He looked at me with a crumpled face and mumbled “I can’t read it.” There was a moment of nothingness, both of us trying not to cry. I swallowed hard. “I know, sweetie,” I said, and I rubbed the back of his hand in a bid to convey how I felt, to tell him I understood what was swarming around him. Around us both.
“I can’t make it so you don’t take the test,” I told him. I didn’t tell him I’d tried and been turned down. I couldn’t. Instead, I explained that it was my job to help him be able to sit those tests and do his best, be proud of himself, and stay happy. That I’d do my best to make sure we achieved that, and he shouldn’t worry, because we were an awesome team and we could do it.
I didn’t tell him that what I was doing had little to no educational value.
I didn’t tell him that the other kids would all do fine but he would fail the test.
I didn’t tell him that he was being treated disgracefully.
But he knew.
So we spent the next few weeks out of the class, me, him, and a few other strugglers learning what I called “exam technique” but what really was how to survive testing without losing your marbles, your confidence and all belief in yourself.
I taught him how to scan for key words that he recognised and then guess what the question might be. I taught him that it was worth circling (a) (b) (c) or (d) even when he had no clue what he was answering. I taught him that it was okay to put his pencil down when it all felt too much.
And I taught him that being dyslexic was not a personal failing. I told him that kindness, perseverance, hard work, and honesty were brilliant qualities to have. I told him he would find his place in the world. I explained that these tests didn’t define his worth.
So the test came and went, and he didn’t cry or get stressed or panic. He remembered the strategies and gave every test his all.
Of course, he failed. At least according to the tests, anyway.
To me he was a hero.
At the final assembly before he and his classmates went to ‘big school’, each student had to say what they were looking forward to at the new school and what they had enjoyed at their current school. He said he was looking forward to learning to read and his favourite thing about his time at this school was me.
His teacher laughed.
The class’s test results were very good, overall. The teacher became a deputy head teacher the following year on the back of those great results. Great test results mean a great teacher, apparently.
Cam and I think differently.