Celebrating The Small Things -- Standardized Testing Edition

One of the things I love to do is make people smile. It's just in my nature. I was never the class clown, and I don't want everyone's attention at the same time, but I can't stand to see people who are not happy.

Notice that I didn't say unhappy, I said not happy? My husband tells me all the time that they are two totally different things, and I'm beginning to learn that. Maybe that means I'm finally becoming an adult, although if being an adult means not being happy all the time, I think I'll pass and stay young forever. And yes, I am that strange person that smiles all the time, no matter what. At least, until this year.

My students learn this about me early on every year. I want to see and hear them smile, so I encourage them. Yes, we have classroom rules, and we are a mostly well-behaved, semi-calm class, but we take our encouragement and excitement very seriously. Now, I know what you are thinking. I'm not the kind of teacher that hands out participation ribbons for everything, or congratulates students for sub-par work. Instead, we celebrate effort in my class, and especially that "ah-ha!" moment that kids have when they suddenly understand a concept. We practice this to the point that sometimes, I don't even have to say anything. I'll walk by and hear my students encouraging each other as they work in small groups, which we do almost daily. 

This year has been really hard for me, though. Without going into detail, there have been health, family, and financial concerns, and then of course the ever-present state and school district changes and pressures. By the time we got to state standardized testing, I was tired, and I was very, very not happy. I was seriously wondering if teaching was worth my time and effort right now, not because I didn't know that the kids are worth it, but because life was just trying to steal my joy away. Basically, I was burned out, like every teacher hits at some point.

Needless to say, the celebrations and encouragement continued, but I know for a fact there was a lot less true encouragement and excitement. The same words were coming out of my mouth, but they didn't mean as much. And then testing day for my kids came.

My students had just finished taking their 2+ hour Reading, Writing, Language test. One of my academically strong girls walked out of the room and straight up to me, looking very unsure of herself. I smiled a very fake smile and asked how the test had gone. I was dreading the answer, but I knew I couldn't get away with not asking her.

"I... think I did okay." "It was better than last year," she hurried to add, and I smiled a little remembering how absolutely terrible the test last year was for everyone.

"The reading was easy, and the language was ok." [That leaves writing, the thing we've been pushing the most this year, I'm thinking as she talks, and I'm seriously considering resigning on the spot if my strongest academic students just bombed the writing class, because there will be no hope for the rest of my class.]

"But the writing said to write an essay, and I got nervous and I couldn't remember how long an essay is supposed to be." [Deep breath, here it comes, try to keep smiling...]

"So I made it 5 paragraphs, because I knew I needed an introduction, and some details, and a conclusion. Was that okay?"

I cannot even begin to describe the smile that girl got. 5 paragraphs was what we had been practicing all year, what we had drilled in for 8 months. It was everything we had worked towards, and she had gotten it. Instinctively.

We shared a high-five and some excitement right there in the hallway, because for a 5th grader, making the "right" decision on a big test is huge, enormous, life-changing. I walked away with the energy to celebrate with all of my students, even the ones I know won't have met state proficiency levels this year. Life is awesome, and as long as they gave it their best, I know they made more improvement than even they realize. I spent some time celebrating my own success that day - not that my kiddo will score well on the test, but that she had grabbed on to the reason why we do 5 paragraphs, and she had internalized it. 

We both needed some encouragement that day, and we both got it by celebrating something that most people will think is little and silly. And that's okay. I will continue to celebrate the small things with my students, and the year I can no longer celebrate at all with my students (not just a temporary lapse like this year) is the year that I will know that it is time for me to walk away and change what I am doing. For now, I am going to go jump up and down with my students who have improved their DIBELS oral reading scores when we reassess next week.


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