Monthly Archives: February 2018

Wildcard Wednesday: My daughter’s best friend

My daughter has a best friend! I know this may not be a particular celebration moment for most people with a seven year old, but it is for me.

My daughter has ADHD, GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and we are in the process of getting her evaluated for ASD (autism spectrum disorder). My daughter really struggles in social situations. She has issues reading facial and social cues. She often does not realize when she’s annoying people. While she will talk to anyone (and everyone), that doesn’t mean she has conversations with them. A lot of times her conversations lack real fluidity and are more about whatever she’s really interested in and wants to tell people, regardless of whether they’ve asked or are talking about something completely different. She may be academically advanced, but she is socially immature.

For the last few months, she’s been talking about her two best friends at school. Since we don’t live in district (my kids go to school in the district I teach in so we can all be on the same schedule), all of her classmates live 30-45 minutes away from us, so play dates are not easy. In fact, in the year and a half that she’s been at this school, she’s never had one. She’s also never been invited to a birthday party.

In all fairness, my son, who is very socially adapt and has a ton of friends, has only been invited to four birthday parties in that same time period and only one of his school friends showed up to his last birthday party. When I asked a coworker who does live in district and whose children go to the same school, she said it’s pretty typical because a lot of the families in our district don’t have friend parties and don’t travel outside the town much.

So, when my daughter started talking about her best friends, I was worried she was reading too much into the situations and that the while she really liked both of the girls, they may not have felt quite the same way about her. Her birthday is next month and she keeps talking about inviting the girls to a sleep over or to a movie or to play with her for her “party.” We aren’t doing a big party this year because we are going on a family trip instead. Every time she mentioned it, I got a huge knot in my stomach, wondering what to do if both girls said no.

But today, I got a text on my phone from a strange number asking if my daughter was home. I replied “yes she is, who is this?” The little girl replied with her name and said she was my daughter’s bff. My heart jumped.

I immediately handed my daughter my phone so she could text her friend back. Within minutes her bff asked if they could use Face Time each other. Even though my daughter is currently banned from using electronics because she snuck her school iPad into her room last night and played games past her bedtime, I grabbed my iPad and immediately dialed. My daughter not only has a best friend, but one who wants to see and talk to her. Hell yes I’ll break my own punishment for this moment!

Parents without children who struggle the way my daughter does may not understand the tears I shed as I listened to my daughter show her bff her room on the iPad, but I assure you, it was a magical moment for me. I wish my husband had been home to witness it too.

As I sit here typing this, I can hear their little voices taking turns reading each other pages from a Babymouse book. It is the most beautiful sound in the world to me.


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Teaching Tuesday: ISTEP is the bane of my existance

I hate ISTEP. I mean, I really, really, really hate ISTEP.

I don’t understand how the powers that be believe a student’s ability to graduate high school should depend upon a single standardized test. I won’t even get into how asinine it is to boil every single kid down to one test and stake their entire educational future on that test. I won’t even talk about how absurd it is to focus this fate deciding test on only two academic subjects in school, completely ignoring all of the other knowledge they have accrued and the skills they possess. Nor will I discuss the fact that the people making the decision about the test have next to no educational background.

No, these are not the reasons I currently hate ISTEP.

I don’t understand why my effectiveness as a teacher depends upon a student’s ability to pass this test. I won’t bring up the fact that all teachers in the entire school, regardless  of what they teach, are judged by how students score in math and English. I won’t even dig into the ridiculousness of judging art or music or PE or history teachers on scores students get on math and English tests. Nor will I point out that at the high school level, only 10th graders are tested, so really, every single teacher is evaluated based on how one grade level does on tests in two academic subjects…even teachers who have never taught those students for a single day. Sure, I do teach one of the two tested subjects, English, but why is part of my evaluation (and therefore my salary) dependent on how students do on this test? See, I may teach English, but I only teach juniors and seniors. I don’t teach a single 9th or 10th grader. I don’t have any chance to help those students gain the skills they need to pass that test, but the state says that those kids’ scores help decide whether or not I am an effective teacher.

No, these are not the reasons I currently hate ISTEP.

