Last week, for the first time, there was a fight in my room.

I realize I can’t talk about it, and would never jeopardize the privacy of students who are having an ‘off day.’

Now, there have been quite a few things I miss about not teaching 8th grade. One of them is my old classroom. It was much smaller than the one I have now, and though it seems illogical to want a smaller room with physically larger students (I am convinced that many of the mothers did not take their pre-natal vitamins with this group of elvin 7th grade kids: they are tiny!), somehow, my presence, and the students’ learning seemed more concentrated and focused. I don’t know what it is about the expansive walls and ceiling that can’t seem to ‘hold down’ any real learning this year.

But I speak in metaphors. The issue is, when trouble breaks out small students can move FAST when challenged to a duel, and I, however, not quite so much. But I did get there, and no one was hurt, thank goodness. What fascinated me were the words they used, the code, that translates only into one thing, “We are going to be very angry now.” I know this code now, and will listen for it with more sensitivity than I did last week. The body language of chest-thumping and puffing up one’s smaller self to seem bigger is a trait we all share when we feel threatened. It’s our posturing stance. If only we had frills about our necks to make our predators back off.

The question is, though: who and what are truly these kids’ ‘predators?’ And I don’t mean the obvious ones, but the hidden fears and dangers of their lives? In my tearful talk to classess afterwards, I said that if there is one thing, one thing above all, I want for them, is that they are good to each other. Period. The world is too dangerous, too corrupt, and too souless sometimes and they must defend against it with courage and kindness for one another. Period.

I think they heard me. I explained again, that, please, their educations were one of the strongest defenses they have. (See nods of agreement, Amen, sister, testify!)

And then in every class, instead of doing their assignment at hand (which was to learn how to ask levels of questions), they drifted off in chatter and silliness.

Again this year, I have an ‘inclusion’ model. This means, in every class of about 24-30, five classes, I have a smattering of “honors” or highly capable students (two to three at most), some special education students (every diagnosis from Oppostional Defiance Disorder, Autism, Detachment Disorder, and more), English Language Learners who may or may not still be comfortable with English (thinking of two young girls who speak in Spanish every class, and tell me “Yes Mrs. Love” so sweetly, then continue to speak in their native tongues, which they can’t read, either), and every one in between. My charge is to differentiate, coalate, and congregate. I am to inspire, motivate, spark, and propel them all to PASS THE TEST.

Oh, and this year we have district “walk throughs.” They are not evaluative you know. And the math “look-fors” are on the same checklist as language arts. But they’re not evaluative, you know.

Here are the things I would like to go on the form:

1. Did your mom or dad ever read you a book? (Please listen to Walter Dean Myer’s interview on NPR)

2. Did you love kindergarten?

3. Did you get to eat breakfast this morning?

4. Does anyone ever turn off the television in your home?

5. Do you have hope?

The thing is–and I am sorry to feel this way–I think “we” are pushing for test passing for everyone else but these kids. Everyone else’s numbers, data, Federal dollars, tax brackets, etc. If they don’t have “buy in” (God, I hate that phrase), then who’s to blame?

I have often said that I do believe in standards. The national standards, and state, ones for reading and writing are completely reasonable, moral, ethical, and just. Every one on the planet should have the right to communicate as effectively as they are potentially capable of doing. Those are my fighting words.