What Students Really Need to Hear

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I’ve never done a reblog from my WordPress account, but this certainly warrants the attempt.

Originally posted on affectiveliving:

It’s 4 a.m.  I’ve struggled for the last hour to go to sleep.  But, I can’t.  Yet again, I am tossing and turning, unable to shut down my brain.  Why?  Because I am stressed about my students.  Really stressed.  I’m so stressed that I can only think to write down what I really want to say — the real truth I’ve been needing to say — and vow to myself that I will let my students hear what I really think tomorrow.

This is what students really need to hear:

First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself.  And I care not just about your grades or your test scores, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be…

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Cleaning Up

Having a student teacher is a strange experience. As she has increased her role and teaching load, it’s relegated me to the role of observer, feedback giver, lesson plan approver, and coach. For someone always on the go juggling three different classes, FFA responsibilities, and school committees, it has left me a little stiller than normal.

What have I done with at time? Ask our custodians! I’ve done some cleaning. One day I recycled so many papers that my regular night custodian wondered if I was leaving. File cabinets and desk drawers have been accumulating “treasures” in my current main classroom for five years. I would empty a drawer into a box, bring it to the back of the room and start sorting. Cleaning up the desk even involved a Dollar Tree run for some organizers. Four file drawers have been tackled so far. Since I am a life long learner, I keep my curriculum current by updating materials I use regularly. As a result, copies prepared from three years ago we occupying spaces that could be otherwise used. I saved one copy of each, but the rest hit the recycling bin.

The sad reality is that when you glance around the room, it looks like nothing has changed. I don’t think my student teacher will be around long enough for me to tackle the entire room. Will it ever be all neat, clean and organized? Probably not. I have my father’s messy gene.


Listening to a Colleague (on a Friday night!)

Playing the Guitar

So often, I share in this blog post about my agriculture classroom or FFA chapter experiences.  Last night, I flashed back to when I was a child and teachers would “hang out” together.  I was inspired to write a short post on the fact that teachers have lives outside of school, even if it is in the presence of other teachers sometimes.

The week before last, a colleague sent out an email to a few of us that he was playing at a coffeehouse and invited us to attend.  The notice got posted on the whiteboard in one of the faculty rooms as well.  I have friends outside of work who enjoy music, so invited some of them to attend.  The coffeehouse was free, but donations were accepted for the Interfaith Hospitality Network.  At intermission, we heard a little about congregations work together to house and help homeless families through IHN.  It was nice to look around the room and see staff from our district who came out to support our colleague as he played – an administrative professional, special education teacher, high school technology teachers, middle school global studies teachers, a one-to-one aid from a company our school contracts with and probably some co-workers I didn’t notice.

The music was wonderful.  One of my friends possibly got turned on to “The Avett Brothers(If you haven’t heard them, take a listen).  I had happy memories of a time, just last year, when teachers were provided enough time at lunch that Friday lunches ended with 15 minutes of our colleague’s guitar playing and some of us would sing along.  It was a treat to see colleagues beyond the brick walls of school, even if I wasn’t specifically socializing with them. We were there for a common purpose – to show our colleague we wanted to listen to him.

I made sure to text my student teacher a picture from the coffeehouse. Why? Partly because the last period of the day she shares some laughs with this colleague, but also to let her know that as educators we don’t have to stop interacting with each other when the school day is over.

The Trouble with Plaid

Agricultural Education Creates Bright Futures- A Video Challenge Journey

Filing in Session

What an experience it was to work with my students and student teacher to create a video advocating for agricultural education! First we announced the National Association of Agricultural Educators contest at a chapter meeting and students mentioned they wanted to get involved. A small group was formed on Edmodo for members to collaborate on planning. We started strong. Then snow days hit and broke up our drive. I thought we were out of time until the announcement for the contest extension came.

Another announcement at an FFA meeting brought renewed interest in getting involved. I created a Google Doc for the script planning and one night as I was eating dinner, I watched the script collaboration come to life before my eyes on the computer screen. It’s a a very cool experience to watch virtual collaboration.  Two days later, we had a cast ready to record and a member ready to do the video creation. Through iMovie, we spliced together a creation that highlighted the diversity of careers that agricultural education prepares people for. Then, I patiently and the members anxiously waited to the results.

Since we knew we couldn’t share the video itself until the results were announced, I used my iPhone and iMovie to create a video to share about the process. The chapter Vice President also prepared a blooper reel to share at our April chapter meeting.IMG_1173

Ag Ed Advocacy Video Creation

The day before our April Chapter FFA Meeting, the results were posted.  Our video earned honorable mention. I was pleased. Honorable mention in a national level contest is a big deal when you are middle school students going up against high school students.  Some of our members were disappointed that we did not take first place, but it helped them to set two goals for next year:
1) enter the NAAE Ag Ed Video Advocacy contest again next year and start planning in a more timely fashion
2) create a social media action plan and support it with activities that will help us be a competitor in the New Jersey FFA Chapter Challenge during the 2014-15 school year.

