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NUKED

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In this post I’m supposed to tell you about how I got kids to dress up like gladiators and chant Om as they brought books to life in our recent “Epic X” unit, but I need to interrupt the regularly scheduled broadcast to bring you this (heart-) breaking news…

I failed.

National Board scores were released online to candidates today and my score of 265 missed the passing score of 275 by 10 points. Some Eduholic readers may have missed the year of blood, sweat and aggravation that was chronicled in this blog’s predecessor, “Certifiable?”, where I wrote about my attempt to scale the NBPTS mountain in pursuit of National Board Certification. Over the course of 67 posts I described the excruciating process of completing a four-entry portfolio that included videotapes of my teaching, and finally taking a day long test at a computer center.

So, HOW does it make me FEEL?

First, there’s the emotional impact. Sort of like a huge fist has been slammed into the solar plexus of my teaching career and it’s down on the canvas, listening to the bright lights spinning like a merry-go-round and watching the dull roar of the crowd like an ocean in the distance.

I’m more or less writing from that place right now, but let me try to stagger back to my corner and answer HOW it makes me feel that way. Here are the numbers.

On each of the four portfolio entries, one can score up to 4 points. Each is weighted at 16% of the total (except one at 12%), and “scaled” before becoming part of the final score; for comparison, I got 50 points on my best entry and 12 points on my worst. My highest score, 3.125, was on “Instructional Analysis: Small Groups,” which was one of the videotaped classes where kids were working on a project to represent the structure of novels with 3-dimensional models. My lowest score was on “Documented Accomplishments: Contributions to Student Learning.” On this I got a 1 out of 4.

Let’s disregard, for a moment, my year-long project building a dugout canoe with tenth graders that ended up on the National Mall, my work as a teacher of teachers at George Mason University, and my nationally published writing about education. (After all, NBPTS did.) 1 out of 4 pretty much means you don’t have a pulse.

On page 42 of the 67-page guide one has to download just to interpret these scores, there is a page-long paragraph of the sort that I would never accept in a student paper which catalogs the woes of one-ness: “little or no evidence that the strategies are effective in engaging parents and other interested adults… little or no evidence that the teacher has strengthened his teaching practice through professional development… little or no evidence of the teacher’s ability to impact student learning through work with colleagues, professionals, families, and the community, and as a learner.”

Clearly, either I or the National Board need to be sued for malpractice.

One nagging suspicion is that they rejected all the evidence I did submit because of a procedural glitch. I redacted identifying information with whiteout in an effort to follow their byzantine directions and later found out I shouldn’t have. I admit it’s far more comforting at this point to think that punctilious bureaucracy is at fault rather than the alternative: I suck as a teacher.

I’m now in the locker room and the haze is starting to lift. Back to the judges’ scorecards. In addition to the portfolio, there was the computer test. There were six essays there, again each earning up to 4 points, but each only weighted at 6.6% of the total. So, in summary, the portfolio was worth 60 % of the total, and the essays 40%.

My highest essay score was a 4, on “literary analysis.” My lowest was a 2, on “teaching writing.” Oddly, I have masters degree in the latter. Do me a favor and don’t tell the school district that hired me last week to present at their inservice on teaching nonfiction writing about that second score. If only to make myself feel better, here’s an email from their staff development coordinator (which is an example of the sort of thing that I thought might constitute “evidence” for Entry 1):

Emmet - Thanks again for coming. Just a quick note with some feedback from evaluations.
-I plan to use the information gained.
- I'll use this new technique in class tomorrow.
-I would like to use this for short stories.
-The levels of understanding is applicable
-I can use this in my class
Well, you get the idea. Great presentation. Wish I had made it to this.
Jane and Steve
Thanks

I guess I need to take a deep breath and let it all soak in. Part of me just wants to crawl under a rock, but the greater part remembers the ambivalence I felt throughout last year and is saying, in a kind but firm voice, I told you so.

The little voice inside goes on: It was never you, and you knew it. You did your best to jump through the hoops because you wanted desperately to make $60,000 extra over the next ten years, but you gave a way a little piece of yourself every time you sat down with that fricking 300-page instruction manual and tried to translate the magic from your classroom into a voiceless narrative based on those ridiculously convoluted standards.

