It’s easy when I’m at home and listening to a Damien Rice song and staring at the garden while holding a cup of coffee, to slip into a Utopian view of the world where there are no robotic hip hop songs or Crocs or staff development meetings. It’s easier still – when the monsoon rains pour out a song so loud that you have to turn off the Damien Rice album and walk outside and stand barefoot on the rain with the hopes of recapturing something lost in childhood – to forget about the incessant buzz of a flourescent light and the frequent announcements calling students to the office when in fact there are telephones in every classroom.
And it’s even easier in the sterile glow of a florescent light to forget that my students have lives that don’t revolve around fifteen minute assignment increments and essential questions and notes on the board and problems that can be solved on paper. It’s not that I’m against the assignments. For as bad as the factory might be, it’s produced some damn good readers and writers and even a few thinkers in the process (though I suspect it’s a case of reverse psychology – with critical thinking being a side-effect of coercian) and I’m complicit in the process because ultimately I believe transformation can happy in ugly places.
So a student tells me that he wants to write about his powerful memory, but it’s not so much an event as a part of life. He tells me the story of his mom in trouble with the law and what it was like living with his grandmother and moving to Mexico for a year, working in the fields instead of learning algorithms. It was hard work, but at least you got to hold a machete. How many twelve year olds get to do that? He warns me that sometimes he gets real fidgety when he has to listen for a long time because he’s already forgotten parts of the language and more importantly he’s forgotten how to “do school” and when he says “do school” I get a little fidgety myself and wonder if the factory is at all worth it.
But then he tells me, not in person, but in his writing, that he doesn’t have any singular memory so much as a string of memories of what happens when he goes to school and when he sits in a desk it feels safe, if a little boring, and that the only adults with the time to listen have been teachers. His grandma is amazing and she cooks the best tortillas but she’s old and she’s tired and who can tell a story to someone who already knows it? But it’s the teachers in his past who listened to his story.
I will edit this paper at some point in the process. But not now. In the process of taking the “ass” out of “assessment” I’ve learned that building trust is key before I can offer constructive feedback. For now I’ll curse the universe for making me so sensitive and I’ll try and dry the tears so that they don’t smudge his voice and I’ll do well to remember that assessment is not the same as data and that there is always a human voice behind every item turned in.