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just as you are

I woke up this morning thinking about The Little Engine that Could, my spirit tangled with breath and prayer and not quite enough sleep. Giving my heart a few minutes to weave the language of the morning, I found myself hoping for time to remind both of my children that they are loved before they headed to school. Then I hoped that reminder would spread like wildfire.

Children all over the country are taking end of grade tests this week and, if you aren’t a parent or a teacher of these children, you should know that any child you encounter needs a little extra love this time of year. If you are a parent or a teacher, I see you juggling all of the things and trying to find the right words or activities to make it all better. If you are a human being in this country and care about children even a bit, we need to talk.

These standardized tests are so hard, y’all, and the stress they put on our kids will break your heart. There is no way that filling in bubble letters of any sort for hours at a time is good for the human spirit. The grades from these tests give schools certain scores, often determine raises for teachers by supposedly showing how effective their teaching has been during the year, and sometimes open or close doors for a student’s future education.

In talking with my children over the last few weeks, I was amazed at how much I needed to hear my own message:

Your value is not in the things you do, it is in who you are.

These tests are a few hours of your life. They are a snapshot in time. The masterpiece of you will continue.

You will be loved just as much at the end of this day as you are right now, which is more than any ocean can contain.

I catch myself tied to the results of these tests from time to time and my parenting gets a jolt as a result. There is language and pressure around us to do better and to compete for our place in this world, but I call foul.

I know the high school valedictorian who went to college and realized she had no idea who she was, much less what she was passionate about.

I know the artist whose brush strokes were not intended to fit inside a circle on a piece of paper, and amen for that.

I know the child who would do brilliantly on a test if he could only move around during it or take the test outside in the sunshine.

I know the teacher who takes time to teach creatively and has a classroom of happy, engaged students, even though she knows the standardized tests may not show what they have learned or how happy they are about learning.

I know a 9-year-old, my daughter, who is convinced that a coloring break every half hour would make these tests more bearable and possibly raise the scores. Yes, please.

In years of teaching voice and coaching, I’ll often ask my students to think about their upcoming audition in a different way. Instead of going into the audition nervous about the outcome, how about the following? Prior to the audition, visualize yourself singing exactly the way you want to in the audition. In the audition, simply remember how much you love to sing and take your audition as time to share that love with those who are listening. After the audition is over, celebrate what you did well and consider what you might do differently the next time. Then, let it all go. One way or another, it is growth just to have shown up.

You are the same miraculous human being that you were prior to the audition or the test.

The result of these tests will not show you what a child is passionate about, what they wish they knew more about, or the incredible friend they are to their peers. The result of these tests will not show how much a teacher cares, the creativity they put into their classroom, or how many hours they have worked this school year.

So, if you are a parent or a teacher, listen to the messages you give to your children or your students. Are they the messages of your heart? And, dear human being, don’t even ask students about testing this week. Take them out for ice cream, let them swing outside until dinnertime, and listen, listen to their dreams and their thoughts. Show them the world is bigger and more magical than any test or grade. Remind them that they are radiant and worthy and whole just the way they are.

As are you.

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