Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In the arena

12 of 31 at Two Writing Teachers!
What can turn an eloquent writer who lives a writerly life into a hesitant, jittery mess? The threat of all her dreams for the future being snatched away because of one test on one day...

At 10:30 today, when the "regular" testing window ended, nearly all of my beleaguered ELLs were still writing away with furrowed brows and clenched jaws. More than half were still working at 11:15, earning themselves a hard-working ELL rite of passage: the solitary graduation testing lunch break. As we walked downstairs, they stretched their tense muscles and shook the exhaustion from their dull eyes.

"I'd like to see the people who made these tests spend this many hours writing that many passages in a row... in their second language!" I joked, and they slowly tried on smiles as if attempting to remember what it felt like to be people instead of writing robots.

Once settled into our little room in the guidance office, shut off from the rest of the school to maintain test security, they gradually came to life. As we chatted (in English only, avoiding the one topic that was looming over all of our heads like a low-hanging fog), their backs relaxed and they leaned back in their seats. A few giggles even rippled through the room as they regained a little bit of energy.

All too soon, it was time to head back into the dense clouds of testing territory. "Oh boy! Let's finish the test! Aren't you excited?" Grinning, I hopped up with extra sparkles in my eyes, trying to keep their energy from being eaten by the malicious testing fog. "Yay, you can do it! You're almost there!" I clapped and skipped as they took their seats with wan smiles and just a few eye rolls.

Nearly three more hours of scribbling and scratching, flipping through dictionaries, rolling achy necks and loosening weary wrists. I just wanted to hug each one of them, right there in the middle of the test. (Don't worry, I didn't!)

One by one, they exhaled deeply and stacked their test booklets. While writing a pass back to class, I looked each student in the eye and whispered "I'm so proud of you! You worked so hard!" as relief and confidence crept back into their faces.

Finally, four warriors remained as the last minutes of the school day ticked away. "Great job! I'm so proud of how hard you worked! You are awesome!" Glimmers of light returned to their eyes as I high-fived each of these champions. No matter what the scores say in a few months, I couldn't be more proud. After all, as Theodore Roosevelt so wisely declared: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood..."

Three arduous days down, two to go. They are striving valiantly, and they deserve to be honored for that.
A sweet surprise awaits my sweet students tomorrow to get them through Day 4 of 5!


  1. I love how you honor your students, and help them to feel important, even in the midst of testing week. Your commitment to them, and your enthusiasm for teaching them is very evident! They are lucky to have you in their corner! Hope the rest of testing week goes well!

  2. Jenn, this brought tears to my eyes. I can't even begin to tell you how much I respect what you do and how proud I am of your students. I can't imagine how hard it is to test in your second language. Please tell them how inspirational they are.

  3. Jennifer, that is a fabulous quote that fits what you just shared so well. So many hours, really? What a challenge, what grit they have, & you the cheerleader at every step. Good for them, and good for you!

  4. ELL students are some of the hardest working students on the planet. I wish lawmakers and or test creators and or school boards or administrators could see the effort and care that your students put into writing for that test all day! Wow! That takes perserverance and dilligence and drive. Good for them!

  5. Thanks everybody! I showed your encouraging words to my students yesterday and they were so proud! Your comments (and the doughnuts) were small bright spots in their long week!


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