Symphony 99

Losses

The rest of January slid by. Neil watched Lisa Cobb closely, but he could find nothing to account for the intensity of her story. Or, rather, of her stories, for he finally remembered that he had seen its like before in what she had written at Halloween. Jesse Herrera returned to class, subdued once again, and Neil never told Bill that he had sent the boy home.

The tragedy in Stockton stayed with Neil and the other teachers. It made them jumpy for weeks, and even later they retained an increased awareness of the potential disasters that hang poised over every human being, every day of his life. 

The children forgot it in three days. Then it was work, baseball, friends and enemies, chatting and bickering; their lives fell quickly back into normal patterns. Chances were that if you could ask them about the tragedy a year later, they would have a hard time remembering it at all.

The new horror on their personal horizon was scheduled for three days beginning on February sixth. CAT, the California Achievement Test, is given every year to every child in the state. It is a measurement of their progress and a means of assessing what changes the schools need to make if that progress is not satisfactory. It is an extensive test, in many parts, lasting several hours and given over several days.

It was the test Oscar Teixeira had deliberately failed the year before.

Oscar had done fairly well this year. It was not really something Neil could take credit for; it was simply that an eleven year old boy could not hold out against the pressure of John Teixeira’s displeasure. He turned in all of his papers in all of his classes and the work was always satisfactory, even if it was rarely up to the standards Oscar should have been able to achieve. As the CAT test approached, Neil caught Oscar alone crossing the playground and asked, “Are you going to do your best on the CAT this year?”

Oscar flashed him an embarrassed grin and said, “Yes,” then ran on to his play.

There was a bond of friendship between Neil and Oscar now. Neil could trace it to the day Oscar had left his room in tears, but he could not analyze its origin. It seemed that Neil had done something for Oscar that day which had given him new strength, but try as he might, Neil could not quite figure out what. That is the way of teaching; if a teacher does his best, he will have some good results, but not with all students and not always the result he anticipates.

# # #

It was a grueling test for Neil’s students. The whole school geared up for it, and every teacher participated. Neil tested his morning students; Tom Wright tested the students Neil normally had in the afternoon, and the other teachers divided up the seventh and eighth graders. The students spent a solid two hours a day in testing until it was all over.

It would be two months before the results of the tests came back, but Neil could read some of the results for himself already on the faces of his students. Those who were poor readers showed the sad, hang-dog expression of people who have been completely out of their element. They knew how poorly they had done, and once again their confidence had been bruised.

Neil had actually enjoyed his last month of teaching reading. They had gotten through two novels for children, and all of the students, except possibly Brandy and Sabrina, had understood all of the concepts and most of the subtleties. more Monday

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