BONUS: Candy Heart Writing for Valentine’s Day 2017

Recently I have been reading the book Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I by Peter Ackroyd. It is all about one of my favorite time periods in history and full of gory details about how people of the “wrong” religious faith at this time in England were tortured and put to death. It goes into great detail about the cantankerous Henry VIII and his whims. It details how his daughter, Elizabeth I, could not let down her guard lest she lose her power and her crown. For my Candy Heart Writing 2017 post, I’m going to connect two hearts I pulled out of the bag — NOT NOW and TRUE LOVE — with some of what I am reading about, especially as it pertains to Elizabeth. First, there were two great dilemmas that Elizabeth faced as queen: (1) whom should she marry? and (2) what should she do with her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots? When she first became queen, Elizabeth’s courtiers urged her to marry, promoting a match with the king of Spain and also with a duke of France. She would frequently put off discussions of the topic of her marriage by essentially saying to her council and Parliaments, “Not now!” (As in, “I don’t want to discuss it!”) Additionally, she would instead say something to the effect that the country of England was her “true love,” and that she was wedded to the country and its people. Marrying another, she argued, would distract her from her true purpose, which was to live long to serve and guide her people. As mentioned, Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, was caught numerous times conspiring against Elizabeth to seize the crown of England, to unite the crowns of Scotland and England. Elizabeth’s cabinet approached her, asking what to do with Mary? Should they execute her? Elizabeth answered again, “Not now,” until she could put off the decision no longer. Finally, after eighteen years, Elizabeth had Mary executed. If you enjoy learning about the exploits of Henry VIII or reading about strong women in history, this is the book for you.

Image courtesy of Parnote (@Wikimedia Commons)

#Edublogs Club (Post 3)

Prompt: Write a post that discusses leadership, peer coaching, and/or effecting change. 

Here are some sentence starters that may help you as a work on the ideas for your post:

  • The best school leader I have ever worked for/with…
  • Teaching leadership skills to students…
  • The qualities of a true leader include…
  • Leaders don’t…
  • Leaders never…
  • Leaders always…
  • I wish my school administrator/boss…
  • As a leader, I wish to improve on…
  • A leader I admire…
  • Peer coaching…
  • Effecting change…

I LOVE sentence starters, especially for such a big topic as this. It helps me organize my thoughts a bit and make sure to address all parts of the task. I don’t want to get political, so I won’t name names or get too specific with facts and details . . . except with one of the starters. (See below.)