Hmm, thanks little voice. Maybe you’re right. Or -- and let me anticipate the comments from National Boardists I know my stance will provoke—maybe I’m a prima donna who’s had his sails trimmed and can use this as a learning experience to become a better teacher.

They could be right, I guess. I’m just not sure how much more self-reflection I can take. I might try to recoup the countless hours and resubmit an entry or two next year. Going broke a week into each pay period can foster that sort of resilience. Right now, I just feel like there’s spit up in my mouth. I want beer.

But, first things first. 7th period starts in five minutes and we’re beginning a unit featuring database research in which kids will access primary source documents and assume the character of a historical figure from one of four eras, then debate the importance of his impact on people living in that time and place. I know, I know, I’m pretty much just doing it for my own selfish enjoyment. But, what the heck— maybe we’ll get lucky on the way and stumble across some student learning.

43 Comments

Me too, Emmet. It stings.

I too, have failed and have run through all the emotions you have so eloquently written about in your blog. I am so done with the crying!

However, in my non-emotional moments, I totally agree with you about the boards and their insane and incomprehensible standards --and especially their inability to recognize and "translate the magic from your classroom into a voiceless narrative based on those ridiculously convoluted standards." You really nailed it on that one!

I am not sure of my next course of action--I have never been a quitter and do love a challenge. I am just not sure my bank account can take the $700 hit.

I'm so sorry you didn't make it, Emmet. In fact, I can't believe it.

I so look forward to reading your blog each week. You're so creative! Your blogs help me think about how I teach writing to elementary children. Keep up the great work and don't let some fancy national board types get you down.

I think that 1 must have resulted from a technical error. I find it hard to believe that your beautifully written, powerful entry could have been so misjudged.

I have to say that the National Board process was the most useful professional growth I have ever had. I learned so much about myself as a teacher through it.

I agree with you that the standards, regulations, and details of the process are a bit insane. I'm not sure how they can be improved and remain equitable for all however. (I have similar feelings about standardized testing, sadly.) The National Board process, it seems to me, at least tries to really look at the whole teacher in its assessment.

I hope that you choose to resubmit something. You deserve to have this achievement.

My understanding of the requirements for Entry 4 include clear, consistent, and convincing evidence showing the impact of your professional activities outside of the classroom on your students' achievement and on the community. Many of your commendable professional activities benefit yourself and other teachers and clearly show monumental efforts outside the classroom, but you may have needed to provide more evidence that those activities directly affected student work. You could have included documentation of rising test scores or recognition of your students' improvement, or letters from students thanking you for experiences you provided beyond the classroom (such as after-school clubs or other extra-curricular activities) or communications from parents about their students' increased engagement level or productivity due to your efforts. Perhaps you did that and I couldn't see it (you didn't attach the entry to the blog -- which is good because I believe posting your entry is not allowed). Another thought: you can challenge the score and have your entry re-evaluated. In spite of careful training to the contrary, fallible humans score the entries, and perhaps human error or prejudice slipped into the process during your entry reading. It happens. From what I can see, you have definitely accomplished the professional level of the requirements, but you either did not produce convincing evidence of resulting student achievement, or someone at NBPT goofed. I suggest getting your entry re-evaluated if it will bring your score up to 275. Being as close as you were should be an encouragement, even if you are disappointed right now. You actually did extremely well compared to most of the applicants. Good luck! And, by the way, your efforts were not wasted. You've reached many, many students, and that's the bottom line.

Emmet, I can't believe it--I do, but I can't! Being fairly new to your blog, I assumed you were already NBTSA certified. As for me, I'm a third year middle school teacher contemplating my National Boards during my fifth year. Your experience tells me I'd better stock up on the brewskies--pass or fail, I'll probably want a few, but I'd prefer it to be a celebratory swig-a-thon!

~connie

PS: I must echo Jan above--I anticipate your blog each week--both for your sound ideas and for your witty way of writing.

I just read your first entry from Certifiable. "Because it's there," is still a good reason. ~connie

Emmet, I failed too. The comments posted by Sharon are true, but I had those in my entry 4, and I still did not pass. I had a total of five NBC teachers look over all of my entries--three of them worked on them with me more than three or four times throughout the process. One teacher who helped me in the final stages scored fours on her entries. She went through it all just before I mailed it off. Not one of them expected me to fail. They never told me before I got my scores, but afterwards they told me that they had all fully expected me to pass. They had seen every single word. Two of them are assessors for National Board!

