Category Archives: good days

Wildcard Wednesday: Dieting update

popcornersI’ve been doing this whole eating better and exercising bit for 18 days now. I know that isn’t long, but considering the last few times I’ve tried to start I’ve quit before I even made it a full week, I’m feeling pretty good about my chances this time.

Not only have I kept my calories below 1600 every day for the past 18 (usually below 1400), I’ve been to the gym for 16 of the last 18 days. Each day I did 30 minutes of exercise on either the Arc Trainer, the elliptical, the treadmill or the stationary bike. I alternated each day so I never did the same activity twice in a row.

I knew I was going to have to ease myself back into this routine, which is why I started off at 1600 calories. If the last 30 so years of dieting and exercise have taught me anything, it’s that I don’t really like dieting or exercising, so if I am going to commit, I have to trick myself into doing it. Rather than jump back in all the way, slashing my calories by, well…let’s just say a large percentage, I have to dip my toes in and slowly warm up to this diet.

Right now I feel like not only are my toes in, but starting yesterday, I took my first step toward submerging myself in this diet. I dropped my calories to 1500 per day and upped my exercise to 35 minutes.

Image1In my 18 days, I’ve lost 3 pounds, which is really helping to motivate me. I’ve also cleaned out a lot of the junk food in my house and replaced it with healthier choices. I am CRAZY about chips and salsa. I know that while salsa is a great diet option, chips are a big no no. I know myself too well…one serving of tortilla chips is never enough.

As it happens, I was at World Market the other day and happened upon some fun, low calories snacks. One of the bags I grabbed was Salt of the Earth Popcorners by Our Little Rebellion. Not only are these delicious on their own, but dipped in salsa they taste a lot like tortilla chips. However, one ounce, which is a HUGE serving, has only 110 calories. I can heap them with salsa and get away with a snack that has about 150 calories. Tasty, satisfying and surprisingly filling. I also tried the same company’s Spicy Salsa Bean Crisps and fell in love. They have some nice heat to them and are also great dipped in salsa.

I did have a bit of a set back today though. I was craving a cheeseburger. I wanted one so badly. We’d been stuck in traffic on the way home from school for over an hour and I caved. I stopped at the McDonald’s drive-thru and got a burger and fries. However, thanks to my calorie conscious breakfast and lunch, I still have 130 calories left for the day–not that I plan to use them. A burger and fries were a big enough treat.

My ultimate goal is to lose 50 pounds. However, I think that might be more than a bit ambitious. I did it once before, but I was an awful lot younger back then. And I didn’t have children, so I could be more flexible with my diet and my workouts.

Still, I think I can at least lose 20, which would make all of my clothes fit better. I might even be able to drop 30, which would be my pre-second baby weight.

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Teaching Tuesday: Back to School

It’s official, we are back to school. While I was completely ready for my children to go back–they were extremely argumentative that last week–I was not ready to go back.

Ok, technically I was ready. My lesson plans were done. My courses were set up in Canvas, our classroom management system. My room was clean, in order and even had new posters and bulletin boards up. I had student books ready for distribution and class lists printed. My new grade book was sitting on my desk (although I can’t put names in it until the end of the second week as students are still dropping and adding classes now).

Anyone looking into my room on Monday morning at 8:00 am, would have seen a very prepared teacher.

Except, of course, I wasn’t. Not mentally anyway. My daughter woke up in the early hours of Monday morning. At 3:45 am to be exact. She had a nightmare about a zombie apocalypse. Despite not watching any shows/movies with zombies or playing any games with zombies, she has seen her older brother’s Plants vs. Zombies books and so bad dreams ensued. Even as I tried to console her and tell her zombies were not real, all she could do was cry, “but what if they are?!?!?!” There was no reasoning with her. So, I made the mistake of letting her spread her sleeping bag on our bedroom floor to finish out the night.

Not that either of us slept. I dozed off for just long enough to have not one, not two, but three dreams about sending her back to her room to sleep. Each one was interrupted by her making lots of noise. First she was “whispering” to the cat to come down and play with her. Then, she woke me up to tell me she heard some kind of buzzing noise in my room. Next, she woke me up again to tell me about the mysterious buzzing noise. She had a string of coughs that sounded decidedly fake. There was also general tossing and turning…all of which my husband slept through.

