I apologize that I’ve been “missing”.........public education is under attack and frankly it has dried me out. I’m not sure people understand what is happening and how children are being used as the sacrificial cow.
I’d like to think I am the kind of person that tries desperately to find the silver lining or the “what’s meant to be” in things. And so it was, this past week, the biggest test, not of standards, but something much more important in life; a test of my core beliefs. As I found myself getting angrier and angrier as the test went on, almost to the point of being physically ill, I realized I had to own that last of three grueling days, not let them be robbed from us any longer, and choose the way I looked at things.
I roamed the classroom, feeling like I had stepped foot in a foreign land; dividers separating learners, three perfectly sharpened pencils placed carefully in front of each student, completely silent except for the frantic page turning drowning out the classical music playing softly in the background. Certainly not the usual collaboration or communication, it was obviously void of the questioning and challenges from teammates, missing the wondering and digging for answers, absent of the awe I’m in most days from the kids who have become so intrinsically motivated to learn, to discover, to better themselves. Motivation was replaced by terror and feeling defeated, questioning and digging for answers swapped with a prescribed expectation for an answer. As I felt myself begin to boil that our learning space, our community of teammates, the love of learning had been stolen from us – completely out of our control, I did what I could do to get through and not show my anger; I shifted my focus on to my kiddos.
The first one I spotted from across the room; the one who has come so far out of their shell – anxiety and stress are gone replaced with joy of life and learning shining through; I’m beaming with pride. I turn to stare at the child who has had so much sadness and has been a classic symbol of strength and endurance; each day I’m in awe. Another little person who has worked so hard to push through adversity, just discovered a new strategy for multiplying four digit numbers by one in their head - teaching them self twice to make the pieces of learning come together - that smile, that pride; I’m amazed by the daily perseverance. There’s that child who wouldn’t say a word, often rolled eyes when I tried to be funny – now funnier than me and can’t wait to find humor in random places; makes me giggle every single day. Still roaming I find that sweet child who struggles with every breath of their being, but has worked so hard and simply beams when they makes progress or understands a really tough concept; that face makes me want to cry with joy. Standing back I spot that child who each day seems disengaged in so many things, but always manages to amaze me with the understanding, knowledge, and connections that are shared; I silently apologize for underestimating what’s tucked away inside that sweet little head. It wasn’t until I turn around from my lengthy trip down “Proud Teacher Lane” that I discover my little kiddo who just yesterday multiplied four digits by one, holding their head, hands placed gently on their temples. My eyes drop to the paper below that precious face to see a perfectly round, wet dimple on the page. At that moment I am slapped across the face, as hard as they were, by the reality of what’s being done to our kids. I knew, that instead of rescuing that child and ripping that book to shreds, I had to walk away and for a few minutes abandon this trip of progress and pride, do what I had to do to finish those endless minutes of the gauntlet my kids were forced to run - one that will NEVER be able to truly assess the progress and abilities of my kids.
After finishing we regrouped and debriefed. I reassured the kids that I know they tried their personal best and I’m proud of how they persevered through something that was so grueling, but it was time to take back what was ours; wonder, learning, excitement, questioning, grappling, digging, and most important - pride.
Although it may not have been my best choice, before setting them off on an intense inquiry in Science I asked, “Anything else?”.....It took every ounce of strength in my being to stay strong for the next three seconds of a question I never saw coming.
The most revealing look into what these little heads were focused on and were consumed with: “Mrs. W.? Will you get fired if I didn’t do well?”
I quickly reassured, “That is NOT your worry because I only care that you did your personal best and you did. And besides, if I do, I’ll go work at Wal-Mart and we can see each other all the time!”
Learning space: reclaimed.
Joy in learning and in making each day better: regained.
Understanding that a mistake is a chance to improve ourselves: salvaged.
Feelings of being defeated: destroyed.
And we all move on knowing that every single one of us has improved and made progress this year.
Giggles abound.......and the silver lining comes busting through the dark once again.