I am afraid I didn't have my paper clips in the right place.

I'll go back and do this again. You will do this again too, Emmet. We do not suck as teachers, and we do not have to pass National Board to prove it. But--I just won't give up. You won't either! Hang in there!

Their ratings system is broke. You should get your entries re-evaluated. Your failing shows the impossibility of standardizing what can't be standardized and of evaluating from afar what matters most up close. I know you are an amazing teacher and I'll raise a brewski to that any day of a long, long week.

Sorry about your scores. Are you going to redo any of your entries? If so I would love to read for you. I have mentored teachers going through the process for the last three years. Som have been successful, other not but I would like to offer my assistance if you would like it.

I passed this entry by quite a bit. I was surprised but by passing I learned some things about this entry:

1. Each accomplishment must impact directly or indirectly particular students. Mentioning specific students in specific circumstances helps. Having students and parents write letters for documentation helps. This is true even when proving yourself as a leader and collaborator.

2. You don't need to mention NBPTS buzz words. The assessors can figure this out and it is a waste of space.

3. You do need to mention what the people you collaborate with did to contribute to your success as well.

4. Multiple forms of documentation are necessary. What you are trying to prove is not that it happened but that it impacted students.

Emmet- my empathetic heart goes out to you. You KNOW you are a master teacher. So do all of your colleagues. I hope this is what will give you the motivation to resubmit an entry or two. I have no doubt you will achieve this next year. Best wishes!

Your Entry 4 is just a big pat on the back to you....you failed to answer the question "how did this impact student learning?" Big whoop that you taught teachers and that you write a blog about education. You don't get to the heart of WHY this is important and WHY and HOW this impacts student learning. You're missing hard evidence, concrete examples of the student achievement and student learning. You're obviously a passionate, knowledgeable and dynamic teacher. Suck it up and redo and entry!!! You're only 10 points away, which by the way, I believe there's a 12 point differential!

Emmet the PF info you have shared is excellent as most folks who have commented have attested, but I would wager that a part of the low score had to do with the documentation. As irrational as it sounds, I think letters from students, colleagues, and parents that speak to how they (or their students) are better b/c of the accomplishment you describe gets more points than say a picture or newspaper article (both perfectly acceptable and more likely legit pieces of evidence).
Saying that, I think a candidate can have less than stellar written accomplishments, and score HIGHER if the docs include first hand accounts of impact (i.e. --from a student--I learned so much about building canoes and how working as group, planning, trying to figure out the best plan.....thanks to Mr. ____) DO you see how this is more like testimonial than evidence that you did what you wrote about? If you wrote about it in 4, bottom line they beleive it. WHat they assess harder is the evidence that you say what happened happened and that students were impacted. I have told many a candidates to toss out programs, newspaper clippings, certificates, and awards, and instead go ask people to write letters of affirmation commending the act and specifically stating the impact. Now you may wonder how can these be stronger in evidence than the afore mentioned items. All I can say is the other items attest to doing what you say you did--but they DO NOT show that anyone, least of all you, is a better person for it. Entry 4 no matter how you look at it, is about improving student learning. I encourage you to look at 4 again, and measure your verificiation against whether or not a reader can see that students were impacted. You cannot leave it up to assumption and say this evidence speaks for it self. It won't. But LETTERS from ones who have first hand knowledge will leave no doubt. They will not be questioned, as it is the belief that as a NB candidate you would not submit untrue letters. I may be wrong, but I don't think so. I cringe when I remember the print out of a website I used, and the program guide along with my presenter ribbon on a single sheet of paper--in color no less. In reflection, these were the absolute WORST artifacts i could have ever used. Thankfully I had enough letters to use as artifiacts that helped me.

Last, it is difficult to swallow at this time, I know. Like the steps to dealing with death, you have to go through the steps to dealing with the coming up short on passing. Keep in mind the process is intended to be a 3 year process. Get back up on that horse, and keep trying

Emmet,
I am shocked to hear you did not certify! Are you planning to continue the process as an Advanced Candidate?