Finally, five minutes before my alarm clock was set to go off, she shouted out “YES!” so loud I almost fell out of bed. It seems it was close enough to wake up time, so she thought we should all just get up and get ready for our first day of school.

I did, but boy was I unhappy about it.

It doesn’t help that I don’t drink coffee and all my school teas are herbal, so there was not even an artificial pick me up for me.

I made it through the day though. My students all seemed fairly alert and as I looked out over my classroom to gauge how well they were handing the first day back, I got several enthusiastic head nods, a ton of smiles and even some laughter.

Although I was exhausted by the end of the day, I made it. And, when I picked my daughter up after school, even though we still had to get through some pretty major traffic and swim lessons, I liked her a lot more that afternoon than I had in the morning. At 4:00 her enthusiasm about her good day was endearing.

Despite a rocky start, I think it may be a good year.

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Chocolate Monday: Co Co Sala

Coco closeThis might be my last post about my DC trip, which I’ll admit makes me a bit sad. While I only spent four days there, they were four really fun days. On our last morning in town, just hours before our plane was to depart, my best friend and I took one more rather purposeful stroll around town. On our very first day, while waiting for our DC friend to wake up, we spent a few hours walking around and doing some light shopping. As part of our walking adventure, we stumbled on a chocolate shop. Sadly, it was closed when we first passed by, but we thought we’d give it one more try before we headed home.

This time it was open, so we headed in to Co Co Sala. It wasn’t until I got back home and actually looked up the company online that I realized it was not only a chocolate boutique but also a full fledged restaurant, complete with some pretty amazing sounding desserts. It’s probably better for my waistline that I didn’t know this because I think we might have just had dessert for dinner one night.

The boutique itself was pretty spartan. There were only a small handful of their signature chocolates on display in the front case. Most of them were dark pieces, so I wasn’t instantly excited about them. The two pieces I was interested in were out of stock. Behind them was a shelf of their Co Co Bars. There were only five to pick from in the store, although their website offers 9. That day my choices were: dark, milk, blonde, Some More (s’more) and Dulcey Pearl. Looking at the website, I really wish the Frankly, My Dear bar would have been in stock because it seems right up my alley.

CoCo full with beadsAlthough I usually love anything s’more inspired, since it was dark chocolate, I decided to try the Dulcey Pearl bar. The three different types of chocolate “pearls” really made this bar appeal to me. I also liked that the descriptive card said it was “An elegant blond chocolate bar reminiscent of dulce de leche.” I love dulce de leche, so I figured this one was a good risk.

Despite being a “blond” bar, this one does not have the overly sweet taste that often comes with white chocolate. I like white chocolate in moderation, but find that far too many of white chocolate bars have an overly sweet, almost artificial taste to them. This bar does not. It does have slight undertones of caramel, but they are only the vaguest hint. Mostly, this bar is just super creamy and quite delightful. I like the added little crisp from the “pearls.” They don’t really alter the taste much, but they give the bar a fun texture. Sort of like eating a “crispy” bar, but without the constant crisp, which allows for a smoother, creamier texture.

CoCo with nameI also think the bar was attractive to look at. Not only was the front of it fun with all of those little pearls and the simple, but attractive logo, but the back was also enticing. Although it was simply a bigger version of the logo, I though the cluster of pearls at the top was cute. The packaging is simple and elegant. I think it would make a lovely gift.

After trying this bar, I definitely wish Co Co Sala had had a few more offerings that morning we popped into the shop. I know the next time I make it to DC, I will definitely pop in not just for another bar (or two), but also to try some of their food, especially their desserts.

Overall:

Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 9/10
Value: 7/10 (although it is tasty, at $10 a bar, it is still a bit pricey)

 

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Throwback Thursday: The Smithsonian

spider.jpgI’ve had quite a few recent posts about my recent trip to DC. You might be getting a little worried that I don’t get out of the house much. I assure you I do not only leave my house daily, but even leave the state several times a year. However, this recent trip has so much significance for me because I a) got to take it with my best friend, b) got to visit one of my oldest friends who I rarely get to see and c) got to revisit some places from one of my favorite childhood vacations. Although the trip was only about 4 days, it was the triple threat of trips.

