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Teaching

The 27th Line

Tomorrow my students will take their first round of STAAR testing in Writing, a subject I teach twice a day. The test is scored by their responses to 40 multiple-choice revising and editing questions along with 2 essays—one narrative and one expository.

Although the Writing test is one of three they must pass in the 7th grade (along with Reading and Math), it was important to me to communicate to my students that it doesn’t mean that much to me.

Allow me to explain. I have known my students for 8 months. I spend more time each day with them than with anyone else. I teach some of them for 3 hours a day (the lucky ducks who have me for Reading, AVID, and Language Arts).

They are more aware of my quirks than anyone else (including myself—apparently I have an “about-to-go-off” face). They have taught me more about love, respect, and how to change the world than any other event, person, or experience in my lifetime. They are incredibly intelligent, highly talented individuals who encourage me daily to be a better person.

I don’t need a test to tell me how valuable they are to our future.

If they pass the STAAR tomorrow, it may say a lot about their growth as students. It may provide some evidence of their success in middle school. It may slightly indicate some part of their intelligence.

But it won’t measure their worth as humans. It won’t tell the whole story.

There has been a lot of criticism in recent years about the way education waters down learning the common core, the way teaching has turned to content and skills that may not matter at all.

We have imprisoned creativity and labeled imagination worthless. We have boxed children into standards that say next to nothing about their abilities. We have mislabeled intelligence as the ability to answer multiple-choice questions.

Today, I reminded my students that no one—not the world, the government, test-makers, parents, friends, family, nor society—gets to tell their story if they don’t let them.

I sometimes hesitate to post stories about my students because it communicates to you that I believe my students’ stories are mine to tell. Just because I teach them and always speak highly of them does not mean that I always share the story about them that they might share about themselves. I try to do them justice, but I sometimes fall short.

Part of the reason I write about my kids, and tell my version of their story (because really, it is our story), is because there are far too many negative, incorrect narratives about them. Some of my students are unaware of the way society portrays them, but most of them are fully aware of the way the world sees them. They need fighters in their corner. They need someone to point out stereotypes of them and tell them, “This isn’t you.”

Since becoming a teacher, I have heard a thousand ignorant comments about how people see inner-city children. I have been devastated by friends who assume certain stereotypes about my children because they have never heard a better story about them. I believe it is my responsibility to tell the world a different, better, truer story about my children.

Don’t take this as me saying that I get to tell my kids’ stories for them—they are the only ones with the power to do that. All I have the right to do is tell my story, which often involves them as leading characters.

But when I was their age,  bullies had told me so many untrue stories about myself that I had started to believe their fairytales. If it weren’t for the people who told me a different story, I would never have become the man I am. I wouldn’t be the Ben Taylor who knows his story is important and worth telling to others. I owe the same to my kids.

Because of this, a day before the Writing STAAR, I read the essay below to them to remind them that their worth cannot be measured by any test, standard, or person. Perhaps you can find some hope in it too, if you have found yourself answering to the wrong measures of a person’s true value.

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In case it is hard to read from your Internet device, here is the full transcript:

You were born into the wrong times. In this age, they box you up, label you, and sell you for the price they think you’re worth. They size you up by how well you can shrink your brain to multiple-choice responses. If you cannot fit within their definition of intelligent, they will call you otherwise. They will work to ensure that opportunities aren’t handed to you by the same measure they are handed to others, that more doors close for you than open. They ask you to to tell them how smart you are in 26 lines–never mind that your story already stretches beyond lines and pages and books.

In the short time you have been on this earth, you have held the weight of love, felt the sting of heartache, known the joy of laughter, bitten into the sorrow of loss. You are not a statistic. You cannot be measured or weighed or labeled or boxed or held down. You are what is right in this wrong world. You will alter perceptions and destroy the shaky foundations of stereotypes. You were born into the wrong times, but you will make them right.

Whatever happens tomorrow–whether you pass or “fail”–will ultimately not define you, because you cannot be named anything you don’t answer to. Who you become is your decision. It is your story to tell, so make it a story worth telling. Many of the pages are blank, but rest assured: you are more than multiple-choice answers, and you are more than 26 lines.

You are the 27th line.


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107 replies on “The 27th Line”

Thank you…my son has Aspergers and is taking the test tomorrow…He has been in a reading lab and has struggled. I found out 10 days ago his teachers “don’t think he will pass” because he “hasn’t applied himself” or “used the strategies”. I ask why at 10 days before the test am I just finding out they think he will fail and why would they tell him? Guilt? Is that a motivator? … Thank you for thinking about the kids thT don’t fit in the boxes or within the lines….

As a homeschooling mother of 4, and a wife of a public school teacher, I am so glad to see people like you out there in the system. It had a heart breaking afternoon listening to my friend’s daughters talk about the horrors they have both faced over the last few years in school. One of them had gotten to the point of not wanting to be in this world anymore. She is nine. That shouldn’t be happening to children BECAUSE of school. She is fine now, by the way. Getting the horrific teacher fired and putting her in private school made all the difference. Keep doing what you are doing.