Excerpt from your paper: "The teacher writes eloquently and honestly about how the course has changed her teaching, providing her with new strategies to engage students and more important, giving her a critical framework supported by practice and theory by which she can continue to grow as a professional." WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? WHY and HOW DID THIS IMPACT HER STUDENTS? You never answer those questions in your entry.

Dear Emmett,

Speaking as one who has gone through this and for whom Entry 4 was also my lowest score - I completely understand that sense of shock and confusion when you have done so much and then...this score? What do you mean my work as department head, master teacher and vice-president of the PTA doesn't meet your high standards???

I will echo some of the comments already given and encourage you to:
(1) resubmit as you are so close; and
(2) sit down with another person who has gone through this and recreate the scoring process, looking for that clear connection to evidence. Then either rewrite or engage in some additional activities that would clearly make the connection for the scorers. That may feel like cold comfort that this point, but you are so very very close and all you need to do is raise it just 1 point (given the weighting of 12) and you are home free.

I sincerely hope that you won't give up at this point. Good luck!

Hey there, Emmet... You did not FAIL... you just did not certify in your first year of a three year project. That's one way to rationalize. I, too, missed in my first year... by 1 point. Yes, I earned a 274. I did well redoing one portfolio (although my certification happened in the earlier day of 6 portfolio and 4 ninety minute tests). I was not allowed in the computer testing room with my insulin pump on... it was considered a TESTING ACCOMODATION!!!!!! (Go figure). BUT, I showed them-- and you will too.

I ran across your blog looking for an article to review for a class.

I hope you redo that one entry.

I also submitted a portfolio to become an NBCT last spring - and luckily made it! I can tell you that I truly felt like I had no idea how well I did when I submitted my entries. I felt that the process was very superficial. I also received a very low score on entry 4, although I felt like this was my strongest entry. I guess I won't be helping anyone on that entry!

Good luck on your redo AND remember, it can't be as bad as last year!

I too failed my National Boards the first time. I resubmitted entry 4 and scored just enough to pass. What bothers me the most is that we see the value in providing feedback to our students when they make errors, so why is our feedback on those standards so limited?

Dear Emmet,
...One more "me too," if you can stand it. I missed certifying by 5 points and could tell by the averages - 3.275 that my entries had been double-scored, since they were so close-but-no-cigar.
I couldn't help but be sorely disappointed but I soon realized that having survived last year, in and of itself, was my HUGE personal accomplishment. I dealt with a son in Iraq, an alcoholic spouse and reluctant leadership of a huge regional choir, all the while coming dangerously close to emotional and professional burnout. My summer was spent in a state of shock... couldn't move, couldn't plan, just floating along, healing and returning to sanity.
Yes, I knew that my Entry 2 was weak because the evidence just didn't show up on the video but I ran out of time to get it on the DVD and wrote about the evidence that was there.
The picky little thing that stings the most is the news that a teacher in my area who has been openly condescending, hateful and critical of me,(professional insecurity?) passed on the first try. Petty? Yes. I'm working on my attitude even now.
I know this year will seem like a vacation as compared to last year. I only have to video one entry and I can concentrate my efforts until I'm sure it earns a level 4. 5 points is a piece of cake. It's just one I didn't want to eat.

There has been a lot of buzz around the National Boards becoming increasingly irrelevant. Plenty of highly-skilled, tech savvy teachers are simply not interested in jumping through these moving hoops anymore. This post only solidifies what I think a lot of teachers already know. National Board's time is up.

Join a yahoo help group. Learn from your mistakes and try again.

This is considered a 3 year process. Only 40% pass the first time.

Dear Emmet;
I, too, after over 30 years in this profession, am a "failure." It was hard to take, especially when the other two teachers at my school passed. (Coincidentally, one of them transferred that year because of unsatisfactory performance.) So, I have come to the conclusion, that this is about who reads your papers and their personal biases. It's definitely not about who we are in the classroom!

I watched my friend go through the exact same thing -- busting her behind rather ambivalently and somewhat begrudgingly just so she could make a bit more than her measly $40K salary, then failing the review. By contrast, a former colleague of mine received National Board certification, and I scratched my head as to how the Board could award the distinction to someone who was frequently absent and seemed to put very little thought into her lessons.

I failed too.

There are many of us that failed the first time (ME INCLUDED)... banked my scores and jumped through the hoops a second time! YOU CAN DO IT!!!!

