As a new teacher, I looked forward to test days. I remember being in dive bar in Philly during institute with a veteran teacher whose sole piece of advice was “give a test when you have a hang-over.” Test days have a reputation for being a bit of a break for the teacher. Instead of do-now, stand sentry, I do, CFU, we do, monitor, redirect, CFU, you do, praise, exit slip. It’s here’s your test and your pencil. Go to!
The world of SPED test days is a totally different matter. I actually suspect that I worked harder during midterms than during a normal teaching day. Ah, but you say, you only have seven charges on a good day. Yes, I respond, but they certainly are needy charges. I don’t mean needy because of their IEPs or BIPs or 504s or accommodations, modifications, colonizations, destinations, specializations or whatever else. Needy because they are taking huge standardized assessments designed for a college-prep curriculum, and they just don’t think they can do it. I have discovered that “you have all the time you need for this test” does little to assuage fears. “All the time you need” actually sounds like a punishment if you’re not sure how to start solving a word problem. I have become this relentless, dorky cheerleader. Keep going. Keep earning those grit merits. See how far you’ve gotten already? Keep it up. Pompoms might have been useful.
I spent a solid five hours – mostly kneeling in front of students’ desks – reading prompts, clarifying questions, giving gentle hints while trying to hold high expectations for academic performance and behavior. And I love math and teaching math but even I get tired of systems of equations and graphing inequalitites after 3 hours. My kids were every bit as tired of me as I was on algebra. Today was the day when the “don’t you like us?” and “why did Ms. ___________ (previous teacher) have to leave?” and “I don’t like you anymore” came out. (And one particularly loopy: “No offense but fat people get made fun of.”) All because I insist on them continuing to work on their tests and refuse to issue hall passes for every sneeze.
It was the opposite of a break, hence the title. Somewhere around 1pm I realized I hadn’t eaten or taken a bathroom break since 5:30am and 7:15am, respectively. Sometimes teaching involves ignoring whole organ systems, most often the digestive and excretory. (And for some of us the reproductive as well but that is a post for another time altogether.)
Although J appeared to be swearing at his editing & revising test and B literally beat her algebra test with her pencil, they finished. I sighed with relief. And left for the bathroom.