by having the students complete a book review worksheet that I found @ Now, for a time my students did great with it, but after several weeks it got a little tedious, and I could tell their spark for reading was waning.

So, I decided to add in some options. I created a choice board with different options that the students could choose from, which also included a rubric. The choice board can be printed off @

The students had two weeks to read their book and complete the book review option outside of class. I gave students some time during class to finish due to the need for technology.

I must say that so far, I am pleased with the results. The options engaged all levels of students, and it was fun for me to experience their books in different ways, too.

Take a look at what my students created:

Book Trailers: Check out the following book trailers, not bad for first timers!

"The Pro Football Guide"
"The Forest Of Hands And Teeth"
"Copy of Guinness World Records 2009"

Plays: I had several students write a play based off their novels. They made props, and added several touches to it outside of class! I was thrilled that they took the time to add those extra touches without being asked. Also, many typed and made copies of their play, so that every actor had a copy. I did not require that, but they were ready, and made it their own.

Blogs: The students also blogged about their reading on their personal blogs@
 Mrs. Farmer's Brave Writers

The students and I had a great time with this, and they loved having choices. They couldn't wait to explore the different websites, and create using technology. All this enthusiasm is exciting. However, trying to navigate choice in the classroom is not easy on the teacher. I was pulled in a thousand different directions, answering a thousand different questions, which was taxing. On the other hand, the purpose of this lesson was to experiment, stretch, and explore new approaches. So, from this point I will tweak, and see where we can improve for next time.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

So, Teacher- You Had a Bad Day? Well, Let's Turn It Around!


Teachers- ever had a bad day? Today, was one of those days for me. Sitting in a meeting listening to the results of poor student test results, and the rigor of a new teacher evaluation system I began to feel an uncontrollable sadness come over me. Tears flowed, and I couldn't stop it no matter how I tried! As a person that wants to seem in control, I suddenly lost control. I thought, "What the heck is happening to me?"

When I got home, I decided to turn to my celebrity teacher "BFF" or (best friend forever) Rafe Esquith. He offered me the following advice from the book, Real Talk for Real Teachers.

"We need to address an uncomfortable subject. I do not mean to sound overly dramatic, but there is a truth about teaching that should be examined. This job can kill you." ~Rafe Esquith
"Reasonable people know that poverty and other social ills are creating students who are not going to learn even if Plato, Sacrotes, and Aristotle were in charge of their education." ~Rafe Esquith

"Young teachers, please remember this. All students deserve to be given our best. Good teachers never give up on the individual. But, please balance your efforts to help a child with the knowledge that you cannot, and should not, be responsible for solving all his problems. If you listen to politicians demanding that we teachers save everyone, you are going to become incredibly discouraged when you don't." ~ Rafe Esquith

I found these quotes to be reassuring.

So, besides these excellent quotes, how else can a teacher recover from stress. There are many ways, but for the purposes of this post I thought I'd add links to a few of my favorite funny clips. Laughter is always the best medicine! Enjoy!

                                                These Pretzels are Making Me Thirsty!!

                                                        Dead Husband Walking!! LOL!!
Hot Pocket!


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sarcasm and Education: A Toxic Mix

Which sympathetic academic, when told that a student had lost a parent and could therefore not hand in an essay, gave this reply: "Where has she lost her - in the supermarket?" (From the website, "The Heart of Higher Education")

Sarcasm. How I loathe it! But, it rolls of the tongues of some teachers so often that it seems to be accepted as commonplace, just part of the teacher rhetoric.

Yesterday, I had one such incident happen in my classroom. I will replay the scene.

I was standing in front of my "remedial level" class of sixth grade students, about to hand out a test, when the special education teacher began to call the names of students who needed special accommodations to another room. This is due to their Individualized Education Program (IEP). I always encourage my students to stay behind, and try to complete their work on their own if they want. However, yesterday, I had not suggested it yet.

As the special needs teacher called out the name of one particular student, this young man, usually timid and quiet, suddenly stood up and exclaimed, "I don't want to go! I can take the test without the help!" I replied with excitement, "Yes, that is great! Stay!" However, walking out the door the special education teacher replied sarcastically, "Well, don't blame me if you fail!" The young man's face turned from joyful to deflated in a moment, and he replied, "Hey....." As in, "Hey, that's not nice." I turned right to this young man, and I said firmly, "Don't you listen to that! You can do it!"

I allowed the students to go ahead and take the test, but I was feeling several emotions: anger, frustration, but mostly disappointment. Why do some teachers think that sarcasm is acceptable? Why don't they realize how much what we say counts? Words matter. They can build up or they can tear down. It is our choice.

After the test was complete, I decided to share with my students a time when I was placed in a remedial math class in college due to my low test scores. I shared my experience, but how I overcame it. I asked them to tell me why I would share that story with them. Why did it matter? Through discussion the students began to realize that it is normal to struggle, that it is good and important to seek answers to your questions, and that only the best and brightest people ask for help and seek answers to their questions, and most importantly, where you are does not determine in any way where you are going.