Currently, I hate ISTEP because since we have no choice in when we give the test, the state has scheduled the test one week before our finals. I teach at a school that is not only on the balanced calendar, but also on a block 4 schedule. This means that students take 4 classes for an entire grading period for 85 minutes a day, basically finishing what would be a semester long class on a traditional or block 8 schedule in one 9 weeks OR a year-long class in one semester. So, right when I should be wrapping up my semester, getting kids started on reviewing materials and prepping for finals, BOOM! Here comes ISTEP.

Now, I know I just mentioned that I don’t actually teach any sophomores. I don’t. However, since only half of our sophomores are in an English or math class this semester (the other half took the classes first semester) and even those who are have their math and English classes spread throughout 4 different periods, we have adjusted our schedule to accommodate the 10th grade class.

That’s right, every single student and teacher in our school has had to completely change our schedule for four days to make room for ISTEP. That may not seem like a big deal, but our administrators decided the easiest way to make room for testing was to have all kids report at the start of the day to their SRTs (student resource time–sort of like a short study hall where kids can actually get help from their classroom teachers if needed). Instead of being the usual 26 minutes, these SRT periods are anywhere from 1:15 to 1:45. When testing finishes, kids resume a shortened version of our regular 4 block day.

This still may not seem like an issue, but one of my senior English classes which normally meets from 10:05-11:30 is now not even starting until 11:30 or 12:00. This time change means that my students who leave half day to either to go to vocational school or to go to the job program (ICE), still have to leave at 11:30.

What this means is that over half of my students will miss my class for four days the week before finals begin. We are currently half way through a novel, and my students are going to miss the bulk of instruction over the second part of the novel. They are missing classroom instruction that is critical to their final. Today in my class of 21, I only had 9 students. Until Friday, this looks to be reflective of the rest of my week. So, in order to accommodate testing for one grade level of students, we put other students at risk.

Have I mentioned that I hate ISTEP?

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Chocolate Monday: DQ hot fudge sundae

DQ hot fudge sundaeIce cream is never my go-to dessert. I like it just fine, but if given the choice, ice cream will always be fairly low on the list. Give me cake or a brownie or pie or chocolates or cookies. If ice cream is all there is, I’ll take it. A pint of ice cream, even a pint of super delicious really quality ice cream, tends to last me a long time. Mostly because there is almost always some other dessert option I’ll pick instead.

I do, however, have one major ice cream weakness. A weakness that goes back to some of my earliest childhood memories and fills me with absolute happiness: Dairy Queen hot fudge sundaes.

Growing up, the local DQ was a hole in the wall kind of place. We had to wait in line, order from a window and hope there was a seat at one of the picnic tables scattered around the grassy area the small building sat upon. Since there was no indoor seating, it was only open from Memorial Day until Labor Day and it only served ice cream treats. It was not until years later that I discovered the true wonder of a DQ chili cheese dog (which is another fast food weakness of mine).

When I moved to California with my mom, things got much worse for me. There were no DQs anywhere. So, for 46 weeks of the year, I was denied my favorite dessert treat. Needless to say, every summer when I got to visit my dad, I begged and pleaded with him to take me to DQ.

I was a pretty adventurous kid. I tried just about every treat they offered. I loved a cherry Mr. Misty. I was thrilled when I could get one of my aunts or my dad to go in with me on a banana split (and I still want it the classic DQ way: hot fudge, pineapple and strawberry). In 1985 when DQ started offering Blizzards, they were the only thing I’d eat there. I’m not sure there is anything much more enticing to a child than the prospect of ice cream filled with candy.

As mush as I loved all these other treats, I always came back to the wonder that is the  DQ hot fudge sundae. I love the way the creamy, smooth vanilla soft serve pairs perfectly with the slightly warm, decadently thick fudge. I take great care to portion out my fudge so that no bite goes completely without. And I love the way that even after finishing the sundae, just a tiny bit of fudge clings to the spoon. That’s a good hot fudge sundae.

Every now and again I get seduced by some sort of fudgey brownie Blizzard that’s been released for a limited time. Occasionally I’ll be sucked in by a bag of Dilly Bars my husband brings home in bulk because he’s gotten some sort of crazy deal on them. In the end though, nothing leaves me quite as satisfied and happy as my first love: the hot fudge sundae.


