In my profession, May roars, leaving me windblown and mud spattered in the wake of the urgency to squeeze in every last bit of learning, every memorable project, and all the performances, displays, meetings, and endless, but somehow necessary, paperwork before school ends in mid June.
And May is rich. Students have blossomed into their most curious, creative, innovative, and independents selves. They seem to peak as the rains ease and the skies warm, classroom routines providing the inner rhythm, the back beat, that allows imaginations and a year’s worth of learning to come together in perfect synergy. The classroom is busy in May, with students leading the charge…both eager for school to end and reticent leave the comfortable place the classroom has become.
But there is a week in May where time crawls to a snails’ pace. State testing, mandated in public schools, demands that my students spend hours demonstrating their learning. During those times I hear each click of the clock reverberate against my eardrums. The room is unnaturally quiet as students work through question after question designed to test their mastery of third grade. The work is not too hard for my students, but it is too long…and requires them to operate very differently from our typical classroom routine.
It seems almost from birth, our students were encouraged to collaborate. They’ve learned to work in groups, sort out misunderstandings through discussion and conversations, negotiate roles and responsibilities, turn to each other for support and critical feedback…until it’s time for the test. Then they are asked to be quiet, to read and understand complex questions independently, write and revise without feedback, and sit for long stretches of time.
The minutes drag as I roam the room. I check to make sure these first time test takers are progressing through their tests rather than spending inordinate amounts of time on any one question. I search their faces, ready to intervene when signs suggest they are ready to crumble. I remind them to use their tools, to take a breath, to stretch, and to check their work. That clock slows to a snail’s pace, each click requiring the coil of the snail’s body to snap forward, oozing its slimy self toward its destination.
After the second day of testing I can feel the mood shift. Novelty got us through day one and two, but day three feels heavy. The hands of the clock are now mired in sludge. Students need more encouragement to keep moving forward. I need to summon some super powers to settle the boiling tummy, churning with uncertainty. A walk and a talk helps, we are able to settle in again.
I’m proud of my students. They did it. All persisted, all persevered, all finished the tests in front of them. And honestly, that is accomplishment enough at this stage of the game. Now we can get back to the real learning–the noisy, messy, complex, interactive projects that bring joy to the classroom. I’ll be the one who is windblown and mud spattered and reveling in the mess.