Here’s our award winning video.

Ag Ed Leads to Bright Careers

The national winner and other honorable mentions are accessible here.

(PS – The last time I protected my chapter vice president’s identity by hiding her face with a sunshine, she was terrible upset that I was not sharing her awesomeness with the world.  So, she gets big billing in the feature photo of this post.)




Blooming Students

Look at That Container

IMG_1760I’m a little behind on getting this blog post up, but it certainly merits a mention. Early March is a time where student success is blooming in the middle school FFA chapter. The New Jersey FFA Horticultural Exposition happened on Friday, March 14. For several weeks leading up to this event, members learned about floral design, explored different design styles, exchanged ideas and created their designs from silk flowers. For many of them, the biggest frustration came from having to apply math skills as they did their price sheet to submit with their entry.


Jacket BacksWhen we compete, members go head to head with high school members. Our chapter brought twelve entries. When the results were finally in, we had one member earn 1st place. She actually proposed to enter a category we hadn’t entered in the past so it was exciting to see her success. Her grandfather drove in from Mississippi to attend the show. Her victory inspired her to create a silk arrangement for her grandpa to bring back to Mississippi and place on her Nana’s grave. (Yes, those are my tearjerker moments as a teacher)  Other results included a 2nd place, two 3rd places, two 4th places and four 5th places.

While at the eveAg Careersnts, members were not only able to look at other entries and hopefully gain inspiration for future entries but also participate in a workshop conducted by NJ FFA Vice President Delaney Gray to get them thinking about careers in agriculture.

Indeed, middle school members are blooming!

A Day in the Life of an Ag Teacher


Today is Teach Ag Thursday! What’s that? It’s a day that the Teach Ag Campaign tries to encourage agricultural education teachers to share about the joys (and realities?) of the profession.  So, I haven’t even done my daily unwind with my Facebook check, but I decided to write a quick post about what today entailed.

Before school starts: Yippee! I start my day with a Boston Creme and note in my mailbox from the media specialist since she knew the beginning of my week had been less than stellar. Then my FFA members coming in to drop off their silk arrangements or arrangement components. Of course, I am in the classroom next door to my “normal room” because someone else teaches the first two classes in there but they are in a different location today meaning the room is without an adult. That means members come to where I am, ask me to open the door to the other room, where they should put their arrangement, etc. and I escort them over.  Thank goodness my student teacher is greeting 7th graders in the room we start in.

Period 1-2:  Just a “normal” 7th grade Ag lesson on seed parts and germination that I get to watch my student teacher conduct.  Add some thoughts to the rolling weekly discussion topics Evernote file regarding the student teacher.  Email myself all the iPad evernote files from formative observations and weekly meetings so I can print them out and student teacher can have them for her files.

Period 3-4: Time to whip out the Summative Evaluation form and this time observe my student teacher present the same thing she did last period, but this time I complete a form rating her and providing feedback.

Period 5-6: Prep! Clean up in the room we start the day in. Move to room that is “my room.”  Set up for AFNR.  Go up front and sign out so we can go to the Burlington County Soil Conservation Office with some posters to enter in their “Dig Deeper” contest. Get an accidental tour of the building as we don’t know where to go. Encourage student teacher to pick up resources that might help her.

Dig DeeperPeriod 7: Oops! Got back to school a little late. Good thing it is only our lunch we are cutting into. Time to kick back for 26 minutes and chat with colleagues.

Period 8-9: Deal with an upset student who can’t go to Hort Expo because her grades don’t warrant being out of school. Then time for a CASE AFNR Water Run-off/ Topography lab.  Teach class, run lab, give reminders about tomorrow and Monday. Clean up and set up again for next period.

Period 10-11: Student teacher teaches what I did in 10-11. This time I keep an ear out to the classroom while she teaches. Printing the things I emailed myself Period 1-2. Processing the emails that have come in so far today – concerns about Hort Expo participant, info about Hort Expo, choice students, attendance issues, report from observation earlier in the week, etc. Looking through CASE AFNR resources to save Unit 6 to student teacher USB.

Periods 12-13 and 14-15: Relocate to media center where we are doing a wildlife project. Pretty much student teacher and media specialist are handling it. This gives me time to finalize sub plans for tomorrow’s Hort Expo, get Hort Expo day schedule typed for distribution, print and write comments on CASE AFNR 6.4 resources for student teacher, keep an eye on the class.