  • The best school leader I have ever worked for or with . . . had a lot of life wisdom to share along with professional experience. This person had integrity and was a real team player. No job was too menial, despite the fact that she was the “face” of our school and the buck stopped with her. She handled discipline, was our instructional leader, and helped the lunch ladies pick up trash students left behind in the quad after lunch. She didn’t play favorites with the teachers, and she was a plain speaker. She believed in every student’s ability to learn, and she knew every one of our school’s students by name – and we had nearly 1000 of them.
  • Teaching leadership skills to students . . . is probably something I should do a bit more of in my classroom. I don’t teach the leadership class, but that doesn’t mean I cannot try to focus on a character trait of the month or some similar endeavor. (Our leadership class has done that for the school at various times over the years I’ve been at our school.) In truth, I like to “be the change I want to see in the world,” though, and try to model good citizenship for my students through being a responsible, good citizen myself. I try to treat every student respectfully and fairly. I am trying to be more mindful. (I even bought and started reading a new book, Mindfulness for Teachers, over Winter Break.) I am hoping that this mindfulness approach to my teaching will transfer to my students; that they themselves will notice will respond rather than react in their relationships with others at our school – staff and peers alike. Hopefully, citizenship and leadership skills will improve as a result.
  • The qualities of a true leader include . . . but are not limited to: (1) avoidance of gossip; (2) enthusiasm; (3) the ability to be a team player; (4) competence and skill; (5) the ability to be a friend to all and to bridge the divides that keep people apart; (6) oratory and empathy skills; (7) integrity; (8) optimism rather than pessimism; (9) patience with others; and (10) respect for others. These are not necessarily listed in order of importance to me; they may change in importance depending upon the situation.
  • Leaders don’t . . . give up. They are persistent in helping their team solve problems. They are willing to think creatively or “outside the box” to solve problems.
  • Leaders never . . . play favorites, as Rudyard Kipling wrote about in his poem “If“. In his poem, Kipling admonished the reader to remember that it is the mature and wise adult who treats everyone the same: “If all men count with you, but none too much” (Line 28). I also love this poem because Kipling additionally wrote about how important it is for someone to not lose their wits when all around him (or her) are losing theirs. Sometimes being a leader is difficult, and he or she must blaze a path or act the maverick, going against the flow and conventional wisdom. This is difficult. Leaders manage to do this and never lose sight of the end goal.
  • Leaders always . . . keep on trying. They are not content once they have reached a goal. Goal attainment is merely an opportunity to reflect and evaluate, and set a new goal. They are not content with what is.
  •  I wish my school administrator or boss . . . made a few more “top down” decisions. (This is applicable to to all levels of leadership in my district.) This is mostly a personal preference for me. Personality wise, I am a “rule follower” and I don’t like ambiguity. Lately, our district has been focusing on “guaranteed and viable” (G & V) standards – non-negotiable skills that all students must demonstrate mastery with – for continued success in school. To give teachers more “ownership” in the process, each site has been encouraged to come up with their own set of G & V standards. This has resulted in confusion and a lack of uniformity across our district. If someone had stepped up to leadership and just said, “These are it!” then my colleagues and I at my site, and across our district, would be able to get to work together more quickly on creating a standard set of proficiency scales, learning goals, and common formative assessments we all could use. I feel like all of us are spinning our wheels and recreating the wheel, each at our own school sites, when we could be more effective and efficient. I like knowing exactly what you want me to do.
  • As a leader, I wish to improve on . . . being more “present” for my students. I get so focused sometimes on all of the assessments I am supposed to administer (and the results thereof), and I start thinking of numbers rather than personalities. I feel like in the last 18 months, I’ve become somewhat detached from my true reason for teaching, which is twofold: (1) I want to share my love of learning with others, and (2) I want to be an advocate for youth. Really, that’s what makes me most happy in my job – just being there each day, sharing what I know, helping them learn new things, and just enjoying getting to work with some really cool youth. My mindfulness practice is helping me to become more present with students in the classroom, to focus on the students’ personalities and emotions, and to enjoy and accept them for who they are (thirteen-year-olds!). I want both them (and me) to stress less and enjoy the process more.
  • A leader I admire . . . well, there are so many! Who would I love to meet and chat with from history (or present day) if I had a chance? The list includes: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama; Pope Francis; religious leaders such as Jesus, St. Thomas, the Buddha, Muhammad, and Job (from the Bible); Queen Elizabeth II; Ghandi; Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo; Harriet Tubman; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; writer Jane Austen; Ada Lovelace . . . this is not an exhaustive list.
  • Peer coaching . . . is something that I am currently getting a chance to engage in. There is a peer on my staff to whom I act as a mentor. I hope I am doing a good job! (I think this person would say that I am.) We should probably spend more time together consistently, but this person knows I am available at any time – in person or by text. I try not to give advice, but instead to share my experience and offer my own perspective on issues that have come up. I try to be a good example of what a teacher should be to my peer.
  • Effecting change . . . is hard, plain and simple. As Newton postulated, “An object at rest tends to stay at rest.” This includes inanimate objects as well as humans (I think). Change is scary for a lot of people, and I include myself in that group. People are resistant to change, so getting them to take that leap of faith despite the fear . . . well, if a person can get others to do that, that’s the mark of a good leader. I hope I am inspiring to (at least some of) my students, and that our time together this academic year will lead them to try something new or do something differently. If I can do that, I will have been a success.

#EdublogsClub (Post 2)


  • Write a post that discusses your classroom or place of work. Some topics you may wish to address include:
  • The physical space – how you approach layout of furniture, technology, etc.
  • The aesthetics – share a photo and/or discuss decorating your space
  • Staying organized – how you do (or don’t) keep organized
  • Tips, tricks, or advice related to the above
  • Anything else you wi
    sh to share!
  • We want just a little window into your daily work life 🙂

My classroom is my home away from home, so I want to feel as comfortable there as possible. I like it clean and tidy. I don’t like a lot of stuff on my counter space, and the closets are organized.

Our interactive word wall for ELA and HSS terms

I like space to move in my classroom. I have seven tables, at which sit five to six students each. I used to have individual desks, but they were a trapezoidal shape.  Devising seating arrangements for a square-ish, rectangular-ish classroom with trapezoidal desks was difficult. I just didn’t feel like any of us – students or me or any visitors – could move well. The flow is really important. So, this year, with the tables, I feel like that has really opened up the flow to my class. I try to change seating arrangements two times during the quarter, or about six to eight times a year, just to change things up a bit.

