The days like these are so difficult to teach through. The sun, the warmth, the testing all morning. It is very challenging. Yesterday as I left work I felt so deeply drained, so very much discouraged and feeling deeply like this is sometimes too hard.
Today we were testing ELL kids in math. The going insanity (rule) is that ELL kids can take the NY State Mathematics Test even if they have only been in the US a whole day. I once administered a math test to a kid who knew two words. No and Zebra. The notion is of course that it is math, they should be able to (somehow) complete the test. They cannot. Oh yes we provide them with glossaries, provided they actually are literate in their own language (these are refugees not the elite of their countries), we have a translator machine (which works for about half the words on the test, oh and only about 1/3 of our students actually speak the languages available on the hand held computer.
Today I administered the test. One young man was literally on the verge of tears, he kept rubbing his hand across his face and his head drooped lower and lower until it was just a few inches from his test book. He flipped through the pages again and again and finally attempted to write some nonsense on the page. I was heart sick as I watched him. Finally I could stand it no more. I walked by him and as I did I patted him on the shoulder, clap clap clap, letting my hand rest for a bit on the last, and walked away. He picked his head up and stretched and attempted to complete the test. It was torture for him.
Another kid who has a glossary, and speaks Arabic fluently, reads it too, and took English lessons in the country he was a refugee in, was making notes in his book in Arabic and had access to the translator (really it doesn’t work for many words, like place value and determination etc.) He raised his hand and said Miss I cannot answer these questions I do not understand. He has been in the country two months. I am sorry I say I cannot help you, please just do the best you can do. Later he raises his hand and says I am done. Okay I say and take the book from him. I take the protractor and ruler and the glossary from him. I start to turn away, his eyes are so sad, he is clicking his teeth softly. I turn back. He is the last kid to finish, listen I say to him, you cannot feel badly, you did the best you could right? He nods his head yes. I know you did, I say, but here is the thing, that is all you can be expected to do, you haven’t been in this country long enough for this to be so big of a thing. It is okay. All you can do is what you did. He nods looking into my eyes.
Later he gives me a paper, Dear Ms. Gregory, I love you, you are the very best teacher in the world.
Another girl in the class who is from Puerto Rico is lucky enough to be able to take the test in Spanish, she has both books side by side and can look at them both as she takes the test. She is concerned at the beginning, can I write some words in English or do they all have to be in Spanish. The other proctor tells her, oh just answer the question the best you can, do not be worried. No estas preoccupada I say, she laughs at my lousy Spanish all the time. I tell her I know I speak it badly but when I say this in Spanish I can see her tension melting a bit.
Later she too gives me a paper, Ms. Gregory is the best teacher in the entire world.
In the afterschool program I am on the lawn with some kids who are red faced and sweaty from sack races. We sit on the grass and I teach them how to make whistles from the long fat blades. Even I am having a hard time with them today though. The kids give up and start running around picking dandelions. The boys come to me and are saying Mama had a baby and its head popped off and flicking the dandelion heads at me. After a while I am surrounded by dandelion heads. I start picking them up and throwing them at the boys. It starts an all out dandelion head war. Finally I jump up and shout that’s it you are in trouble now and I start chasing them all over the field. Once I finally catch one and mock toss him to the ground pretending to step on him, the others come close and let me catch them. They follow me as I am tossing one to the ground and grab me and throw dandelions at me.
When we finally march inside the other children see me and half a dozen run up to me and throw their arms around me as they cry out Ms. Gregory, Ms. Gregory.
Today as I left work I felt so deeply energized, so very much encouraged and feeling deeply like this is sometimes too easy.