"Well, you can try again in the summer, in the fall, and next spring, as many times as you need to..." When I walk back into the small room where our intrepid testers are taking a lunch break, they've been asking my colleague what will happen if they fail the tests. Their faces are tired and their bodies are tense. They will spend all day like this for a week... they don't need to spend lunch this way too!
"Aw, but come on, you've been thinking about those tests all day!" From somewhere in the depths of my own fatigue, I muster more enthusiasm than I feel. "This is your chance to relax for a half hour! Get your mind away from those tests! Let's talk about something fun!"
Exhausted half-smiles. Testing all day for days in a row
is bad enough. Knowing that these tests, which don't even come close to showing all the progress you've made as you learn English and content at the same time, determine if you'll get to wear a cap and gown like everyone else is a burdensome weight. Being sequestered with your teachers for lunch, unable to speak your language or see your non-testing friends, with the rest of the test still looming over your head, is probably close to most students' definition of pure torture.
"So, what's the best food in the cafeteria?" My worn-out brain is not adept at coming up with encouraging conversation topics, but my sweet students slowly start to talk about their lunches. "Salads! They are healthy and good!" S. declares, and a few other students nod.
"Ooh, good for you!" I grin. "When I was your age, I would have never chosen a salad! I always wanted pop, nachos, candy..." Giggles turn into laughs and eyes begin to sparkle with glints of life again. Suddenly, the little room inside the guidance office is bubbling with conversation.
"How's the baby doing?"
"So how did you decide to be a teacher?"
"What's Idaho like?"
"I was BORN in 1998!"
"I came to Ohio because we had family here."
Finally, my students look like my students again, instead of vacant, downtrodden zombies. Sharing our stories has brought them back to life, and it's done the same for me... until I look over and see D. with his face buried in his hands. "D, are you ok?"
He sighs and lifts his head. "Yeah..." But his face is red and his eyelids are drooping.
"Come on, get up and wiggle around while you can! We have to be awake to go beat that test!" I start to stretch and squirm in silly ways.
A few giggles.
"Tomorrow we should have a lunchtime dance party to get your energy back!" More giggles.
"Yeah, we can do the Chicken Dance!"
"Those guidance counselors and secretaries will look in here and wonder what's happening!" By the time we head out the door to confront the tests again, the whole roomful of students, teachers, and aides is laughing. Together.
When impersonal, challenging mandates drain us, connections bring us back to life.