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Diane Farley stood in shock as representatives from Bedford County Schools entered the lunchroom at Forest Middle School late Wednesday morning.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bobbi Johnson carried a bouquet of flowers and balloons for the Forest Middle School American history teacher ? and the news that she had been chosen as Bedford County's Middle School Teacher of the Year.
"I am totally blown away," Farley said of the honor. "I've had a tough year personally and this is a perfect ending to maybe a new start."
Farley has taught area students for the past 28 years, including the past two decades in Bedford County Schools. She's been at FMS since it opened.
"I think I always wanted to be a teacher," Farley said, looking back. She said some of her own teachers that she admired helped her make that decision.
"As a student, I admired many of my teachers, their strategies, their organizational skills, their relationships with their students," she explained. "They drew me to the profession; a decision I have questioned at times, but never, never regretted. The journey has been a rewarding one."
And it's the students that have been her joy.
"I just enjoy being with kids this age. ...This is a very progressive school. We do lots of new things here," she said.
In a statement on her career, Farley noted three accomplishments over the years that have especially stood out, describing them as her "aha" moments.
Those include the implementation of a writers' workshop, the introduction of interactive notebooks to the students and a special invitation by a former student, which she notes as the highlight of her career.
"Struggling as a writer myself, I made it my personal goal to find a way to encourage my students to express themselves freely, to instill in them an appreciation for the written word, and to have them experience the satisfaction of completing a piece of work enjoyed by others," Farley notes.
That's how the writer's workshop evolved.
"I began to confer with students about their pieces and I was amazed at what each individual had to say," she explained. "Their 'voices' were there and my passion for their writing must have been contagious."
It has been a concept that she's been able to share with her colleagues at other schools.
Some years ago Farley also came across an article on interactive notebooks on the Internet, and she decided to give it a try in her history classes. Students embraced the idea. "The interactive notebook allowed my students to be creative and process essential information in our study," she stated. "The notebook pages continue to evolve, adding interest and provoking higher levels of thinking."
Farley said she hopes students take more than just historical facts and figures from her classes. She hopes they take memories and maybe even some "life lessons."
She was able to live that hope several years ago when she ran into a former student. That student invited to her a church service, led by the women of the church. Another of her former students was preaching at the service.
"I have never been so honored," she said of the experience. "They were inner city children who had made it and they remembered me and wanted me to know that our year together had left a lasting impression on them. Their invitation and their accomplishments were and are definitely the highlight of my career."
And it's her hope, in the final years of her career, to continue to find innovative ways to guide her students' learning and to meet their individual needs.
"Hopefully, this goal will be achieved with heart and humor," Farley noted, "and I can look back and know that I would do it all over again."
Michelle Morgan, principal at FMS, was thrilled about the honor received by Farley.
"Mrs. Farley is an incredible teacher," Morgan said.
"She does exciting things in her classroom with research-based strategies. We're thrilled she has received this recognition. She deserves it."