Saturday and Sunday of the trip were great because my dear friend, who is a reporter in DC, was able to have both days off to hang out with us. It was fun having our own personal tour guide who didn’t actually make us look like tourists. I didn’t have to do any planning or figure out the Metro. Where he led, we followed. And it was great fun and great food.

Sadly, he had to go back to work on Monday, so my bestie and I were on our own to explore until dinner time. It was on this day that we got delicious blueberry pancakes at Lincoln’s Waffle Shop, a hole in the wall kind of place with crazy curving counters and a necessity for giving up personal space in exchange for some pretty tasty food. It was also on this day that we got to explore Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House, a real nostalgic trip for me.

It was also on this day that we decided to head back to the National Mall and hit a few of the Smithsonian museums. The first time I ever visited DC with my parents, I was enthralled by the museums we visited. While I loved the National Air and Space Museum for its space capsules and astronaut food, I was equally enamored with the National Museum of American History for the Star Spangled Banner flag and Judy Garland’s ruby slippers.

In addition to their simply amazing collections, which are contained in a series of splendid buildings which make up the “largest museum, education and research complex” in the world, one of the best parts about visiting any of the Smithsonian museums is that they are absolutely free. The same is true of Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House. It may be a bit costly to stay in DC if you don’t have a friend’s couch to crash on, and food and drinks are way more expensive than most other places in the country, but there is a darn lot of awesome, free entertainment in the city. There are actually 23 different Smithsonian places to visit, including some cool gardens and a zoo.

I don’t actually remember whether or not we made it the the National Museum of Natural History when I was a kid. It seems like a place we would have stopped, but my memories might be running together with the Field Museum in Chicago, which we also visited quite a bit during my childhood.

My bestie really wanted to see some dinosaurs, so we decided to begin our trip at the Natural History museum. As we made our way toward the hall advertising dinosaurs, our plans were thwarted. We ran into the same roadblock we’d found the day before at the Washington Monument: the exhibit is closed…until 2019.

I’m not entirely sure what is going on in DC, but it seems like some majorly good parts of the city are closed until 2019 or, like the main branch of the national library, 2020. Although, considering what is going on politically in this country, it does seem to make sense. The national library, a great place of learning and knowledge, closed until 2020…I wonder…

But I digress.

Although we were disappointed we could not wander around a hall exclusively created for showing off dinosaurs, the sign describing the coming exhibit did mention that bits of the original exhibit had found temporary homes in other corners. So, we set off once again to explore.

fossils.jpgIf you’ve ever wanted to see what any animal would look like stuffed, this museum will be Nirvana to you. There were giraffes, lions, bats, ermines, mice…you name it, it was there and stuffed. It was actually a bit creepy because they were both so life-like and so dead at the same time. We hurried through this bit and took in a more interesting exploration of evolution. We actually went through the exhibit backwards, so we joked about “de-evolving.” We did, get to see a model of Lucy, which was pretty cool. We also got to see some really neat fossils, which I had to get pictures of for my son. He is a HUGE fossil freak. He has several fossils his grandfather has given him and he loves them.

He also loves all sorts of bugs, which is why I know I will have to bring him back here some day soon. The second floor of the museum has a really cool live section, complete with a butterfly garden and several insect/amphibian/reptile inhabitants. The giant spider in the picture at the top of this post is an example of just one of the terror-inducing, I mean, critters who calls this museum his/her home. I took this picture to show my son, but just looking at it makes me shudder. There is no zoom and that picture is not blown up. That is the true size of that spider (shudder).

We thought about taking time to go in the butterfly habitat, but there was actually a cost for it (you get to feed them) and quite a line, so instead we just gazed at the cool butterfly hatchery next to it.

butterflies.jpg

Because this is the natural history museum, there are not only animals and fossils, but also lots of gems, including the Hope diamond. My bestie and I both agreed that the diamond in its current setting is a bit gaudy, but I thought the history behind it was pretty darn fascinating. It’s hard to imagine that the diamond, which currently weighs in at 45.2 carats, was actually over 112 carats when it was first found. What is even crazier to me is that when the diamond was donated to the Smithsonian in 1958, it was sent to DC in the mail. Yes, that’s right, a 45.2 carat diamond was sent through the US Postal Service. It was insured, of course, and there is even a picture in the gallery of it being stamped. The insurance cost just under $150.

