A beautiful moment happened in my class today. My students are required to grade each other’s memorized poems. I called Juan (name changed) to the front of the room, his eyes closed, and he exhaled. The students, as is the custom, clapped to support his walk to the front of the room and recite his poem, “Nothing Gold can Stay” by Robert Frost. He stood in front of the room, looked to me for the green light to begin, and faced a full class of his peers. He put his hands behind his back, introduced himself, and recited the poem. He stumbled, forgot words, shook, but finished the poem.
Another student recited half the lines and sat. The third, rushed through and sat down. The fourth, spoke softly, paused often, but recited “The World is too Much with Us” by William Wordsworth, word for word.
Where is the beauty in four students reciting poems with so much difficulty and with so little skill? Someone looking to only give the recitations a score would have missed it. The students’ parents would not. Their friends would not. Their teachers would not.
To me, these were not four 17-18 year old Latino and african-American data points from a high tax, low wealth district who receive free lunch. They were not to their peers either.
At the end of the period, I asked the class, “How many kids failed today?” Open mouthed silence, and uneasy stares came back at me. “Who had a tough time giving a failing grade to those who went today?” One hand raised, followed by another, until the whole class was raised. “Why?”
As it always is with education, the best lessons come when the students know why. Their answers were honest; “Because I know how scary it is to speak in front of the class.” Their answers were personal; “Juan has been practicing that poem every day in lunch since last week. He didn’t deserve to fail.” Their answers were wise; “Would you fail them?”
There is no humanity in testing, but there is in teaching. There is no compassion in testing, but there is in teaching. There is no conscience in testing, but there is in teaching. Teaching builds relationships, cherishes them, and values them over skills assessments and data collection. There are opportunities for beautiful things to happen in teaching. The same can not be said for testing.
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