I only duck in here occasionally, but have always been impressed with your creativity and commitment. I'm truly sorry things turned out this way! You're doing exactly what you should be doing--and you know it based on the results you get from kids. Is there an appeal process? If it's any consolation, you have saved me some blood, sweat and tears--I was considering pursuing national certification, but not anymore, or not til they streamline it.

Don't waste your time by doing it again. At Stanford, I missed by 15 points the first time and 2 points the second year (I'm also a writer). Then they decided that they didn't have the money for our $10,000 bonus if we passed. This stuff is more designed as a test of how well a teacher can follow directions, take orders, shuffle papers and be a mini-bureaucrat. When I asked about appealing my last score, I learned how many teachers have appealed and won: zero.

Been there- twice! Second time may have hurt worse. Third time was the charm, so dust yourself off and get back in the game. I agree about the terrifying process and no feedback. I really wanted some feedback.

Emmet
You can do it. My first time I was 39 points away. I redid an entry and an assessment. Second time, 6 points away. THIRD try, I made it! It has been stated before, review your entry with a brutally honest certified teacher or assessor, get your students and parents to give you evidence, pay the money and resubmit, you will become a NBCT! I had NEVER been unsuccessful at testing. The first time was a terribe blow to my ego and pride. One of my scores was a .75. You heard me right--a .75 in an area that is my expertise and I thought was my strongest point! I thought the lowest a person could get was a 1. Anyway to make a long story short, my brutally honest co-worker took a look at my entry and told me that it was a piece of crap! She also told me that what she had witnessed in my classroom through observations and the impact that it had on my students was NOT evidenced in my entry. The third try was one assessment center and a score of 4. Evaluate and resubmit. It will be worth it!

Emmet,

You are a truly gifted writer. I am surprised that you received anything lower than a 3 on your teaching entries and AC tests. That said, I think I might be alone in saying that I am not at all surprised by your failure with entry 4. I read your “Certifiable” blog and assumed that you would score quite low on this entry.

Why? You took up valuable space with your (albeit gifted) writing about YOURSELF and NOT about any gains of your students because of what you have done. NB doesn’t care if you are a gifted writer or even a decent writer. NB doesn’t care if YOU have done wonderful things or even if famous people think you are wonderful. For entry 4, they only care about convincing evidence that WHAT you have done impacts student learning. Although you may be teaching in a high achieving school, there are nevertheless students who will make larger gains or become more involved in the learning process, who otherwise might not without your intervention.

As I told you before, it stung when the Stanford NBCTs commented SO WHAT. The NB candidates were clearly impressed by my accomplishments, but the NBCTs knew better. I took it very seriously and did very well with this entry. Unless you can show strong evidence of impacting student learning, lose it! You don’t have the space to waste.

Redo Entry 4 only. You are only 10 points below the required score to pass. Even if you move your score up to only a 2 (and you may very well do much better), you will pass (1 X 12 = 12 more points). This will be easy to do if you go back and follow some of the comments by NBCTs that were given in your "Certifiable" blog. Put your pride and creative writing aside for this one entry (remember that no one will see it published anyway). Concentrate on writing about why and what you have done that IMPACTS STUDENT LEARNING. Submit substantive evidence that specifically addresses the student impact piece.

Lick your wounds for a little while and then get going! Reflect not on yourself, but rather on what you have done to impact student learning. I tried to convey this concern in a comment last fall, although you already knew what to do. Using your own words, “Instead of showing off what I can do, I’ve got to show off what my students have learned as a result of what I’ve done.” You are too great a teacher to blow it on this one entry. You and your family also deserve the added $ that certification will bring.

Marybeth NBCT

Emmet,

I too failed this year. I was 15 points away. At first I cried and then I sat back and tried to decide if I wanted to put myself and my family through anymore of this crap. I will. If I can get that close with the year I had last year (45 special education students, one paraprofessional to help who was out a great deal sick, 15 of those students were severe behavior kids, monitoring from the state department of education on our special education program, placing 14 students in special ed, writing 45 IEPs, having 45 IEP meetings in 2 weeks) I can handle this year on a redo. Best of luck on yours. I personally think the reason we fail is so they can make more money from people who don't have any.

