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Don’t Down Yourself

Yesterday was the final exam day…the final day of school.

It was also, coincidentally, the day FCAT scores were released to my school.

I could not get to my classroom fast enough to look at my students’ results, and I sucked in my breath as I came across each name on the list.

This, by far, was the most nervous I’d been all year.

Although our hope, as teachers, is that every child will pass, the reality is that many do not.

While we look for students to hit the “magic” number, we also check to see if students made learning gains.  It’s validation that your hard work had an tangible impact.

When students came into class, they presented the projects they had created.  This was how I administered the final exam for my classes.

After that, things got real…very real.

I began pulling students out of my room to give them their results privately.

I don’t think you’ll ever know, unless you are a teacher, what an emotional roller coaster I was on all day long as the process was repeated almost fifty times (I didn’t see one of my classes).

Each student walked out, scared of what he/she was about to hear.

I searched for the right words to deliver the news…good or bad.

The good was easy and was often met with looks of relief and even tears of joy.  I got a few hugs too.

One young lady’s response will forever be a highlight of my career.

She was freaked out about her results and was nearly sick waiting for me to share.

When I told her she passed, she busted out in tears and wrapped both arms around me…hugging me more ferociously than I’ve ever been hugged.

I told her, “You’re hugging me.”  Although she wasn’t looking at my face, I know she heard the smile in the comment.

You must understand something.  This sweet girl has always been very particular about personal space.  During our two years together, I was not allowed to pat her on the back, fist pump her, or give her a high five.  She wouldn’t even pinkie-five me.

I always respected her wishes, despite how impulsive I can be (remember when I hugged Dameyune Craig?).

As she cried, she told me, “Mrs. AuburnChick, now I’m going to visit you next year.”

I laughed and said, “You mean you weren’t if you didn’t pass?”

She said, “No, I was going to anyway, but now I’m really going to.”

Then there was the opposite experience.

The bad news was…well…just bad.

I looked for ways to soften the blow that was to come.  There’s no easy way to tell a child that he/she had fallen short of the state-mandated number.

There was such disappointment.

There were many, many tears.

Do you know how hard it is to watch fifteen and sixteen year old boys sobbing?

Sigh.

There was confusion.

There was frustration.

They just could not understand how, after a whole year’s worth of work and passing my very difficult classroom tests, they had not passed.

Most of these students made significant learning gains…anywhere from one to five years of learning gains…but they didn’t care one iota about that.

All they knew was that they felt like failures.

A few lashed out angrily, venting to one another.

Many consoled one another.

I let them have their moment and walked around whispering words of encouragement.

Once the dust had settled, we had more real talk.

I gave students their options and let them know what next year would encompass.  As upcoming eleventh graders, they will be able to take the FCAT retakes twice next year and the year after that.  They can also take the ACT.  A concordance score of 19 on the reading section will meet the state requirement for graduation.  The ACT is easier and given on paper, which will help many of my students.

I gave students practical things they could do to prepare…using sites such as Quizlet.com to study SAT words (notoriously difficult).

I showed them online ACT practice passages and questions and encouraged them to work through them fifteen minutes a day.

I did everything I could to make them feel as though they weren’t failures…that they made so much progress with me…that they had become book lovers, debaters, and writers…all things that will help them pass in the very near future.

My heart hurt so much for them, and I think they knew it.

They were quick to take ownership of their test results and repeatedly told me that it wasn’t my fault (I accept some of the responsibility though).

I could hear some of them making plans this summer to read more.

Once the shock wore off and the final bell for each class rang, they were able to hug me goodbye, many with tears in their eyes.

I went home exhausted and overwhelmed, my emotions like waves crashing on top of one another.

As a teacher, I wonder what i could have done differently…which skills I should have taught in new ways.  I’ll be crunching numbers over the next few days and looking for patterns to help me identify areas where more study is needed into better teaching practices.

While my students’ scores were actually very good, they need to be BETTER.

Feeling discouraged, I sat on the couch and zoned out last night.

And then I received the most amazing gift I’ve ever gotten from a student.

It was an email, sent from her school account to mine.

I clipped the main section of it for you to read…

Click to embiggen

God spoke to my heart through this young lady’s words.

He soothed my hurting soul.

This sweet child had become like a daughter to me after months of battling…me trying to get her to read…her not liking books.

I was touched by her concern for ME and how she felt as though SHE had let ME down.\

The part that made me cry the most, though, was about state officials not knowing my heart.

I think that I can come across as annoying because I am so excitable.

If I love something, I’m excited about it, be it knitting, eating healthy, or teaching.

My students often found me “too much.”  In fact, a student in a different class was fond of saying, “Mrs. AuburnChick, you’re too much.”

In the end, though, I think the kids recognized that I was a little crazy about reading and teaching because I genuinely cared for my students as individuals fully capable of mastering the skills needed to be successful in life.

My student used the words I had spoken to encourage me…

“Don’t let the test define you…don’t down yourself.”

It is a lesson I plan to take to heart…a lesson delivered by the one who had first received it.

My fourth year of teaching is over, and I am better because of students like my young lady above…like the ones I’ve often referred to over the last nine months.

I am humbled.

I am blessed beyond measure.

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