"Nothing," I mutter. "Finish your test." I can't tell him the truth.
What am I thinking about?
I'm thinking about the fact that I've worked with these children for the last three years. That's three years of them interrupting my thoughts, keeping me up at night as they've found way into my consciousness while I watch TV, drive to work, or am play with my own children. Three years of carefully selecting reading books for them, studying their decoding skills, listening to them re-tell stories, and constantly contemplating how to move them to the next level. Push on, push on, push on.
I'm thinking that it's over now. End of year assessments are wrapping up and my chances to bring them up to grade level or help them pass their state testing are almost gone. We'll send them to middle school next year, trusting another set of educators to pick up where we've left off, loving them them and fighting for them like we have.
I'm thinking about how lost I feel. How deflated. How I wish I'd done more. Put more time into those guided reading lessons, chosen better books, or done more to increase their vocabulary. Written better IEP goals. Advocated more. Pushed harder. Been a better teacher.
I'm thinking that even though my school is set up so that no teacher should ever feel completely responsible for one student I still feel crushed. The grade level and all the teachers that support that grade level own the test scores. We come together every 6-8 weeks to analyze student progress and refigure groups to meet student needs. These students are not just my responsibility, yet not only do I feel responsible for them, I also feel as though I've let the team down. I'm not sure that any student I worked with this year will pass the state testing. Forget about the fact that I worked with them because they were already below grade level.
I'm thinking about merit pay and school sanctions and how ridiculous all of those carrot/sticks are in education. No additional incentive would have made me work harder for these children. I only wanted to give them the gift of reading on grade level so they could go of to middle school confident in their abilities. No sanction or poor performance review would have made me feel worse than I already do about the students' results. In fact, if I was given a poor review perhaps I could be angry at the system instead of at myself.
I am thinking that I am not the only educator that feels this way. We got into this field to teach. You don't need to reward or threaten us to teach our students. We want them to succeed. Other teachers across the country are feeling the same way I am. What more could we have done?
I am thinking that I'll need a few days before I can focus on the successes we had, the small improvements, the increase in reading ability even if it will not be represented in the end of year scores. The fact that one of my students begs me for extra books and reads them practically overnight. Or that they want to stop while reading a book to analyze the characters and discuss the plot. Give me time and I'll appreciate those small victories.
I am thinking about next year and praying that these students will be OK. That the skills we worked on will carry with them to middle school and they will continue to grow in their abilities until they are working on grade level (or even above?) That their learning disabilities will not get in their way of doing whatever they want to accomplish in life.
I am thinking about the love I have for teaching and the frustrations I feel on a daily basis. I am wondering how to balance the two, and whether or not that balance is even possible. I am thinking about my role in these children's education, and the education field as a whole.
I am thinking it is June, and hot, and that perhaps things will look better on the other side of summer vacation.