Friday, March 14, 2014


 I'm participating in Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers.
And it's Poetry Friday at Rogue Anthropologist.
So I'm double dipping.
And I don't think it's done, but it's the best I can do for now.

We've been doing state tests all week. As a literacy coach, I often administer makeup tests. This week I've worked with kids who are just coming back from illnesses, who have missed school for funerals, who couldn't test with their class for behavioral reasons.

Whenever I have to give these tests, I'm struck by our world's measures of proficiency. I teach kids who live in abject poverty, who fear daily that parents will be deported, who have really, really hard home situations, and yet these kids still smile and persevere and find hope and joy. And yet there success is measured by tests that often label them as partially proficient or unsatisfactory. And we as teachers, who wade daily into this fray, are told, again and again, that our efforts are less than adequate.

As I work with these kids,  and with an amazing, giving, deeply caring group of colleagues, I can't help but measure whether we, as a society, truly have any grasp of what really matters. That's where this draft comes from.


Sparkling brown-eyed 
happily assisting the secretary
counts notices with a rubber-tipped finger
we eat lunch together
and I choke on my turkey sandwich
when she tells me
she would have been here yesterday
except she threw up in the car
on the way to school 
and her mom made her go back home.
This is her first experience
with our state's test
and she is 
oh so serious
works diligently
for ninety minutes
And I wonder
she who has learned
to give her all
to serve her community
to bring joy into the world

is she not 
proficient ?

finished testing 
jabbers excitedly
over a dinosaur book
"Los dinosaurios,"
he exclaims to his friend. 
"No me gustan los  
él tiene dientes grandes  
se come a la gente.  
Me gustan los herbívoros mejor."*
And I wonder
He who finds such delight 
who has learned awe
and perhaps a little fear
is he not 

Sweet ten-year-old
nose red and chapped 
kleenex piled
in front of her on the table
she who lives on the border
of a two language world
crossing back and forth
between el idioma de su familia
and English, that confusing currency 
of life in the United States
someday that daily crossing 
will be effortless
but right now
the journey is still difficult
and  I wonder
about this brave 
little border crosser
who  perseveres so valiantly

is she not 
proficient ?

tough cookie
behavioral issues
can't test with the rest of her class
she hangs sideways and upside down
off the hard wooden chair
tells me about 
the forbidden hot cheetoes 
hidden in her locker
for an after school snack
plays eeny meeny miney moo
to select her answers
tells me that she can behave however she wants
no one can call her mother
because the phone has been disconnected

the meal that life has handed her
has come on a chipped and broken plate
and still she plays tic tac toe 
and smiles when I read her funny poems
and I wonder
she of the resilient spirit
who has had to find her own way
who has not totally given up
and laid down in the road
to let life run her over

is she 
not already

who missed yesterday's test
tells me with welling eyes
that she had to attend a funeral

since August
she has been grieving
the cancer-riddled grandmother
who used to paint her granddaughter's toenails
take her shopping
shape floury dough
into round tortillas
and I wonder 
she who knows 
how to love deeply
and lose much

is she 
not already

the seventh grader
asks me the Monday
before the test
if I have read 
her practice prompt about 
people we admire
"i really tried"
she says
"it's one of the best ones I have written"
I dig through the pile
find hers, read it aloud
as she stands silent before me
her hero is Demi Lovato
because Demi fought back
from self destructive issues
sought help
institutionalized herself 
and now speaks out to teens.
I have watched 
this seventh grader 
walk a similar lonely path
for eighteen months
she seems 
have found a temporary peace
is doing a little better

is she 
not already


elsie said...

Each child tells a heartbreaking story of survival, but yet they are judged so harshly in the academic world. Proficient in what? That should be the question.

Linda B said...

My first response is "there oughta be a law", for those who create the guidelines of the testing, and don't understand, at all, what the kids are going through. This is what they need to read, Carol. Thank you!

Tara said...

What Linda said. This brought the proverbial tears to my eyes. Such heartfelt words of truth.

Chris said...

Each child, someone's baby. They are precious cargo. I'm grateful that you and your colleagues are so caring and kind. Your words fill my heart.

Cathy said...

You captured the stories that tell so much more than a number will ever show. I'm amazed at how we try to put kids into boxes when so many deal with things much bigger in their lives. Thanks for sharing their stories.


Nanc said...

I love this...can I share this? This is amazing and yes, they all are proficient. xo

Ona said...

I love this. Yes - they are already proficient.
- ona (onathought)