Period 16-17: Last period of the day! Resource – show student teacher how to set up, verify and check sub folder and where to put it. Check mailbox.  Go to back faculty room, which is where student teacher and I work this period because we are evicted from “normal classroom” so someone else can teach there. Entered some grades for missed work. Remember to email colleague about bulletin board. Discuss student teacher’s mid-term evaluation, (Yes, I completed it last week. We just haven’t had time to sit and discuss.) today’s observation from the 3-4 class, plus hold our weekly meeting of strengths, things to improve, and things to think about for the week ahead. We’re out of time! It’s the bell.

End of day:  FFA members are coming to finish flower arrangements. Pretty much this is insanity. Check their teacher permission forms and inquire about quizzes they are missing and other comments seen. Give feedback and make suggestions related to designs, sit in one-on-one conferences to create price sheets, get price sheets typed up, printed and attached to arrangements, make sure students are getting on buses on time or catching rides. Get asked by custodian if we are ever leaving and WHEN will this event be over, the moss and grass are driving him crazy.   Set up all white boards so they are “sub ready” when we are out. Make sure clipboard has permission slips, attendee list, Hort Expo schedules and info. Set aside work for students who will be with me.  Try to call a parent that sent an email saying he doesn’t understand his son’s assignment and I need to call. Can’t dial out. Write email explaining everything that should clear up assignment for student who has already had extensive one-on-one help with both student teacher and me. Eventually leave.

Drive home:  Ugh! I never finalized the Sunshine Club Secret Leprechaun info.

Woohoo! Home at last: 

Why do I do it? Why do I teach Ag?

I love my members. I love helping them grow. I’m enjoying helping my student teacher challenge herself and see what she can do. It’s a thrill to see students learn about the world about them.

PS – I write this post mainly because I needed to remind myself about the good things in education – my colleagues, my students, my FFA members.




FFA Week 2014

FFA Emblem Standout

FFA week is always an exciting time to advocate for agricultural education and it’s student organization, FFA.  The middle school chapter keeps it low key but the high school is incredibly active.  This year, since middle school is not allowed to have an FFA Spirit Week (we do get blue and gold day), one of my officers organized an “underground” FFA Spirit Week.  She had a presentation for our February chapter meeting with the daily themes, gave out reminder slips to members the week before and then we had alerts on edmodo the night before each theme.  I saw it unite the chapter. Members felt like they were in an elite group. Those who didn’t have me in class currently would pass me in the hall and point to their camo or FFA gear or boots and smile. On Friday, it was a school wide Blue and Gold Day. It was great to see so many of my colleagues sporting blue and gold as well as students finding me in my classroom or the halls to point out what they were wearing.  One teacher’s support of Blue and Gold Day stood out. She called me to her room to see the “Do Now” she had posted on her board.  To me, it was yet another reminder of why marketing the program in the school as well as outside is so critical.

Language Arts FFA Proud

I turned the responsibility of overseeing the members showcase work to my student teacher.  Snow days put a little crimp in the planning, however they ended up getting a quality product done. Members names were written in the emblem corn kernels and the officers flamed brightly in the “Ignite” theme.

Middle School Showcase

Thursday, the High School Chapter hosted the monthly Burlington County Board of Agriculture Meeting.  This gave me the chance to tour my student teacher through the high school and share the showcases and window displays their members created.  The window art showcased that agriculture careers include more than farming, highlighted FFA and of course included ever popular bacon.  The Board of Agriculture meeting also had two county freeholders (Aimee Belgard and Joanne Schwartz) in attendance. Again, another great way to showcase student leadership through FFA.

High School Window Art

Friday is what I like to think of as “The Big Day” of FFA Week. It’s the chance to bring my middle school classes over to the high school FFA organized petting zoo.  For some students, it is their first chance to see live the animals we have talked about in class such as alpacas or even sheep.  For others it is the first opportunity to touch a cow or hold a chick. Observing them during this experience never gets old for me.

Heading to the High SchoolAlpaca Sees YouLittle LambChick holdingStudent Teacher with Kid

One of my classes had FFA members who no longer have class with me join us. It gave the perfect chance for a photo op with New Jersey FFA President Kyle Clement.  This photo also gave me a chance to play with my recently installed PopaGraph iphone photo editing app. :)

Kyle and Crew

Lastly, FFA Week gave me the time to surprise two of my agricultural education teaching friends with little gifts that I had begun working on when inspiration struck a bit ago.  I enjoy cross stitching in my free time and recent snow days and Olympic viewing have given me time to work on the craft.  As a result, I created a small framed owl in National Blue and Corn Gold for New Jersey Ag Teaching Colleague Tiffany Morey (see her FFA Week blog) and an owl keychain for Wisconsin Educator Kellie Claflin (she blogs too)

FFA Owl GiftsIn closing, I share with you this reminder about the need to continue advocating for agricultural education and FFA and it’s impact from National FFA Organization COO Josh Bledsoe.