Although we wanted to spend a lot more time exploring other museums, I got horriblystone guy sick as the day wore on. We tried resting in the cafe in the basement, but my stomach was not having it, so we had to leave all too soon. On our way out we did pop into the gift shop where I got my son some cool dice made of some sort of stone and an even cooler jellyfish paperweight for my husband. We also got to see this guy from Easter Island.

Despite my rolling tummy, I was still able to navigate the Metro with relative ease. I even managed to find the tea store a friend had suggested. My hope was that a calming cup of herbal tea might help settle my stomach. Teaism provided just that and before we headed back to my friend’s apartment, I was feeling better. We may not have been able to visit anymore museums that day, but we did get to have some truly tasty noodles at DC Noodles and played Settlers of Catan well past my usual bedtime.

 

 

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Wildcard Wednesday: Game of Thrones PUB

GoT crying treeI know that the entire world has thrown itself into fits about the return of Game of Thrones. I’ll admit that I am one of those people who had palpitations at the mere thought of the return of Jon Snow, Daenerys and even bad ol’ Cersei.

While planning my recent trip to DC, I was over the moon when I happened upon a link to a newspaper article about DC’s latest attraction: a Game of Thrones PUB. Despite the word pub, this is not the traditional use of the word, but rather an acronym for Pop-Up Bar. These bars do exactly what their name suggests: they pop up for a brief time and then are closed, redecorated and reopened with new themes. This particular space, which is actually a combination of three bars, has also had pop-ups themed around Super Mario Brothers and DC’s beloved Cherry Blossom festival.

Despite warnings of long lines, my best friend and I decided we were going. Thankfully our host, a long-time DC resident and one of our closest friends is also a die-hard GoT fan and was willing to join us in our potentially foolish endeavor.

And potentially foolish it was…at least at the start. We decided to go on Sunday, hoping that getting into line close to the 1 pm opening time would secure us a decent spot. Unfortunately only two of us are regularly rise before noon, so we got to the PUB closer to 1:30 and the line was all the way to the front of the Metro stop. My friend went to check on the estimated wait time and was told that optimistically speaking, it would be at least 90 minutes before we got in, however, the bouncer seemed to think it would be closer to two hours. We all decided that even though our love for certain Lannisters is strong, since it was already close to 90 degrees outside, there was no way we could stand in that atrocious line that long. We vowed to try again later.

We found another bar to drown our sorrows at, spent some time walking around the National Mall, where there was a Folklife Festival going on*, got a close up view of the Washington Monument, and then met up with my friend’s girlfriend and headed back to the PUB.

This time we had much better luck. There was still a line, but it was only about half the size. It probably helped that it was five and the bar is only open until 7 on Sundays. This time the bouncers were estimating an hour until entry, which we’d all agreed was our limit. Thankfully it moved quicker than expected and after only 40 minutes, we were in.

GoT dragonAlthough the PUB is actually 3 buildings, they are rather narrow buildings and there was hardly any room to move around. In fact, we were told that in order to get in, we had to go straight to the back of the first bar, into the area known as Mereen where it was the least crowded. Unlike the actual country in GoT, this version is quite dark and the floor amazingly sticky, even for a bar. At one point, after getting my first drink, a Dothraquiri (fitting considering our location), I actually had trouble getting out of the way for others to order because my feet were so stuck. Still, it was fun to watch the dragon spew forth smoke as I sipped my very tasty drink. It was also amusing to watch the bartender yell at patrons who thought reaching up to try to climb inside the dragon’s mouth was a good idea. I asked her how tired she got of telling people not to touch the dragon and she said it was the first time she’d had to do it, but that they’d kicked someone out earlier for trying to hang from it. Clearly people have not learned their lessons about dragons from the show.