Now, I was happy to share that story with my students, and that one sarcastic remark led to a great teachable moment. However, I would have preferred that never to have happened in the first place.

There is no room for sarcasm in education. It's not funny and it's not cute. It is toxic.

How many students or educationally wounded adults could relate to Pink Floyd's, "Another Brick in the Wall" lyrics?

Another Brick in The Wall Lyrics

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teacher, leave them kids alone
Hey, teacher, leave the kids alone
All in all it's just another brick in the wall
All in all you're just another brick in the wall
We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher, leave them kids alone
Hey, teacher, leave us kids alone
All in all you're just another brick in the wall
All in all you're just another brick in the wall
Teachers- let's rise up and create a different experience for our students! Let's be the teachers that our students need and want.



Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Importance of Cultivating Relationships

I have three children, and all three are different. My oldest is vivacious, curious, and outspoken. My middle child is shy, timid, sweet, and giving. My youngest is active, loud, and playful. Out of the three, who would be the hardest to develop a relationship with?

You've probably guessed correctly by saying, "the second child." Yes, my shy sweet little middle child never gives me a speck of trouble. She shares her toys. She goes to bed without argument. She does all the right things. But, as they say, the squeaky wheel tends to get the oil. Sometimes, by not standing out she stands alone. It's easy to be reactive to my other children, giving my attention to them, without being aware enough to know that my middle child, although well behaved, still needs my helping hand, still needs my comforting words, and my time.

I believe the same can be true for education. Whether you are a teacher or a principal, we must be aware of the relationships we are creating with our students or faculty. As a teacher, there are students who demand my attention, whether positive or negative. But, there are others, who do all the right things, but I hardly remember when they are absent!

For example, I have a young boy in my class, who loves history. In fact, he grabs up any long non-fiction text on Lincoln and the Civil War from our school library. I've had conversations with him about all different aspects of history. Yet, when he was suddenly absent for three days, I never even paid attention. Yes, I marked him absent on the roster, but it did not sink in. When he returned he said, "Mrs. Farmer, I know you've been worried about me since my long absence. I was terribly sick. Is there anything I need to make up?" I stood there a little dumbfounded, and stumbling I said, "Oh yes, I'm so sorry you were sick. Let me look at what you need over planning, and I'll have it back to you." His face went pale, and a sadness came over him. He knew that I hadn't noticed his absence, and that hurt him terribly. Of course, I felt terrible, too!

My point in offering these illustrations is that building relationships is not easy. It takes time and effort. Most of all it takes self awareness. We must be able to slow down enough to really know what's going on in our classrooms and schools. We must be able to cultivate relationships with the squeaky wheel and the wallflower. They all matter, and they need us. My hope for the upcoming semester is to slow down, be aware of my students, and my classroom. Achievement will come, but only as a result of cultivating strong relationships within the classroom and the school.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Resolution: Have the Heart of a Champion

It's 2014, and everyone is writing about their new year's resolutions. I would love to describe in detail all of my goals and resolutions, but I'm not. Instead, I'm going to write about how to keep a winning mentality, which I believe is the key for all achievement.

I would classify myself a reformed academic loser. That may sound a bit harsh, but it's the truth. In high school, I lived in a complete daze, not that I was on drugs or alcohol, that was never a problem for me. It was more my lack of caring, my lack of trying, my belief that I would not succeed, so why bother? I entered each class with a very low expectation of what I would achieve. I remember some teachers becoming frustrated with me, because on the outside, I looked like a kid who had it all together. But, I didn't, deep down inside, I felt like a fraud, a loser. I still got through high school as an average student with an average GPA, but my math SAT scores were horrible. So, as a freshman at Georgia State University I landed myself right into a remedial math class. I was told I'd have to complete three remedial math classes before I could even begin College Algebra.

In my first remedial math class, as a young, fresh faced eighteen year old from a small suburban town, I walked into an urban classroom consisting of loud, unruly students. The professor was a middle aged white guy, timid, and unsure how to handle this vocal class of students. As he tried to offer the lesson, the other students yelled, threw papers, listened to music, and ate their snacks without any regard to the lesson. Sitting there, witnessing this chaos surrounding me, I thought, "What have I done to myself? How did I end up here?" It was a tipping point for me.

I began to focus. I realized that if I wanted to get out of this mess, it would be up to me, and no one else. So, I began to study, and study hard. As a result, I was able to test out of the next two classes, and get into a College Algebra class. I ended up getting a "B" in that class, and I never took another math class again.

Now, I wish high school had been different for me, but then again, maybe the final lesson was worth it. The biggest lesson was the realization that we all have weaknesses, but just because a certain area in our lives is difficult, that doesn't mean achievement is impossible. Most things in life don't come easily, and perfection is not the key to achievement. The key lies in having a goal, getting up, trying with a full heart, and knowing that by giving our best everyday we are champions already!

So, as I begin a new year, I will remember to keep a heart of a champion, knowing there will be highs and lows, and but that goals can be reached, achievement is possible, and glory can be found.