The student I work with gave me a picture for me yesterday. He had folded it up nicely and put in an envelope, addressing it on the front with my name. I opened it to find a drawing of a boy, tears running down his cheeks. Above it was a string of random letters, crudely drawn. I could make out a few, an "h", an "r", "o", a "y". Phonetically it looked like it spelled "hooray". Most likely he wrote down the few letters he remembers, because unlike many other children his age and younger, he doesn't know the whole alphabet yet.
For this boy, this drawing was a break through. He was expressing to me his sadness over the fact he didn't have my full attention anymore, as I now had to split my time with him and his classmate. This letter came after a fit where he threw the books and papers off his desk out of frustration because he couldn't complete a math page which required him to count up to 30.
It was a breakthrough for this boy because I am probably the first person this year who has showed him patience, that hasn't given up on him. I come back each day despite the fits (which have decreased dramatically) and talk with him about life, his and mine. I take the time to answer his questions, the ones where he doesn't know all the exact words in English, but I can figure out what he is asking. I come back each day and praise his small successes, notice the slow progress he has made over the past two months I have been working with him. I can see he appreciates the high expectations I have on him, simple as writing his name on his paper. He felt comfortable enough to trust me with his feelings.
After spring break, this will all be interrupted by the weeks of state mandated testing. The time that we normally would spend working and learning will be lost as he sits facing a thick booklet of test questions that he doesn't know the answers to and can not read on his own. He will be expected to complete the test at his grade level in a language he hasn't mastered.
I've been carrying the drawing in my pocket as a reminder of the work that is ahead. I carry it because I know it will not be an easy, but I will do it day in and day out because I want to give this boy who is easy to smile, quick to lend a hand, a chance. I carry it also because I am heartbroken knowing I have to accept what progress we make together in the short months left in this school year will have to be enough. Did I mention that this sweet faced boy who can't recite the alphabet song is 4th grader?