My friends and I hung out with Dany’s dragon long enough to get our second drinks (this part of the bar really was less crowded) before heading off to explore the rest of the PUB. Because we’d arrived at the PUB so late in the day, we’d missed our opportunity to sit on the Iron Throne. They give out tickets on a first come, first serve basis and allow people to get their pictures taken on the throne both wearing a fake fur and holding a sword. We got GoT banners.jpgto glance at it, but had to spend sip our drinks in the banner room of the Red Keep. That was ok with us as we had drinks and good company. I was enjoying exchanging sips of my The Lannisters Send Their Regards with my best friend’s Lady Mormont. Although I liked my drink, it was not quite as sweet as I’d hoped. I loved the red color, the gold paper straw and the swords with a strawberry stabbed through it. However, it was not quite as awesome as her drink which came served in a glass bear jar, was a perfect blend of honey and fruit and had an actual flower in it.

Passing over into The North, we got a glimpse at the House of Black and White and all took pictures of us making faces next to the faces ensconced in the walls. Turns out we are all pretty big dorks. The North not only features the red tree of the Starks, complete with blood dripping from its eyes, but also a portion of the wall with the lone pick ax an unfortunate Wildling left behind. It’s also where we tried a few more drinks. Our least favorite was the Dracarys, but it did come with a little plastic dragon, which slightly redeemed it in my eyes. My friend had to temporarily surrender his driver’s license in order to get The North Remembers because it came in a kick-ass mug, very similar to the ones the brothers of the Night’s Watch use at the wall. While we thought the drink was decent, what we really liked was taking pictures of us drinking it. The undisputed drink winner of the evening was Milk of the Poppy, which freaked us all out a little with its list of ingredients (what is clarified milk?), but was simply delicious! We all wished we’d ordered one.

Although Milk of the Poppy was the best drink, the best delivery of a drink has to go to the very first one my friend and his girlfriend ordered, Shame. Not only was it pretty tasty, but as the bartender handed each drink out, she rang a bell and yelled “shame,” which we all then repeated  three or for times. No matter what anyone was doing in the bar, the second a bartender hollered “shame,” well all joined in to great communal joy.

GoT facesAlthough the bar was a bit cheesy (cosplayers dressed as Daenerys and Jon Snow walked around and took pictures with guests) and the drinks pricey, it was a great way to spend an hour and a half. We stayed until last call, which came earlier than I would have liked, however, our bar tender told us that they are under contractual obligations with HBO to close early on Sundays so that patrons have enough time to finish their drinks and get home to watch the show.

The bar is only open until mid-August, so if you get the chance to go, I highly recommend it. It was a great time spent with some of my besties, paying tribute to one of my favorite shows and getting some tasty drinks to boot!

*which oddly seemed to be 100% dedicated entirely to the circus. We heard some very strange clown jokes, saw an actually funny guy do a juggling demonstration and one of my friends got 1/2 a barbeque chicken.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Ford’s Theater

Lincoln's death bed.jpgMy best friend is in town and I am blissfully happy! Four years ago she finished her PhD and started looking for her dream job: professor of Victorian Literature. While I am amazingly proud of all she has accomplished, I was just about devastated when I found out her dream job was 10 hours away in Athens, Georgia. Athens is a truly amazing city, but, well, I did mention it was 10 hours away, right? Up until her move, not only were we living in the same city, but actually in the same neighborhood. Oddly, my husband and I were not even looking at homes in her neighborhood. We were searching a bit closer to the school where I work. After what seemed like the 100th house we looked at, our realtor drove us just around the corner from her house and we loved it. So, for about seven years we were less than two minutes away from each other, and that was only if we walked slowly.

Being so far apart is really awful for both of us. We are insanely close, but also insanely busy and neither of us are exactly independently wealthy thanks to our choice of education as our career. Still, ever since the move, we make it a point to spend at least 3 weeks together each year. My kids and I visit her on our spring break, she visits us for summer break and we take some sort of best friend vacation together each year. First it was Las Vegas, then Nashville, Denver, and Destin. Some of these trips are just the two of us and some include a few of our other best friends. There are five of us who have been best friends for over 20 year and when we get together it is as if no distance and no time has gone by.

This year we decided to visit one of our gang who is a reporter in DC. Although we recently started seeing him at least once a year on our now annual friend-a-cation, it’d been over a decade since either of us had visited him in DC. A visit was well over due.

