Drink Your Juice and Use the Bathroom
“Okay, everyone, you’ve all had your apple juice and graham crackers...” I voice over my students morning hustle and bustle, “...And you’ve all been out to the bathroom. I sure hope you tried because it’s very complicated when you have to use the bathroom during PSSA’s!”
“Did I really just say that?” I ask myself. I voice over again, changing my initial anxiety-filled directive to a calmer reminder.
“About the bathroom. If you need to use the bathroom, just raise your hand and I’ll call someone to come down. No worries, kids. Really truly. No worries.”
Along with the internal struggle of keeping all the standardized testing rules straight and following them with integrity, a churning in my stomach becomes noticeable. It’s a familiar feeling. It’s the conviction that the twenty-six young humans are anything but standard and there has to be a better way than this. I quell the turmoil with comforting thoughts of this past year’s beautiful and rigorous reading and writing workshops - the time in our day when we looked forward to coming together to learn how to read and write with great purpose and joy using mentor texts as our guide, explicit teaching for skills and strategies, collaboration with others to practice our new thinking, and many wonderful hours of independent reading and writing. I recall class meetings at the carpet and the delightful community of readers and writers who waited eagerly to find out what would happen in the story we were reading. I remember the celebrations we participated in together for the children who came to believe in themselves as true, authentic readers and writers.
“Do you have your two sharpened number 2 pencils?” The children, weary from full mornings of testing, nod their heads in unison and some give me an additional thumbs up.
I hand out their “survival kits” equipped with two mints, a piece of sugarless gum, a block eraser, and a few tissues. Yup. You guessed it. A Pinterest idea. One more way to generate enthusiasm for the two plus hours of testing ahead. They think the survival kits are wonderful. Oh to be ten again!
I pass out their booklets and all the other testing paraphernalia and I read the the code of conduct and directions with great expression hoping my enthusiasm will unglaze the tired stare I see in so many eyes.
Today is testing day number five for my fourth graders. Not only have they become weary of the testing process and all the restrictions that come with it, but I’m beginning to see the more peculiar behaviors emerge that I hadn’t seen on day one.
I notice a boy bobbing his head back and forth and appears to be counting the number of blinks he makes with his eyes, followed by an expression that signals a noiseless blastoff. A girl is twisting her bangs tightly and moving her eyes upward to check them out. Now she’s separating her hair into four parts and braiding each part. Someone else is humming. I’m not sure who it is. It has been like white noise. Another boy is playing a silent repetition on his air drum and piano. Then, there’s the boy who has rolled a tissue into a snake and then a “u” and now placed one end into each nostril. While it’s a creative solution to a runny nose, I know I can’t allow him to sit there like this.
“Um… Boys and Girls…” I address the entire group as required by state guidelines. “Just a friendly reminder to take a deep breath and refocus.” The distracted children awake from a daze and return to the task at hand.
An hour and a half has passed, and I need to use the restroom even though I went twice before testing began. I quickly find the email for the When Teachers Need to Use the Restroom protocol, grateful for an organized and caring principal who created a plan and sent it to us weeks ago. I quickly email the person on the list.
Five minutes later she walks in my room and asks, “Am I really allowed to do this?” Realizing she has never had to answer the call for a teacher to use the bathroom before, I assure her that it’s okay, but not without taking on the baton of insecurity she has just unknowingly passed to me.
On my walk to the restroom I, too, wake up out of my own testing daze and remind myself that having to use the bathroom is a human function for which I should not and shall not apologize, nor will pass that anxiety onto my students.
It’s sad to say, but we have been trained to run scared. What have we done to our children of public education? How did we get to this place where we are running nervous and scared as we assess the learning of students? The answers, which I will not delve into here, are simple yet complicated, but quite disconcerting.
The standardized test my students are taking will measure some knowledge to some degree, but it will never be able to appreciate the joy we’ve experienced together as readers and writers during our workshop time. The test will never gauge the meaningfulness of the deep and empathetic community we’ve come to cherish. It will never be able to report the thrill children know when they come to believe in themselves and proudly accept and wear the identity or reader and writer.
So, we’ll keep peeling back the foil lids on our apple juice containers and joyfulling drink it down each testing morning. We’ll also keep tearing open the cellophane of our Honey Maid crackers and munching them up. And, we’ll keep remembering that we can use the bathroom - happily, as needed, guilt free. We know what really matters.