Henrico’s Top Teachers – Brandon McFarling

An avid guitarist from the age of 15, Brandon McFarling originally thought he might go into musical theater as a career. Not only did he enjoy playing in a band as a teenager, but he was able to use his musical talents to academic advantage. One notable high school teacher, Sharon Conner Hayden, allowed him to perform a song about Catcher in the Rye instead of submitting a paper – and gave him an A on the assignment.

It wasn't until he worked for the Boys and Girls Club in Martinsville that he began to consider teaching. Not only were the young children at the Club excited about learning – which sparked his interest in ways to make learning fun – but he also saw that he could influence young boys in particular.

"I made a difference because I was a strong male role model," he recalls. "After seeing the positive effect I had on young boys especially, I decided that early childhood education was where I was most needed."

Today McFarling makes frequent use of the guitar in his Jackson Davis Elementary School first grade classroom, and enjoys being able to combine both teaching and musical passions into activities that make learning fun for his students.

"In some ways," he says as he surveys his classroom at the end of the day, "you're an entertainer in here."

In addition to writing and performing songs about photosynthesis and the five senses for his students, he has also gotten the students involved in the song-writing process – producing with their help an original song about Lincoln that is based on the first-grade SOLs. "It's pretty amazing to see," McFarling says, "what that does for their own confidence and for their creative and collaborative skills."

A parent nominator cites McFarling's guitar-playing among the skills he uses to engage his students, and notes in addition that he occasionally brings in his lizard as an educational treat. The parent, whose child has special needs, notes that McFarling always pays close attention to the child and goes out of his way to help the child succeed.

Probably his biggest challenge in the classroom, McFarling says, is finding a balance between meeting academic expectations and standardized goals while providing a fun learning environment. He still keeps in touch with Jessica Reed Farley at Twin Hickory E.S., where he student taught, and says she continues to inspire, coach and mentor him.

Most of all, he is ever mindful of the impact he can have on his young students – knowing from his own experience that such impacts might be felt far beyond elementary school.

He has never forgotten the kind gesture of a teacher he knew in fifth grade, Mrs. Aldridge, on the day after his grandfather died. Seeing that McFarling was upset, Aldridge pulled him out into the hall during a video and give him a chance to cry with her. "I was not even a member of her class," McFarling says.

"Oftentimes I do not remember what a teacher said, but I always remember how they made me feel," he concludes. "I try to remember that in my own teaching." 
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CAT Theatre, located at 319 N. Wilkinson Rd., will present Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” Sept. 1-16. Ludwig transforms Arthur Conan Doyle's classic “The Hound of the Baskervilles” into a murderously funny adventure. Starring Jeff Phillips as Sherlock Holmes, Ty Simpson as Doctor Watson and Josh Gutierrez, Patrick Siegmund, Erica Hughes and Tim Schwartz. Tickets are $23 in advance and $25 at the door; opening night tickets are $33 in advance and $35 at the door. For details, call 262-9760 or visit http://www.cattheatre.com. Full text

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