“No one will ever be rooted from the earth as brutally as you.”

A kid in 2nd period (I call him Tiresias because he is blind but intuitive, not to mention girly) laid it out for me in one sentence today:

“Ms. S., if they don’t get you for something technical, I think you’ll be a teacher for a long, long time.”

Tiresias is dead-on-balls accurate. I got into education by default — ask me about my LSAT score and why I fucked it up! — but I could be a lifer if they don’t get me for something ridiculous on standardized test day. People’s Exhibit A: The Great Bubble-Sheet Ben-Gay Clusterfuck of SADIM Testing Week, 2010, when I was long-term-subbing at Our Lady of Maximum Discomfort Middle School.

SADIM is not the test’s real acronym, but it should be.* Like all standardized tests, it’s riddled with inaccuracies and biases; not particularly related to effective teaching; and limited in terms of measuring learning or ability — but it determines whether students in our state graduate from high school, so we prioritize it and do the best we can.

SADIM was the be-all and end-all of human existence at Our Lady, where I worked with a quartet of women I called Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft. They lived in terror that some 12-year-old might use an answer sheet to bubble in a skull with a snake slithering out of the eyehole, and they weren’t wrong. Adult jobs were on the line. We had a minor mixup  — two kids’ booklets were switched by mistake –and every adult in the room (including me) was required to give a “statement,” which mostly involved ass-covering and blame-shifting. None of these women ever smiled. It’s the most hostile place I’ve ever worked, and I once had a temp job counting bags of money for a televangelist with a camera trained on my hands.

I didn’t think I was going to make it ’til May. Every time I got paid — $775 every two weeks because I’d chosen to spread my checks** out over 12 months instead of 9 –my eyes cried all by themselves.

Anyway. Cheney was a reading specialist who rendered children physically rigid with fear. Half-dead from heart surgery and diabetes (she was about to lose her right foot), Cheney used her dwindling chi to huff and puff down the halls on her walking stick (clump clump WHAP, clump clump WHAP) demanding that teachers count and re-count their allotted SADIM testing restroom passes.

“If you run out of passes,” she wheezed at me, “that’s IT for the restroom. Understand? THAT’S IT. When the kids bring the passes back, sign them, note the exact time, AND LOCK THEM UP. FAILURE TO LOCK UP THE PASSES MAKES US VULNERABLE TO A STATE AUDIT.”

I had to administer SADIM with Rumsfeld, the school psychologist. Rumsfeld was beautiful, which made her constant “fuck-you” expression even more jarring. She hated me. I can only assume virulent homophobia. Being in the same room with Rumsfeld was the icing on the train-wreck cake of this panicky, Pinter-esque scene, so my neck seized up. I went to work anyway, since being absent on SADIM day was grounds for immediate dismissal. But, because I’m not a masochist except in my romantic relationships, I took some self-care measures such as Ben-Gay, hot tea, and a little stretching. At the break, I received the following e-mail from Assistant Principal Cheney:

From: Assistant Principal Cheney
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 1:16 PM
To: ______
Cc: Bush, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft
Subject: Distrcations

Ms. S,

I had some students come share some concerns with me today. They expressed that they found the room to be very distracting for testing. Please make sure to do your best to keep their environment free from such things. Some of the concerns were:

·         The tea kettle in your room was steeping and was very loud. Please make sure your water is heated before testing begins.

·         You were stretching and students were laughing because of it. I understand that you had a recent injury, but you need to be discreet about stretching and taking medication.

·         You were using an ointment or something minty. Students found this odor to be overwhelming. Please do your best to avoid using anything with a strong odor during testing.

SADIM is an extremely important time for everyone, especially for 8th graders. We want to make sure we keep the testing environment distraction free. Please see me if you have any questions.

Thank you.

Later on, Ashcroft stopped me in the hall — no easy feat because she was partial to wobbly hooker shoes with egregious cutouts and bows — and we had the only human interaction I ever experienced at Our Lady.

“I’m so glad I’m retiring,” she said. “I feel sorry for new teachers, because this stuff is getting worse. You might be OK, though. You deserve to be OK.”

Ashcroft wobbled off, swatting at a fly that wasn’t there. I felt perversely encouraged. I hadn’t realized how much I needed another shot of perverse encouragement (encouraged perversity?) until today. That Tiresias, he’s pretty all right. I gave him 10 extra credit points and a granola bar. It was all I had on me.

*Soulcrushing Anxiety Demonstrably, Inherently Masochistic or Sad And Desperate Idiots Mutiny.

**I originally mistyped this as “cheeks.” Which would be more accurate.


7 thoughts on ““No one will ever be rooted from the earth as brutally as you.”

  1. State-mandated tests will be the death of the American education system. Of that there is no doubt.

    “I worked with a quartet of women I called Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft.”


    “They lived in terror that some 12-year-old might use their answer sheet to bubble in a skull with a snake slithering out of the eyehole…”

    Am I that truly that pathetic, or was that a veiled Harry Potter reference? I mean, Scantrons do have printed instructions saying “make dark marks”… 😉

  2. New York State has a regents exam that all high school students must pass before they can graduate from high school. It’s been around since the Great Depression, and is a very thorough test. Students had to prepare for the tests, but they weren’t out of control. It made kids educated in New York State very well educated, and public school was demanding, challenging and good quality.

    So it’s not that a test is bad, it becomes bad when it’s politicized and seized on by right wing groups as a way to bat liberal educators over the head.

    What I hear from grade school teachers in Los Angeles are true horror stories. One woman said, all the parents but one got very mad at her for even assigning homework, for example.
    The tests are considered stupid and obvious by my nieces in junior high now–interesting to get their perspective on it all. But the one thing we need to get is that the main indicator of kids being successful in school has nothing to do with the teachers, the tests… the true indicator is the income level of the parents, and that’s what we’ve really got to work on.

    Wow, $750.00 a week Phona— $39,000 a year? And for all the bone breaking work you do.
    Not a good situation.

  3. Ugh, every TWO weeks!! On a side note, thanks for these incredibly vivid descriptions of every day life. The interactions with the students, the detail, the narrative power. I always enjoy this blog, because it stays stubbornly REAL no matter what!!

  4. Ha! Seriously, all my old Scantrons from college had that written verbatim in the instructions: MAKE DARK MARKS. “Well ok, Voldemort, if you insist…”

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