To my dearest students, on their test day,
I sit up here thinking of you down there, testing. I sit up here, across from my teacher friend/soul sister, and I think about our year together. I am reflective.
I wonder if I’ve done enough. I wonder if I pushed you hard enough. I wonder if your AP Lit class was like that of any other AP Lit class, in any school not plagued by poverty or criticized by class or neglected by neighborhood or hunted by haters. I wonder if I taught you how to analyze literature, to pay attention to shift, to go in depth while explaining, to find meaning deeper than the surface, to write and own your ideas, to recognize and explicate on the effects of literary devices. I wonder if I taught you enough vocabulary, or at least gave you the keys to unlock unknown words. I am nervous.
I wonder if you see how this moment is a small reflection of so many “tests” in your life. Going to college. Moving out. Getting married. Your first child. Resolving conflict. Respecting a boss you don’t like. Honoring yourself even when no one else is doing what’s right. The death of someone you love. Down there, where the cold desks are lined like dominoes, how you rise to this occasion speaks not to your worth, but to the tenacity with which you will greet life’s challenges. I am hopeful.
I wonder if you are secure enough to know, deep down, that though this test is important, it does not define you. Our society sees you as a number, but I know your name. Our society reports your statistics, but I honor your stories. Our society labels you as below, proficient, or above, but I tuck you into this category: my children. You are enough. You are glorious. I am proud.
I wonder if you loved our stories. Yes, the ten books we’ve read and picked apart and discussed and composed essays about. The story of rising out of the ghetto, the story of finding the cattle but really finding ourselves, the story of how friendship requires sacrifice, the story of how people change the trajectory of our lives, the story of how words are redemptive beauty in the darkest of times, the story of how a woman can be as strong as she wants despite society’s threats, the story of how stories save. But also, our story in those stories. The story that matters. The story of sophomores who nearly drove me from the teaching profession, but now the seniors who have wedged themselves into my heart. I am story-telling and story-keeping.
I wonder if you feel my love, oozing out of C212 and down the stairs into the places of your heart where you hold fear and angst and joy and laughter. I wonder if you sense how you are more than my students, you make my life complete. I wonder if you realize that though I have been the teacher, I also have been taught, by you. I hope you understand how much you make my belly laugh and my soul soar and my heart smile. I am honored.