My classroom is very colorful. To cover my bulletin boards, I bought some Peanuts Gang-themed fabric . . . about three to four different kinds that all compliment each other. (I love Charlie Brown and Snoopy.) Back in my first year teaching, I made Peanuts Gang characters on tag board, so those hang on the wall, too, in various places.

Linus and student avatars with QR codes to student blogs.

To go with the colorful wall space, I have four different colored chair options for students – red, green, yellow, and blue. I just wanted more than one color, and my principal was game for it. It helps, sometimes, with management, too, because I can say, “If you are in a red or yellow chair, please . . . “ and then give students some directions.

Different colored chairs with student avatars (with QR codes to blogs!) in the background



My students all have a space on my walls, too. Each student makes an avatar at the beginning of the year to represent themselves using an app on their iPads. Then, as we set up our blogs, I also have them create a QR code for their blog and share that with me. I print them out and place them next to the respective avatars.


With respect to organization, I pride myself on staying organized. I want my students to continue to develop their own organizational habits, ones that will serve them well in life as they mature. (I teach seventh graders.) Some students don’t have organizational habits that are as well-developed as others, so I see my organizational routine as sort of a model for them. We do a lot of stuff digitally at our site, so my classroom website has digital copies of all of the current quarter’s assignments available for students to download. I also have an “extras” binder on my countertop for students to obtain paper copies after an absence, or in case they have lost their original. There is a “No-Name Graveyard” in my room for papers that are turned in to me without a name. There is also a “purple basket” which is my special basket. If students have late work, work from an absence, or work they want to turn in early, it goes there. It helps me ensure the assignment gets place in the right “pile” and doesn’t get lost.

#EdublogsClub (Post 1)

Well this is not my first blog post, by a long shot, but I definitely don’t blog as much as other teachers. It was something that I thought I’d start trying after viewing a session about student blogging at the (Computer Using Educators) CUE conference in Palm Springs back in 2013. At the time, my students and I had Google Apps for Education (GAFE) accounts, but Blogger was (and still is) blocked by our district. So, I decided on using Edublogs, and that’s how I ended up here. I’m not a “regular” blog reader – I’m often too busy to sit down and delve too deeply into too many blogs – but I do like to read Edutopia, Edudemic, and Catlin Tucker. One tech tool that I use to keep up with blogs is an app called Feedly. (It is also web-based, too.) All of my RSS feeds “dump” into Feedly, including those of my students, so I can keep up with recent posts a little more easily. I don’t really have too much advice to others (especially the new peeps!) except to just keep after it and build discipline. I got out of blogging regularly myself in the past 18 months because I was working on my Master’s degree; literally every free second I had was spent working on assignments for my own professors or grading my own students’ work and planning for our days. I am joining the #EdublogsClub to recommit to my own blogging, and I am hoping that it will help generate readers for my own students’ blogs. (Sorry I am late with this first post!)

In Celebration of “Random Acts of Poetry Day” . . .

Today is the commemoration of Random Acts of Poetry Day. To celebrate this day, people are encouraged to

engage in moments of guerilla poetry. Take your chalk in hand and scrawl the words of your heart across sidewalks and alley walls, ramble madly, like a sweaty toothed madman, or wax lyrical about the most important love of your heart. Better with word than pen? Then stand on a street corner shouting poetry to the wind, imparting onto all the joy and pain, sorrow and exultation of your soul, heart, and mind. To be a poet is to walk the wild lands of impossibility and imagination, and Random Acts of Poetry Day is your opportunity to, for just a moment, bring others into the world in which you live (Days of the Year).

So, to that end, I am posting an “I AM” poem. I frequently assign students to do this at the beginning of each academic year, but we did something a little different this year to change things up. So, I’ll post it here now for your perusal and enjoyment. Even though I wrote this years ago, it still holds true for me today.



I AM intense and driven.
I WONDER about a lot of things . . . that’s why I read part of the encyclopedia every night.
I HEAR a comic “duh duh duh” when my mom says, “We need to talk.”
I SEE myself as a grown-up Lucy van Pelt from Peanuts.
I WANT just a little more time to myself.
I AM intense and driven.

I PRETEND that I’m having conversations with people while I’m driving so that when we really do talk, I say what I want to say correctly.
I FEEL challenged when I have five things to do at once and I don’t know which one to tackle first at the expense of the others.
I TOUCH heaven just a little bit whenever I hear one of my children say, “I love you, Mommy.”
I WORRY about failing or not “measuring up.”
I CRY when I think about children who are seriously ill, malnourished, or unloved.