Well, as others have stated, bank your scores and resubmit next year. I passed the NBC a couple of years ago and attribute my certification to the fact that I joined our union's Support Network, which is specifically geared to helping teachers analyze the NBC rubrics. We had workshops and then were placed in small groups which met weekly throughout the year. In the group we wrote, read each other's entries with the rubrics in hand, commented, encouraged, etc. Oh, yes, we also viewed each other's videos and commented. It totally helped because as we deconstructed each other's work and the requirements, we were better able to look more critically at our own work. And, how can you argue with fresh eyes looking at your entries and giving you helpful critique. Still and all, only 3 out of the original 10 in our group passed. 4 dropped out part way and 6 completed everything. Mind you, the Support Network has better odds of passing than just doing it on your own (they've done the stats.) That's why it's held in such esteem--because it is so rigorous, and precise. (It really helps you understand how students feel when our criteria and rubrics aren't clear to them!) Anyway, bank your scores, join a support group, and resubmit. I've read that a big percentage pass the second time around. You are a great teacher, you just have to present the evidence so that it hits the bull's eye!

Why apply at all? You obviously don't value or respect the certification. Is it just for the money that some states offer? Either follow the rules or shut up. That's what many "enlightened" teachers tell their students.

You didn't fail, but failed to communicate to them, maybe. For a winner and go getter like yourself, I know how hard this is to take, I failed too. But I am going to put on my lawyer hat and prove beyond reasonable doubt that I am a Master Teacher. And you certainly are too.

I feel the same way you feel. There should be no time limit on passing National Boards. I am heart broken that I failed by 1 point not five, six, or ten points 1 point. I was only 1 point away from certifying, I thought I would die, and this was my third year. Imagine how I feel inside. All my years of hard work I put in, countless hours and time spent away from my family. The process is insane like you said and it needs to be changed. It is easy for people to say just take it over but,I can't and it hurts. Assessors can miss information no one is perfect. They should encourage teachers to continue until they achieve. Doing everything over is not the answer. This process to me should be changed. People can give comments about what you should do but until they walk in your shoes they don't know how you feel. I gave three hard years of my live nd I had my papers checked by my mentor also. If you are within 1 point, your paper should be scored again by assessors, and not together in a group. I just can't believe this happened to me. What a way to celebrate the Holidays.

Not only do I agree with Emmet, but I feel most sincerely for Lynette. I have failed to achieve twice despite having the admiration and respect of my colleagues. I worked closely with five other candidates. I read their work and advised them--and four of them achieved. Yet I cannot seem to advise myself. I was 14 point shy of achieving the first year and 12 point shy my second year. And yes, I spent about 24 hours this second time enduring bouts of weeping--I have never felt sorry for myself before--this was a new experience for me. I will try again, and so should you.

Emmet,
I feel you have some legitimate cause for concern over your failure. I have done some research into the ELA-AYA assessment process and have discovered facts that lead me to believe it is less valid and reliable than NBPTS is willing to admit. Please email me at audlesun@yahoo.com so we can discuss this in private.

Emmet,

I too failed the first time with a 2 out of 4 on Entry 4. I redid Entry 4 with the help of two people who had scored 4's on the Entry previously. I tied it to student learning and guess what my score went from a 2 to 2.25. I agree that Entry 4 is a joke. My advice would be to redo the Assessment Center Exercises. I missed by 15 points and made it the second time by improved scoring on two tests. Much less effort in terms of redoing an Entry (100 plus hours) vs. studying for the test. Good luck!

I want to thank you for your courage because you have been so open about your experience with the process -- the highs and lows of it. I've considered going for certification, and have put it aside for now. I'm not sure I have the strength to deal with it. And, I'm not sure I buy into the value of certification (other than the $$). I'll look forward to hearing about what you're going to do. I respect your decision, either way, because I know it will come from honest reflection and purpose.

Thank you. Misery loves company - to show a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm a new teacher who went into the ring with all the gusto of a credential-wielding tornado. Unfortunately, the school evironment offered no support, no mentor, and a lot of hostility. In the end, the administrator, who never set foot in my classroom and refused to address any and all concerns, dubbed my year unsuccessful - after being forced to complete evaluations in August by the Central Administration!

Simply Bookmarking now thanks, where is your contact particulars hmm? great article

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