Not only was this trip a great chance to catch up with one of our nearest and dearest, it was also a chance for me to revisit some other beloved history. When I was 10, my parents took me on a summer road trip to DC. Well, not just DC. We also visit several other historical sites in fairly nearby Virginia and Pennsylvania. Although I don’t really remember my dad being a big Civil War buff, we did a sort of Civil War tour which just happened to include the Washington Monument and a few stops in a Smithsonian or two.

My biggest memory of that trip, aside from getting horribly sick in the backseat of my dad’s car after eating pineapple at a Shoney’s breakfast buffet (an incident my step-mom NEVER let me live down), and my dad getting us more than a bit lost so we kept circling the Jefferson Monument in our car (which we also NEVER let him live down–my family does not let go of things easily), was visiting Ford’s Theater.

In case you are not a history buff, Ford’s Theater is where President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth during a performance of Our American Cousin. Booth, who was an actor, waited for a particularly funny line in the play to help cover the initial sound of the gunshot before leaping onto the stage and reportedly shouting, “Sic semper tyrannis” (Thus always to tyrants) before running off stage and escaping the theater.

Lincoln's boxFord’s Theater is also the place where I fell in love with history. I’m not sure what it was about the place that captivated me, but it did. I think part of the draw was the fascination that Abraham Lincoln, a man I’d been taught to revere and admire could be thought of so differently by someone else. Another part of the draw was the idea that someone could do something so horrible that for all of history they would be remembered with complete infamy. I was also drawn to the fact that while the assassination happened over a hundred years ago, people had taken the time to preserve that history. I could look into the theater box where Lincoln was shot. I could walk across the street to the Petersen House and not only see the actual bed Lincoln died in, but his blood on the pillow. Over a hundred years later, I was looking at the blood of Abraham Lincoln. Someone had thought to save that pillow and that bed, knowing they were important and that years from now a little girl would be fascinated by them and want to learn more about history.

Ok, sure, my 10 year old brain didn’t quite process that all at the time. However, the grown up who just went back to Ford’s Theater to revisit that history did think about the draw and the fascination. And, this time I got to share it with my best friend, who also found it riveting. As much as I loved Ford’s Theater as a kid, as an adult it was an even better experience because now I understand so much better the impact of the assassination. I’ve read several books relating to it–my favorite is Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell–and I now better understand how a country can be so divided. Thanks to refurbishments and additions to the theater exhibit and the exhibit at the Petersen Lincoln booksHouse, I also got a chance to learn some cool new information and see amazing displays like this cool book tower. This super groovy piece of art is made up of replicas of the more than 15,000 books that have been written about Lincoln. I had no idea that he was the most written about figure in American history. Pretty cool fact, huh?

My trip back to Ford’s Theater also reminded me of a wonderful, if slightly vomit inducing, trip from my childhood. I remembered walking around the Washington Monument at night. I remember getting astronaut food from the Air and Space Museum. I remembered seeing the Ruby Slippers and the original Kermit the Frog at the Museum of American History. I remembered our trip to Gettysburg and the cool battlefield diorama. But mostly, I remembered how much I loved taking trips with my dad. Walking out of that theater, all I wanted to do was call him and tell him how much I still loved it and thank him for taking me all those years ago.

Since I can’t do that, I’ll just have to plan a trip to take my kids and share that wonderful history with them.

 

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Teaching Tuesday: AP scores are in!

AP scoresEvery summer there is one event that seriously kicks my lesson planning for the next year into gear: The College Board releases the Advanced Placement scores.

Each May, students across the country take Advanced Placement exams in a variety of subjects. Although I am always interested in the overall success rate of all the AP teachers at my school, I am, of course, anxious to see how well my AP Lit and Comp and AP Lang and Comp kids are going to do. Although the tests are taken in May, due to the complexity of the tests, they must be hand scored, which is time consuming. Each of my tests not only has a 48-55 question multiple choice section which students get one hour to answer (after reading 4-5 excerpts from poems, literature and works of non-fiction), but they also have to write 3 essays, also based on poetry, literature and non-fiction in the span of 2 hours.

For anyone who has never taken an AP test, these are not easy questions. Passing the test is supposed to show that students in high school have the same general knowledge a student would have after completing and passing an introductory college course in the subject. These kids have to not only be able to read and analyze complicated piece of literature and non-fiction, they have to answer nuanced questions about author’s intent, themes, and literary techniques and they have to do it in a manner of minutes. Really more like seconds when you consider they have to first read and analyze each passage. They get around 30 seconds to answer each question.