Please don’t put all public schools/teachers in this category…maybe private schools and home schooling are for right some children, but my husband and I have worked in public schools for a combination of 50 years and our three children went to and excelled in the public school system. Yes there are problems but that is also true with private schools and home schooling.

Your own words were amazing….but the essay brought me to tears. Last year my 5th grader who has a visual processing disorder and ADD suffered immense stress and sorrow and anxiety taking the test which she failed the math portion…..twice….suffered through in school and summer school remediation to take it a 3rd time. As a teacher myself, she knew her father and I didn’t care about the test as she is a good kid with friends and a A/B average, but it took a toil on her self esteem. This year, with no pressure of being “held back” she is already dreading it and now my 3rd grader faces it for the first time this year and I’m upset for them both. The essay was perfect….and what we need to tell all these kids even those who ace it because it doesn’t define them as a person at all! Where can I get a copy of that essay to share with my kids? Keep on doing what you are doing because you are making a difference with your students!

You are the teacher I wish I had in seventh grade. You are a teacher I wish for my child now. Tears filled my eyes as I read this. We need more educators with this passion and encouraging, nuturing words for a population that has neve been allowed to really utilize their imagination. Students have become afraid of taking risks. Of writing “outside” the box. It disheartens me when I heard stories from my child’s school about threats and stress as a way to motivate these kids to pass these tests. All educators should take a lesson from you.

THANK YOU so much!! As a writing teacher and a writer myself (post-secondary), this gave me goosebumps and made me tear up! It is for teachers like you, along with the students that I will continue to fight this madness with my last breath! Please feel free to contact me ANY time!!

I applaud you and your work. I have 3 teenage grandsons and every year I talk to one of them lovingly before these ridiculous STAARS test. He is a nervous wreck. When they discover he has ulcers I will blame it in these tests. Thank you for your work.

There are educators with this same passion all across the nation but sometimes our hands are tied as to what can and cannot be done in the classroom. I agree there are some who have done their time and need to get out but there are some who just want to teach and not necessarily want recognition, just want their students to leave knowing something they did not before entering their classroom. Whether that be learning how to factor a number, write a complete sentence, learn the difference between a liquid and a solid, or how to be a friend to a new student!

As a 7th grade ELA, reading and writing, teacher I tell my kids repeatedly that they are worth so much more than a grade or a test. I tell them to stand up for themselves and show Texas that they are amazing kids. I believe in each and everyone of my 116 students. I tell my kids that it is unfair but lots of things in life are also. I promise them that my views of them will not change according to a pass or fail. I am responsible for 2 tests and it stresses, worries, angers, and frustrates me to the point of physical illness. I hope each one of my students knows I think they are smart and gifted in their own right.
There is no way a 3rd grader should be stressed or a senior can not go to a four college if they fail a part of the state test. I wonder how many adults could pass.
I had a fellow teacher ask me that since my students were passing the semester then shouldn’t they all pass the test!!!!! I had to bite my tongue and tell her to wake up to reality! I don’t teach the or to the test! Wow! Great support there, lol.
Good luck to all the teachers and kids taking this test. Remember there are those teachers out there that know your child is an individual NOT a pass or fail.

This really does sum up our out of control reliance on High Stakes Testing. I finished two days of watching kids pray before a stupid test, get nauseous before a stupid test, suffer with anxiety and fear before a stupid test, and generally feel bad about coming to school for a stupid test. We’re making 9,10, and 11 year old kids take tests with pressures they never should have to deal with and on top of that, we are judging the entire worth and value of a school and its educators based on how those 9-11 year olds feel that day and deal with the anxiety and fear of such pressures. I wonder if every worker in America (or legislators in particular) had to take a test each year (even one they know they can probably pass) in order to keep their job or get a raise, how would they feel at that moment of taking the test? Yet, apparently the fans of high stakes tests have no issues doing this to our children. Absurdity and its most outrageous!

I love this so much! I agree with you completely. You are a wonderful teacher and your students are so lucky to have you!

I am spending time with middle schooler’s over the next few weeks to teach them how to relax and breeze through these ridiculous tests.

Thanks for all you do!
Blessings,
Crystal

This is beautiful. I will share it with my students and parents today. Thank you very much and God Bless.

“you cannot be named anything you don’t answer to”

Powerful line. It puts me in mind of Eleanor Roosevelt’s declaration “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

These kids are lucky to have you. All a child really needs in life is an indestructible belief in his or her own worth and ability. Bolstered with that strength, they are unstoppable, without it, they are inconsolable. It can be uncovered later in life but only at great expense. So much easier to begin at the starting line knowing you deserve whatever you can imagine.