Taste: 10/10
Value: 9/10
Appearance: 9/10 (I’m a sucker for that DQ curly Q)

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Teaching Tuesday: Parkland

I have more thoughts and feelings about the most recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida than I am currently able or willing to express. I’ve spent way more time over the last few days engaging in debates with people who haven’t set foot in a school room since they themselves were in school about the “answers” to the problem of gun violence in schools. I don’t want to turn this post into a rehash of those debates.

For the moment, I will only address one, which was from a gentleman who declared that we really need to stop blowing this out of proportion as there have not really been 18 school shootings in 2018. In his opinion, if the firing of a gun was not during school hours and did not result in death, it should not really be called a school shooting. In his opinion there have really only been three school shootings this year. He then went on to say that we needed to stop making a big deal out of school shootings because kids shouldn’t be having panic attacks about going to school, especially since students were more likely to be attacked by a shark than to be involved in a school shooting.*

I side with Everytown for Gun Safety when they define a school shooting as “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds, as documented by the press and, when necessary, confirmed through further inquiries with law enforcement or school officials.”

The reason I use this same definition is because any time a gun goes off in a school, whether it is with the intent to directly harm students or teachers, an accident which happens because someone brought a gun illegally to school or an accidental discharge from a gun carried by school personnel, there is the potential for real harm to come to students. Whether that harm is physically from a stray bullet hitting a student–like in the case Castro Middle School in LA where a student brought a gun to school which accidentally went off and injured four people–or emotional from a child hearing gun shots in their school and worrying that someone is trying to shoot up their school, the potential for damage is still there and it is still great.

So while there have only been 7 intentional shootings at school during school hours–five of which resulted in injuries or deaths–there have been 10 additional shootings on campuses across this country, four of which resulted in injuries or deaths. According to many, these 10 shootings, which resulted in three deaths and four injuries should not be classified as school shootings because they didn’t take place during regular school hours with the express intent of causing injury. Of course, since four of those 10 shootings took place on college campuses, it’s harder to identify “school hours.” After all, students are on those campuses 24/7 and just because no one was injured doesn’t mean no one could have been injured.

People who are arguing against the label of 18 school shootings seem to want to downplay the reality of guns in schools because in some cases no physical harm was done and even in the cases when harm was done, it was often only to one person and often just an injury, not a death.

As a teacher, I find this idea appalling. The idea that anyone wants to downplay the mental of physical damage done by guns on our campuses is disgusting. Just because miraculously no one was hurt in some of these shootings that have gone on this year, does not mean we turn a blind eye and pretend they didn’t happen. Nor should we only count mass tragedies like what happened at Parkland as a school shooting.

The reality is that we have too many guns being brought onto our campuses. Each gun brought into our buildings, regardless of the intention of the person who brings it in, has the potential to do both physical and emotional damage to our kids. Rather than make semantic arguments about what constitutes a “school shooting,” we need to be addressing the bigger picture and making sure that our students and our teachers are safe.

*I did the research on this and according to National Geographic, the US reports about 19 shark attacks per year and has one fatality once every two years. This is an average for the last several years, but even so, so far there have been 23 people killed by shooters on school campuses this year and we haven’t even completed 60 days yet, so his logic is ridiculous.

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Chocolate Monday: Cookie dough brownies

cookie dough browniesI’m baaaaaaaccccccccccccccckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk!

Thanks to the concussion I sustained in my recent car accident (not my fault, I was rear-ended while stopped), I had to take a bit of a hiatus from my blog. I tried to maintain my blog at first, but it turns out when my doctor tells me to limit my screen time, I should do a better job of listening.

I thought I was doing better. My headaches had mostly subsided, I no longer had to nap in the middle of every day and I wasn’t having as many strange emotional outbursts. I was on the mend, so I figured I’d better get caught up on all that grading I’d been neglecting.

Silly me! My headaches rushed back, I was exhausted and my emotions…CRAZY!

So, I did my best to cut out any screen I could, but now that I’m finally starting to feel mostly normal (only like two headaches last week), I’m gonna try this whole blogging thing again.

For my first chocolate blog back, I want to talk about a Pinterest recipe I tried out last week. I had to bake something to reward a few of my students for their reading achievements. I love baking and over the years I’ve built up quite a reputation at my school for my mad skillz in the kitchen. Sometimes I create my own recipes and sometimes I cheat a bit and use other people’s recipes. Not that it matters to my students (or my family). They love it either way.

