Monday, May 26, 2014

Can You See Me Now???

      I read a compelling article yesterday, Misreading the Never-Ending Dropout "Crisis," which argues eloquently in support of this statement:

     Standardized testing is not solving our education woes;  it is creating them. 

Asserting that "Standardizing students is dehumanizing, and likely driving children into our streets," we are offered a glimpse of a better future:

" . . . the classroom will share certain features:  It will take the time to build relationships, and it will say, "You matter . . . You belong here.*

     Sometimes building those relationships is easier said than done when a teacher finds herself confronted with a student actively, angrily working to let her know he'd rather be anywhere but sitting in her classroom.

     Back when I was a young and relatively inexperienced teacher, a new student "Joey" was placed in my class halfway into the semester, and he made no effort to hide his feelings about that turn of events.

     "Uh-oh," I thought.

      Squelching my instinct to give a wide berth to our class's newest addition, I did my best to integrate Joey into the group.  While his menacing demeanor made it impossible to embrace my new student fully, I didn't try to change him either.  I just accepted him "as is," and before long the scowl relaxed and finally disappeared.  Turns out that Joey was nothing of the ruffian I feared him to be, and I was genuinely sad not six months later when I heard that his family was moving again.  Hoping to ease his upcoming transition, I gave him a little advice.

     "Joey, when you walk into your next teachers' classrooms, try not to look at them as if you hate their guts, okay?"

     "What?" he asked, genuinely surprised.

     Scrunching up my face into a semblance of his on that first day of class, I replied, "Remember how you looked at me like this for the first month you were here?"

     No, as a matter of fact, he didn't.  He insisted that hadn't been the case.  In that moment, I realized maybe his expression hadn't been showing me anything.  Maybe it had been hiding something:  his fear of being in a new school, perhaps, or resentment over being uprooted once more by an unstable family situation.  Whatever the underlying cause had been, this much was clear:  The boy I thought I'd met that first day was entirely different from the boy I came to know.

     Over time, I've come to associate that enlightening experience with this poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar:  

We Wear the Mask
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!