I AM intense and driven.
I UNDERSTAND, as Nietzsche wrote, “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”
I SAY drunk drivers should receive drastically stiffer penalties for their crime.
I DREAM about nightmarishly bizarre scenarios, usually.
I TRY to teach things differently and more effectively with each passing year.
I HOPE that I inspire someone this year.
I AM intense and driven.

— Jenny Rovira
September 2007

Does Nagaina Deserve Any Mercy?

Recently in class, we read a short story called “Rikki-tikki-tavi” by Rudyard Kipling. This tale is about a mongoose who goes to live with a human family in India. In the garden of his family’s house live snakes, including a king cobra named Nagaina. Nagaina and her husband, Nag, like to kill the young of other animals in the garden, such as birds and frogs. Rikki and Nagaina eventually get into a huge altercation. Rikki wants to kill her. Should Rikki show Nagaina any mercy in this showdown between the two of them?

Just as in life — where issues such as capital punishment are nuanced and there are multiple perspectives on the issue — the decision of whether or not to kill Nagaina is a tough one. There would be those that would call for Rikki to show some lenience. They would say that Nagaina was only acting according to her nature, and that she shouldn’t be faulted for that. She is a snake, and snakes are predatory animals. Her natural prey are other small animals — and mongooses. When she is hunting and eating those creatures, she is only doing so to satisfy the will to survive. Another reason others point to as justification for treating Nagaina less harshly is that she has experienced a lot of tragedy in her life recently. She has lost both her husband, Nag, and her babies (due to hatch out of their eggs) in a violent manner. People who experience such a debilitating loss such as that are usually out of their minds with grief. Supporters of Nagaina would say that she should not be held totally responsible for her actions because she wasn’t thinking logically and rationally.

On the other hand, there are some who say that such emotion is no excuse. There is no justification for treating the other animals the way she does — namely, terrorizing and eating them — and for that, she deserves to die. Those who call for Nagaina’s death point to the fact that, at her core, she is an evil creature, and such creatures cannot be allowed to live freely in society. For example, from the very beginning of her interactions with Rikki, she had nothing but ill intentions for him; she sought to kill him as he was kept distracted by her husband, Nag. Speaking of Nag, Kipling describes him as having a “cold heart.” Only another snake with a cold heart, like Nagaina, could be happy with a cold-hearted spouse.

If you would like to read about what Rikki actually decided to do — kill her or let her live — pick up a copy of the narrative to find out.

A Good Deed (Unfinished, In Progress)

I have been told that I am unusual and “not like other people” by several I have encountered over the course of my life. I don’t take this personally. Sometimes, actually, it is a point of pride — to be different. I like being the one that has blue and purple streaks in my hair, for example. It’s edgy and non-conformist. I am definitely a rule follower, but I like to push the boundaries a bit.

One rule that many seem to follow in the United States is the one about the holidays — namely, that one just has to love Christmas. I am supposed to love baking holiday sugar cookies; I am supposed to love heading off to the shops to find and purchase just the right Christmas gifts; and I am supposed to love decorating my house, both inside and out. I am also supposed to love the singing of Christmas songs on the radio. (There is, after all, a radio station here in Los Angeles devoted to the playing of Christmas music twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, all throughout the month of December.)

Well, I don’t. I don’t like any of it.

I am a Scrooge, if one wants to label me as such. I loathe baking sugar cookies. It takes too much time an energy, especially the frosting of them. I will admit I like the lights. I would have my house lit up like Las Vegas, if I could manage it. And I do have a Christmas tree that I like to put up, trimmed from top to bottom in nothing but Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and other Peanuts Gang ornaments. But I hate shopping, and having to fight for a coveted parking spot at the mall. If I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t celebrate at all. It has always been this way, even when I was younger. I just find the whole thing depressing and anticlimactic. Except for one year.

(More to come . . . )

Playing Hooky from Grading . . . Or, Procrastination . . . And, Stress.

All three are related!

First, let me say that I am thrilled to see that our blogs are getting some visitors. Thanks for visiting us, Ms. Donofrio’s class! If you get a chance, visit their blogs and post comments.

