Messy Empathy And Pathos

Hating me don’t make you pretty

is what a 4th grade girl chose to write in colorful marker, sitting quietly after finishing her writing test, decorating her paper with flowers and hearts. Her friend at the next table aced the spelling of a certain celebrity whose name sounds like Justin Creeper. More flowers and hearts.

Other kids let off steam by drawing:
a helicopter
their teacher
a werewolf
a vase of flowers
self portraits
a red and blue striped house
some abstractions that remind me of matisse
a team of ninjas
(that got so catastrophic that he had to glue on another paper, and add another team of ninjas)

I have been proctoring a certain state-wide standardized test this week, in 4th and 5th grade classrooms. I am taking a graduate course in assessment, so the logistics are less of a mystery to me. This doesn’t change the fact that watching kids sit silently all morning and swing their bored feet and tap their anxious pencils makes me want to run around in circles yelling and throwing things, just for a change of scenery.

So much depends

a venn diagram

at the top of a 4th grade comparison
of sharks
and snakes

Fins. Water.
Squiggly. Scales.
Have teeth. Are scary.

I am happiest when kids are happiest – drawing, or singing, or making me a volcano out of crumpled paper and marker, or drawing pictures of Frida Kahlo with fangs.

Then when the hour of reckoning comes they put the crayons and drawings under their chair, and I can feel the anxiety needling out of them. They shrink under the weight of test booklets, meticulous directions, and their birthdates bubbled into boxes. They swing their feet and get math-related headaches. I feel impossibly loud with my clicky heels, walking around feeling the white space on paper burning empty, so I keep my steps soft and sit awkwardly on small plastic chairs, watching the clock.



3 Responses to Messy Empathy And Pathos

  1. Wendy Kennedy says:

    Sara- I want you to submit this to some teacher publication. And send it to a few legislators who think these tests will save our educational system!

  2. chelsea says:

    i met an urban-charter-school-english-teacher-former-juvenile-prison-teacher and i want you to meet her, too.

  3. Pingback: A Pause, and a Teacher Update | Me importa. Me importas. Me importan.

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