The Opposite of Unity

Today I heard someone discussing possible antonyms of the word ‘unity.’ It was not in an education context, but for me the visual that came to mind was a giant boulder hanging over my head like a dark storm cloud. The boulder – the opposite of unity – represented the government and their corporate partners that are imposing their will on the group, our school communities. Their educational policies – in large part – do not benefit the group. Rather, they set out to destroy it: inadvertently or not. There are many directions I wish to explore with this image in mind. Today, though, I will share with you my thoughts as I mentally prepare for the upcoming work week.

It is the last week of NYSESLAT testing (a four-part, lengthy standardized test that is administered every spring to our ESL students). This Friday – May 17 – is the last day the test can be administered, and the listening and reading grids (those bubbled-in Scranton-type sheets) must be handed in by noon. From a compliance point of view, what’s most pressing on my agenda is testing the remaining students and transcribing students’ answers onto grids (for grades K -2), all in a short period of time. It is a race-against-the-clock, nail-biting experience, and the bubbling and organization of testing grids is both mind-numbing and tedious. The opposite of inspiring.

But from a teacher perspective, what is weighing most heavily on my mind (besides the above-mentioned boulder) is the well-being of two students. In addition to wrapping up the NYSESLAT, I feel compelled to do everything in my power to ensure that a mother shows up to a referral meeting so that her daughter – a second grader who still doesn’t know all of the letter sounds – gets her academic needs met next year. I am also troubled by a mild-mannered first grade boy who is academically capable but lags behind – he’s a potential holdover – because he’s absent more than he’s present at school. I suspect that his needs are not being met at home, but outreach to his mom has proven futile.

Both students have terrible attendance records and must take make-up NYSESLAT exams next week, if they come to school. I have not done any teaching since April 11 and don’t expect to be back in the classroom until May 27. Next week my colleagues and I must score the writing section of the NYSESLAT and then we have to organize test booklets to ship back to Questar Assessment, Inc., a large scale assessment company whose experts include ‘prominent psychometricians.’ Maybe that’s a career my students could explore.

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