I'll start with Monday, the day before testing. There was an electric frenzy in the building - last minute trainings (teachers who give the tests are called administrators - that's ironic, isn't it? - and teachers who monitor the classrooms are called proctors; all of these folks have to attend a formal training.) So everyone's getting their testing lists, and while most teachers test their own homerooms, teachers without homerooms test students who are pulled for modifications. That would be me. So the school was abuzz with questions and names and procedures never ending.
Meanwhile, a new teacher on my hall had been walking around for two weeks with a diamond ring in his pocket. He had bounced proposal ideas off of all of us, and we were just as excited as he was. So on this day, he told us that "tonight's the night." He was ready to pop the question. All of a sudden there was a different buzz in the team room, a nice departure from our pre-testing chaos. Just as the day ended he said to me, "I'm so nervous. My stomach is fluttering. I feel sick."
"Matt," I said. "You know she's going to say 'yes.' What are you worried about?"
"What?" He looked puzzled. "Oh, not that! I'm nervous about the test tomorrow." Then..."Ohmigosh, I forgot my engagement!!!"
My brain is a screaming alliteration - "The toll that testing takes on teachers..."
Now to Tuesday, the first day of testing. I was assigned to read aloud math (as I've said before, this is an oxymoron.) I was extremely stressed about this duty as I am the most language artsy teacher anyone has ever seen. I'm just not quite as comfortable crossing over into other disciplines. Ask me to teach science, and we'll do science vocabulary words and write science fiction stories. So "reading math" did not make me happy. But I worked hard to get it done so I could find Matt and ask him about the previous night. Finally, I ran into him in the hallway. "So, how did it go?" I asked.
"Okay, I guess," he said.
"Okay?!!" I screamed. "Didn't she cry and get all excited?"
He replied, "Oh, man. I was talking about the test again."
As it turns out, he had postponed the question until he could get his stomach to settle.
On to Wednesday. On this day, I administered the reading test. This one I didn't have to read aloud; I merely had to walk in a perfect monitoring circle for three hours, four if they needed it. As the students arrived, I noticed one who looked like she was crying. Keep in mind that I didn't know these students very well. They were other people's students, and I was the "modifications administrator." So I walked over to her and asked her if she was okay. She nodded that she was. I said, "Are you just tired?" She nodded again. I continued to administer, and things were going well; I was walking a nicely worn path into the tile of my classroom. Then the same "tired" student raised her hand during the test and asked for a tissue. I looked toward her and saw...what...what was that? I saw a firetruck-red, baseball-size swollen, something-was-wrong eyeball.
What in the world? I thought. Did someone slug her in the eye when I was monitoring on the other side of the room? I walked over quietly, handed her a tissue, and bent over to get a closer look.
"I took it out," she said and nodded toward the top of her desk.
I looked in the direction of her nod and saw something metal...a screw? a nail? a tack? It took several seconds to figure it out. It was an eyebrow ring, well, not a ring, but a stud. This student had pulled the thing out of her eyebrow and left a flaming red, oozing, wound. She continued to test while I tried to decide if the constant crying and dabbing were interfering with her testing (or anyone else's.)
I sent my proctor (the students called her the "prompter") to get someone of high authority. She returned with the Assistant Principal who returned later with the nurse. By this time Miss I-pierced-my-own-eyebrow-and-probably-have-a-staph-infection had finished her test. She left the room without further incident. I stayed in the room with the image of flaming ooze stuck in my head.
On Thursday, Matt came to school with news of his engagement. What a wonderful day! Nothing could possibly go wrong as I administered the science test. I gathered all the students into my room and placed my "Testing" sign on the door. As I turned to close it, a boy I had tested earlier in the week tried to get in. I told him that I wasn't testing him on this day, but he commenced to yelling at his friends in my room over my shoulder. I touched him on the arm. "You need to leave," I said quietly.
"Owwww!" he yelled.
"What?" I asked. "I barely touched you."
To my horror, he lifted up his shirt to reveal a newly pierced nipple. Coincidentally, his friend was walking by my door, and he, too, lifted up his shirt to show me his newest body piercing. Two exhibitionist eighth graders - now I'm really ready to test. This time I was to read aloud again. I passed out the materials, snuggled into my reading chair and read the first question. Immediately, I heard screaming eighth graders. I didn't know what they were screaming; I just knew something was wrong. I looked for anything unusual - a bee in the room or aliens landing on the football field, but finally I was able to tune into their voices, and I realized they all were screaming, "That's the wrong question!!!"
It was soon obvious that my read aloud book was different from their test books. I called the authorities (who'd had quite enough with my room) and asked for backup - or the right test. We sat for fifteen minutes doing absolutely nothing while every other student in the school tested. There was a deafening silence in the building. At the fifteen minute mark, I called again. "Do you understand," I said to the poor receptionist in the front office, "that we are NOT testing?" We waited fifteen more minutes. Finally, after thirty painful minutes, the Assistant Principal and the testing coordinator showed up at my door.
"They're bringing you another test from the Central Office," they said together. The Central Office? I thought. That's clear in another TOWN!!!"
So we waited some more, and by the time we received the test, and I read it aloud, it was WELL past lunch time. Now...me and eating (okay, I know it's "eating and I" but as an English teacher I tell my students that I periodically use nonstandard English usage for emphasis)...so...me and eating go WAY back! I was starving. I ran into the team room, grabbed my lunch, and basically swallowed it whole like my dog Jasmine does when you throw her a treat. Finally fed, I ran into the hall to meet my next class. The Assistant Principal approached me, and at this point, I can't even believe she's still speaking to me, but she quietly said, "What's that on your shirt?" I looked down and saw a blob of brown just above my second button. Defying gravity, it was just sitting there, all blob-ish, looking like it had no intention of falling to the ground. An inch in diameter, it looked like, well, think of any brown blob you've ever seen...
"Ummm," I said to her. "That's pudding. I guess I didn't eat it all." Then to distract her I said, "I really thought this day would turn out better. Have you heard about Matt's engagement?"
I washed my shirt quickly in the Ladies Room, then bumped into the other Assistant Principal while I was rubbing my now brown spread-out-blob on my chest. He and I engaged in a stimulating conversation about pudding, when all of a sudden a piercing alarm rang out throughout the building. I saw the look of concern on the AP's face. I heard the principal come across the walkie talkie frantically repeating, "Everyone stay in the building." I translated this statement to "We are executing a lockdown!"
I sprinted like a track star down the hall to the nearest classroom, Matt's, and slammed his door. "We can't leave the building!" I yelled. I then ran over and began jerking the blinds closed. Matt looked confused as a hysterical teacher ran about his room, properly performing lockdown procedure. Before he could speak, the receptionist came over the intercom. "Mr. Johnson has asked that no one leave the building."
Matt started laughing. "He means that we don't have to evacuate. It's just an alarm problem."
"Huh?" I dropped my hands from the blinds. "Oh," I said, lowering my face in shame. "I knew that."
Now here's my proposal: how about we stop allowing standardized testing to make us so stupid? It's just a thought....