I’ve been doing just that, actually, as I cook up a delicious meal here at home. Tuesday (a week from today) is Mardi Gras, and we’re having a Mardi Gras party at our house this upcoming Saturday. For those that don’t know what Mardi Gras is, it is the day before Lent starts. In French, it translates as “Fat Tuesday,” and people live it up on this Tuesday because the next day, Lent, signals the beginning of fasting of some kind for the Lenten season. My husband’s family is from New Orleans, so Mardi Gras has always been a big deal to them. Hence, our scheduling of this party. I am making red beans and rice tonight, which is a very traditional New Orleans meal. Since we are having a LOT of people visiting this Saturday, I made a pot tonight AND another pot already last night. I’ll freeze them until Saturday morning, thaw, and reheat in time for guests. (The red beans and rice are always better the next day anyway, after all the spices and tastes have mingled together.) I use a recipe of Emeril’s from Food Network to make the rice and beans. I change it up a bit and also include some things that my mother-in-law incorporated when she made her own. My brother-in-law in New Orleans is sending us some King Cakes, too, which is also a Mardi Gras tradition.

I included some pictures of my progress. I soak the beans overnight. The next day, I cut up onion, celery, and green bell pepper. I sauté all of that with various spices, including lots of garlic! Then I add in some hot andouille sausage, the beans, and a lot of chicken broth. They simmer for a while, and after the beans get soft, I mash a few against the side of the pan. Serve over rice. It is delicious!

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I’m also making shrimp etouffé and a few other goodies. It should be fun!

As I’ve been cooking, I’ve been responding to comments left on my blog. I love receiving the comments. It’s like the 21st century version of the pen pals I had as a kid. I wanted to respond as soon as possible because I wanted to show my appreciation for the visits. I also prefer to write these comments rather than attack the piles of grading I need to do. 🙂 I’m making a dent in it, but let’s face it: it’s no fun. So, I guess, in a way, I am also procrastinating. It is a totally negative trait that I give into once in a while. Mostly because I. Am. So. Tired. Which leads to . . . stress. What else? Not feeling caught up stresses me out. And trying to get all this done while cooking . . . and also having to be the Girl Scout cookie mom for my daughter’s troop . . . and knowing I have to be out on Thursday (again!) to conduct iPad training and that I have to write Guest Teacher plans . . . and I gotta go to Michael’s to get stuff for our Peeps dioramas in tutorials . . . so much to do!


Oh well, back to work!


Valentine’s Day Bonus Opportunity

I will never offer “extra credit” to just one person. (And I usually ask you about your missing assignments first. Doing those and getting them turned in sometimes makes a world of difference.) Anyway . . . Whenever I offer a “bonus” opportunity, I offer it to everyone — to be fair.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, and because I love candy hearts, although I am very particular about which kind I like (see this post where I briefly explain the difference), I am offering a Candy Hearts Writing Bonus opportunity.

Here’s how it works:
(1) I will give you three candy hearts. They each (of course) will have a message on them.
(2) You connect one heart’s message to something in history (for a history bonus) in 250 words posted on your blog.
(3) You connect one heart’s message to something you are currently reading (for an ELA bonus) in 250 words posted on your blog.
(4) I am giving you three hearts just in case . . . it gives you a little more to work with.
(5) You may do the ELA bonus, the HSS bonus, or both.
(6) You may eat the hearts when you are done.


Here’s how it might work for ELA:

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m celebrating by eating candy hearts. All candy hearts contain a message, and one of mine reads “Got cha!” This makes me think of what I am currently reading with my students in literature. It is a book entitled Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang. It is more of a personal narrative or autobiography, rather than a novel, and it tells about the author’s personal experiences living through the Cultural Revolution in China, which started in 1966. Ji-li was a model student whose world was turned upside down when she discovered that her family (and those of some of her friends) had skeletons in their closet, according to the Communist Chinese government. Ji-li’s grandfather had been a landlord, and her family was accused of having bourgeois tendencies. Because the government was encouraging a campaign of getting rid of the four olds — old habits, old ideas, old traditions, and old culture — families were encouraged to destroy anything that fit that criteria. Old china, old photo albums, old traditional clothing . . . all had to be thrown out. Of course, some families didn’t want to give up these precious family heirlooms. So they hid them. At the same time, though, bands of youth known as the Red Guards, took it upon themselves to search various homes, ransacking them for evidence of “four olds” stashes. Drum and gong sounds alerted neighborhoods that the bands of Red Guards were coming. Whose house would they visit this time? Ji-li and her family lived in a state of nervous anxiety, wondering when their family’s apartment would be targeted. Days passed. “Got cha!” It finally happened one night. The Jiang family was subjected to the dreaded search; after the Red Guards left, it took two days to set their house back to rights. I thank goodness this is nothing I have ever experienced, nor am likely to experience here in the U. S.