No Behind Left on Child

Beth - Amherst, New Hampshire
Entered on July 22, 2008

No Behind Left on Child

It is six a.m. I have already left my first child behind. My own daughter goes to daycare for more than forty hours a week enabling me to spend my time with other people’s children. But I teach adolescents, not toddlers, and for that I am eternally grateful. Even though the kids test me in ways I never imagined in graduate school, I keep coming back, September after September. Like Sisyphus, I shoulder the boulder for an academic year, watch it tumble over the summer, and begin again with the trials and triumphs the next year. New kids, new tests.

They do test me, these kids. And today, to show I am highly qualified, I test them. Today, and tomorrow and the next day I will be testing instead of teaching. My scheduled classes have been set aside for required NECAP testing. Instead of teaching – as is my custom – first Poem of the Day, then some vocabulary exercises, followed by a discussion of homework, some notes on literary analysis that lead, inevitably, for me, into a tangential story about, who knows? Led Zeppelin? a Green Mamba? I never get to my “anticipatory set” of questions to pique students’ interest in the next chapter of Silas Marner – instead of teaching students, today, I am testing them.

As a result of the current federal attempt to ensure that I deliver a quality educational product, my students will spend close to three hours for three consecutive days on round, plastic cafeteria seats that might also be described as instruments of torture. A more apt name for the law, as we are implementing it here, would be “no behind left on child.” But I need to check that thought and dutifully distribute the sharpened number two pencils.

I hurry authoritatively around the two tables I am “proctoring.” The word makes me think I should be poking them in unspeakable places with said pencils. After a droning litany of instructions, the real ennui begins. The earnest students begin well enough. They darken the bubbles, scribble open response answers, turn pages until they read “STOP! DO NOT TURN TO THE NEXT PAGE.” I am so bored I can feel my skin wrinkling. I imagine myself aging in dog years. Eventually, some savior breaks the tip of his pencil. Another kid pleads apologetically to use the bathroom. I have to ask for guidance on how to facilitate this from an administrator. We do not want to compromise the protocol.

I have to admit a cheap thrill, about two hours and twenty minutes into the ordeal, when a coordinated chorus of early-completers begins a subversive protest. Some of the sophomoric (imagine that!) sophomores have begun whistling to each other across the cafeteria. When the proctors’ heads snap in unison in the direction of the offending sound, every head is bowed reverently reviewing answers. But someone whistles, then, from the other side of the cavernous room. While I should be frowning, enforcing, goose-stepping to identify the culprits, inside I am thrilled. It is all I can do not to join them. They remind me how important protest is. I believe these students have taught me an important lesson today.