When you’re a kid, kind words from a caring adult can make such a lasting impression.
That’s exactly what happened to Indiana third-grader Rylan as he was gearing up for something most kids dread: standardized testing week.
His teacher, who has asked to remain anonymous, gave each of her students a letter and a cookie before the big test. The letter is touching, but it’s the video of Rylan’s reaction to it that really gets me (you’ll see that at the end).
Rylan got in the car today and told me he was embarrassed because he cried at school. I asked him what upset him, and he told me he cried because he was happy about a letter his teacher gave his class before they take ISTEP. Needless to say, when I read it, I cried too. We need not just more teachers like her, but also more people like her in this world. “These tests do not define you. There are many ways of being smart. YOU are smart! YOU are enough! You are the light that brightens my day and the reason I am happy to come to work each day. So, in the midst of all these tests, remember that there is no way to “test” all of the amazing and awesome things that make you, YOU.”
A photo posted by Abby Martin (@absmarti) on
Schools can have so much at stake with their testing results, they often inadvertently transfer that pressure onto the students.
Whether you think the amount of testing being done in public schools is great or if you wish it were reduced dramatically, one thing we can all probably agree on is that it’s important to not send kids the wrong message — that their entire worth is wrapped up in whatever score they get.
The need for kids to hear this stuff is real. School pressures are waaaayyy different from when most of us were kids.
I’ll never forget when I drove my daughter home after results came in from a three-day marathon of fifth-grade testing. Usually she was bubbly and happy on days like these because she often got the highest score in her class and was proud of herself — she worked hard and did her best to beat her own scores and loved feeling like it was paying off.
This time she was salty. Her friend had bested her, and though she congratulated her sincerely and effusively, she couldn’t help but feel a pang of disappointment that her “winning” streak had been broken.
A lightbulb went off in my head. Her self-worth is all wrapped up in this, I realized. This is all she’s ever known as a measure of who she is and where she ranks.
I pulled the car over and we had an instant talk because it was that important. My speech went something like this:
“You know that if you never achieved another thing in your entire life, you would still be loved and valued in our family just for who you are, right? It’d be disappointing if you stopped trying to reach your potential, but even if you did, we’d still love you.
Who you are isn’t proven by your track record of achievements — it’s the moments when you’re sad but are kind to others anyway, when you have a good reason to be a jerk but you choose not to be, and it’s when no one is looking and you don’t have to be a good person but you are anyway.
You will achieve amazing things in your life, and I will always be happy for you when you do, but not because it’s proving anything about who you are. I already know who you are.”
I saw a lightbulb go off for her then too. I hope it was a pivotal moment in how she will orient herself when going after lofty goals throughout her life.
Here’s Rylan and his mom talking about what it meant to get his teacher’s letter.
Hearing and seeing Rylan’s face and his mother’s gratitude as they share the letter is all the proof we need — a little kindness can go a long way.
If you’re not completely sure a kid in your life totally knows how to separate their test scores from their self-worth, this is a great thing to share with them right now.