I love Pinterest. I’m the person who saves all those amazing recipes and then actually makes them. I mean, not all of them. I have dozens of recipes on each of my different food boards (side dishes, main dishes, cookies/bars, desserts, breakfast, crock pot, appetizers, sandwiches, soups, popsicle/ice cream and candy) that I have not yet gotten around to try, but I make something off of Pinterest at least once a week. Usually 3 or 4 times.

I’ve had this recipe for cookie dough brownies saved on my cookies/bars board for quite some time. Last weekend was the perfect time to make them. I wanted something to really wow my students and these looked like they’d do the trick.

And boy did they! When I handed them out to the readers who’d reached their goal, they were ecstatic. More importantly, the rest of my students perked up and asked how many books they had to finish to get one. After I handed them out and my students raved about them, I saw a renewed enthusiasm for silent reading.

Although they took a little extra time and created double the dishes since I had to make brownie batter and cookie dough, they were worth it. The recipe calls for dark chocolate chips, but I knew the Penzy’s Dutch process cocoa powder I was using was going to be a bit stronger than the garden variety Hershey’s, and I don’t really like dark chocolate much, so I opted for semi-sweet chocolate chips, which I hoped would help keep these morsels from being too sweet. I think they did.

The brownies themselves are quite tasty. They aren’t overly dense, but they make a substantial bottom for the treat. They were moist and cooked to perfection. I don’t like when my brownies get crunchy. I am a center brownie girl. I usually dish out the edge brownies to my family members and students and save the amazingly delicious center ones for myself!  Thankfully even the edge brownies in this batch didn’t get crunchy.

The cookie dough topping was sweet and tasted pretty much like the delicious cookie batter I whip up for my regular chocolate chip cookies, but without the danger of raw eggs that I’ll admit I risk every time I make cookies.

Combined they are rich. I can only eat one and cannot imagine two in the same day, much less at the same sitting. My husband says he likes them, but that they are too rich for him–he’d rather have a brownie and a cookie than the two combined. Of course, he prefers his candy in the Skittle or gummy form, so I’m not sure his opinion counts for much in this case.

If you like to bake, I highly suggest giving these a try. They are a real crowd pleaser.


Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 9/10 (pretty cheap to make)

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Free Reading Friday: Inherit Midnight

Inherit MidnightYet another Rosie nominee is checked off my list! Only 3 more to go…so I’ll finish the 2107-2018 list off in just enough time for the 2018-2019 list to be revealed. That’s only slightly disheartening as it means: more books!

I really enjoyed Inherit Midnight by Kate Kae Myers. Granted, I thought the love story was a bit too immediately perfect and even the main character of Avery seemed a bit one-dimensional at times, but it was still a fun book to read and I think teenagers will especially enjoy this YA mystery novel.

The story centers around Avery, the black sheep of the family who has spent her entire life being spurned by her very wealthy, very haughty extended family for being the product of her father’s affair with the nanny. Since her mother died in childbirth and her father is an alcoholic, she is raised by her slightly cold grandmother who has unrealistic expectations of both family honor and duty. She does not allow Avery any freedom and when Avery sneaks out to go to a perfectly innocent party with her friends, she is shipped off to a truly horrible boarding school.

However, the story does not center around her misadventures at boarding school, but her grandmother’s inheritance contest. Her grandmother, who no one has seen lately, has taken ill. In an attempt to find the most worthy heir, she sets up a contest, which she is constantly monitoring, that everyone who wants to be the heir must compete in. The rules are strict and the contests all center around knowing the family’s long and prestigious ancestry, something Avery’s grandmother has been trying to instill in her family members her entire life. It seems that only Avery paid much attention though.

As Avery agrees to compete in the competition not for the money, but to find out more about her past. With the help of Riley, the 19-year-old son of her grandmother’s lawyer, Avery is whisked away on adventures across the globe in a race to solve puzzles and survive her family members, because someone is sending her threatening notes and texts.

Although it is a bit predictable, I found myself wanting to find out how Avery was going to solve each task and which of her family members would be eliminated after each task. Conveniently, Avery’s grandmother, who is very stuffy and obsessed with her prestigious family is also a big fan of reality TV. So Avery’s journey is part Survivor and part Amazing Race.

For anyone who likes a mystery, especially one geared at a YA audience, this is a great book.

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