A caring teacher who gets the real purpose of education. As an educator I realize how far we have to go to truly move education to something beyond a requirement. Kids have so much potential and creativity that they are rarely able to demonstrate with standard curriculums and standardized scoring. Intelligence is only one part of the equation. The ability to put it into practice and apply towards their dreams is missing. Thanks for helping to make your student’s day.

Decency, independent-mindedness, respect for others and professionalism are exactly what I would hope for in the teachers who work with our grandchildren. Thank you for this posting this.

I like your overall meaning, but to say “you were born in the wrong times” is debatable. The adversity and the obstacles the kids face will teach them where they are strong, where they will soften, and how they will redefine and or revolutionize their own generation. “Without the dark there can be no light.” I agree the standardized testing is not a measure of intelligence or ability and that we need education reform. But I also believe every generation faced boxes, labels, and inequitable forms of being tested and evaluated… and so we are all products of “right times” no better or worse than our kids. We are just an extension of all of our original problems and solutions. It’s just that now there are more humans on the planet, technology has outpaced us, as greed still rules over reason.

When I read “born in the wrong time,” I interpreted that as “things are a lot harder now than when I was your age.” This especially holds true for American schools, be it primary schools, graduate schools, or any level in-between.

Hello th3bak3rman, I understand your interpretation and thank you for sharing. “Harder” is still a relative term. I suppose it depends on who you were as a child and in what generation and context. Both world and American historical context suggest to me there was never an “easy” time for children to be born. “Wrong times” feels discouraging to me as expressions go, although the author of the article is most certainly empathetic to his students. I believe it’s not what happens, it’s how you “handle it”. I have faith in the kids to overcome their obstacles, and adversities and become who they are meant to be, because the time is “right”. I think the author-teacher is going to be one of the people to help them learn how to do that, regardless of the “wrong times” word choice.

I agree with you – every period of time had/has its advantages as well as hardships. How we respond to these events determines our growth and survival. All adults – not just educators – need to make a conscious effort to foster the growth and survival of our youth by guiding them in responding correctly to whatever throws at us.

Thanks th3bak3rman for helping me clarify my point and expanding on the original discussion. Eleanor Roosevelt believed that if a person was able to be responsible, they had a personal obligation to take such action. Indeed all adults do need to make a more “conscious effort to foster the growth and survival of our youth” as you wrote. Life can be hard but this is their time and they make life beautiful so like the author-teacher, I want to teach them that.

I’m quite sure there is nothing I can say that hasn’t been said over and over but I am overcome by the need to be another voice of support. This is beautiful work you are doing and I am very excited to follow your journey. I am an English and Psychology major hoping to teach developmental writing to adults preparing for college level classes when I graduate. This post has been truly inspiring.

Wow this was amazing! I was just talking about how Disney has dumbed-down kids these days so adults can’t take them seriously anymore. I think what you explained here is exactly what people needed to hear so they can realize that maybe there is more to kids these days.

Amazing… Im taking my medical boards soon and ive always hated exams as a test of intelligence.. Thank you for this because this made me work harder and believe in myself that whether i get a high or low score, i know deep down im gonna be a good doctor. I will di my best for a better story for myself. Thank you!

Beautiful text. Why didn’t I have a teacher like you?. This brought me to tears reading and the essay “The 27th Line” was incredible. Creds to you and the person who wrote the essay

This amazing post also brought tears to my eyes. I live an enigma life; as a college instructor, and a homeschooler. In my current job, I am the “guide on the side” to thousands of college students, and the only measurement of their skill remains computerized testing. I hurt each day as I see adults struggle with trick questions designed to trap them. Last year, I signed a contract with a publishing company to write and review their video lessons. What they really wanted me to write were “hot test questions” for computerized testing. When I refused, the first offer, they offered me more money, and then more again. Although my family could really use the money, I cannot offer my writing skills to people that put a premium price on intimidating the learner just so they appear more intelligent. This is a form of prejudice especially against those with dyslexia!

Wow, great commentary on how you feel about your students taking a standardized test. Our test in Massachusetts is called MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Asessment System). I think it is wonderful that you actually appreciate what your students offer you. I think it is wonderful that you even realize they have anything to offer to you as a human being. A lot of teachers do not seem enthusiastic about their students or their potential. It’s comforting knowing that you do not believe the negative hype given by the board behind those sorts of tests; it does say so little about the children.

This is a beautiful essay. Wow. If only we had teachers like you. Where I come from, if you don’t score, you’re dumb. If you can’t do math and science, you’re one of the dumber ones. If you’d rather sing or draw or dance or whatever, you’re even dumber. I myself have been put into shoes that never quite fitted me. Thankfully for me, it was easier. Most times, the shoes fit. But there’s others that don’t fit and my heart breaks for them. Its a cruel world we live in. Education is always performance. (Well, the richer kids can just buy their marks. That’s the norm in so many places now.)
Thank you for being different and reminding us that it’s our story and we are all valuable.
Keep it up. May God bless you always.

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