Here’s a sample question for you: Paragraphs 1 and 2 develop their ideas by means of

I) metaphor and simile
II) allusion
III) paradox

A) I
B) II
C) III
D) I and II
E) I, II and III

So, in 30 seconds, students have to go through and look over two paragraphs, figure out which of these literary devises are used and if they help develop the idea of the paragraph. They call these “killer questions” for a reason.

These tests are pretty darn stressful for my students. And while their performance on these tests does not directly impact my evaluation as a teacher the way the results of the ISTEP tests do*, I know my principal and my superintendent, as well as our community cares very much about the outcome of these tests. In fact, only two years ago, it was decided that the majority of our AP math and science classes would be replaced with ACP courses in order to give more students a chance to earn college credit (our AP scores in these areas were low). I love the AP program I have developed in the English department and I desperately want to keep it going, so every summer I wait for the scores to be released.

When the scores are released, I hold my breath, sign in and hope they’ve absorbed all I’ve tried to teach them.

I always check on my seniors first. In part because most of them have taken an AP test, and more importantly, an AP English test before. They know how the test will be structured, how to manage their time, and they have practiced answering both the multiple choice and essay questions so often, I’m pretty sure most of them could take the test in their sleep. Considering how some of them looked the day of the test, they might have actually been sleeping a bit. This year my seniors made me very proud. Not only did 82% of them pass the test (the national average is 55%), 63% got 4’s or 5’s on the test** which is more than double the national average of 28%. In general, my kids pass this test at a rate of 78-100% (only got that 100% one year, but I’ll take it), so this was about what I expected, but their 4 and 5 rates were just wonderful.

My confidence was not as high when I opened the file with my junior scores. Their scores are historically lower. This is due in part to inexperience with the test and inexperience in English classes. It is also due to the fact that I teach AP Lit to juniors, which is not a common practice. I have my reasons. I think they are very good reasons, but I know a large percentage of schools basically replace American Literature, which is generally taught during 11th grade with AP Language, since this course is supposed to focus more on non-fiction and it is very easy to work the founding documents of our country into the curriculum. This is a great way to teach the course. I did it for years and it worked fine. The way I teach it now just works better for me and since I made the change 3 years ago, the overwhelming majority of students who I keep in touch with after high school say the switch in classes was very beneficial to them in college.

As usual, I digress a bit.

As predicted, my AP Lit scores were not what I was hoping for. My pass rate was only 58%, which is the lowest pass rate I’ve had in just over a decade of teaching the course. I was expecting lower scores than usual. This is the largest group of students I’ve ever had take the test (it was nearly 4 times as large as the first group I taught 11 years ago). This was also the first year I had multiple students fail my actual class. As a rule, I have two or three kids who get a D during a grading period. Until this year, I’ve only had one student actually get an F in AP Lit. This year I had 7 kids get F’s and several more get D’s. I also had far too many barely scrape by with the C needed for academic honors. I expected my lowest pass rate ever, but I didn’t expect it to be only 5% higher than the national pass rate. I’ve never had a pass rate below 65% in this course. It was a bit of a blow.

My one bright moment, however, was when I went online to find the national averages and found out that according to Trevor Packer, the head of the College Board, this was lowest pass rate for AP Lit in a decade. So while my kids hit a historic low, so did kids across the nation.

Now I wait for the AP planning guides to come out so I can get a better understanding of where my kids struggled the most on the test in order to retool those lessons in hopes of boosting those scores next year.

*Part of my “success” as an educator is based on how well students at my school perform on the ISTEP test. They take the English portion of this test during their sophomore year of high school. Despite the fact that I only teach juniors and seniors and have no chance to impact their ability to pass this test, part of how “effective” I am as a teacher is based on their scores. I am also impacted by their scores on the ISTEP math and biology test. This is true for every teacher in my school. Art teachers, music teachers, PE teachers, social studies teachers, etc. are all held accountable for students they have never had in class in subjects they don’t teach. Now, go ahead and tell me teachers are the problem with our education system.

**The test is scored 1-5 with a score of 3, 4 or 5 as passing

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