I’ve been thinking about Suzanne a lot recently. She was the testing coordinator at my old school, and you could not have met a more humble, generous, compassionate woman.
Testing coordinators have the suck-job that can only be beaten by someone who works with broken vacuum cleaners. Testing coordinators are the people who have the joyful job of administering, scheduling, setting up, taking down, and doing all the crappy business related to state testing.
Now, I probably shouldn’t bad-mouth state testing. I mean, it kind of is something related to my job. But given that I have yet to meet a teacher or administrator or even testing coordinator who says, “Yay! Testing! It’s something that really drives education and authentic learning!” I’m not too worried.
And Suzanne had this job, which she did (not performed) with strength, vigor, vitality, compassion, and humility. She brought integrity and dignity to a set of tasks no one wanted to deal with and no one looked forward to.
State testing means complete schedule changes for an entire school for an extended period of time. State testing means specific training sessions that have to be carried out at specific times (generally during planning periods) and requires signatures and accountability. State testing means that during planning periods, I am required to go to someone else’s room and proctor someone else’s students during a long test. It requires me to walk in endless circles and do my best not to let my keys jangle with each step that I have to take with absolute precision because I don’t want my shoes to clomp or squeak.
State testing means everyone is grumpy and tense and frustrated. Because state testing happens right when we’re trying to review for our own exams or wrap up major units prior to our exams. For the students, state testing means the year is over even though we actually have three more weeks of instruction but no one wants to teach or learn because…we’ve had state testing and state testing is done close to the end of the year when….
Yeah. Nightmare all around.
Now, imagine being the testing coordinator and having to deal with schedules for certain tests to be given at certain times. And then making sure all the necessary proctor positions are filled by the teachers who don’t want to give up their planning periods because we are still teaching and need to have time to plan and grade and prepare and photocopy. And then the testing coordinators have to retrain all the teachers who were trained the year or semester before. And then there’s the setting up of the rooms (which Suzanne always did, by herself, the weekend before the tests). Oh. And don’t forget making sure that every student who has an individual accommodation has that accommodation being met or we have just had a major legal issue happen. And this is just the beginning of the list.
I met Suzanne through her daughters, both of whom I was blessed to teach. Their spirit of compassion, good-will, and joy were reflections of their mother. They have incredible wit and sauciness that invigorates classroom discussion and gives my sarcastic streak a run for its money.
When Suzanne started working at the high school, I felt as though a palpable, beautiful shift had taken place. I could tell from the shadows tucked at the corners of her eyes, the way her shoulders hunched away from compliments that Suzanne had stories. I could see the nips and tucks of her self-esteem and wanted, desperately, to plait the beauty I saw into her consciousness.
But she shied away and took every kind thing I could say and reflect it back to me.
Now, I know that some people will use reflection and echoing as a tactic.
Suzanne isn’t one of those people. She is genuine. She is real. And in a world starched with fabrication, her sincerity and authenticity is a constant reminder that the superficial will falter and fall away when the true and the honorable step into the room.
Suzanne gives. With her whole heart. For a while, she was making pillows out of antique handkerchiefs sewed onto cheery fabric. I believe her brand was “Sniffles.” At the end of last school year, as I was packing my house and my classroom and promising myself that I was going to purge, not acquire, I learned that Suzanne was also moving. And she was leaving behind all of her pillows.
I snagged at least two that are upstairs on my comfy couch on my landing.
Suzanne collected Wizard of OZ memorabilia and collectibles. Growing up, I was raised by a woman who loved the Wizard of OZ and had many first-edition hard back books which I’ve sadly torn apart in my voracious reading of them. And, again, when she left, she piled so much of her OZ items on a table and, once more, I couldn’t stop myself from picking up the Glinda the Good music box.
I didn’t need it. I still don’t need it.
But I need Suzanne.
You see, she is, not was….always is..the quintessence of human kindness. One day, I came into my classroom and found a beautiful red plate with the words, “Today, I am special” painted around the edges. On a piece of long note paper was Suzanne’s loopy handwriting telling me that I had to each lunch, everyday, using that plate.
I wept. I clutched that plate to my chest and wept.
It’s so easy to look at myself and see the negatives. I am programmed to see that I am not perfect nor will I ever be perfect and that I will never come close to perfect. This is good in that I can quickly be stripped of my ego and be reminded that others can always do better. But that hammer on my self-confidence leaves me questioning if I have done anything good in the world.
And then I have Suzanne (and Jillian, and Mama Katie, and Big Daddy Dave…and others…so many others…but today is about Suzanne). Suzanne who has tiny shadows riding on her shirt tails. Suzanne who has the same massive hammer poised over her own head and has had it come publicly smashing down on her.
Suzanne who gives. And gives and gives.
And then gives some more.
She had the job no one wanted. But, oh, I would give anything to test for her again, to once more be in her golden presence in which the world is on the other side of the rainbow and I am hearing bluebirds sing.
Suzanne is someone who represents the goodness that keeps the world pushing forward as we are held hostage by Covid-19. She is the sunshine that I keep feeling spill through my open windows. She is the hope that things ARE (not just will or might or could) going to get better.
Suzanne is my “Ode to Joy.” She is, so often, the answer to the Lord’s Prayer. She was my daily bread.
I miss Suzanne and wish her joy. I wish her happiness. I wish her to have a mirror which would show her the great beauty etched into her soul. Maybe, just maybe. This might help?
And for you, dear reader, I hope you are the Suzanne for someone else just as you have a Suzanne in your life who lifts you regardless.
We are all in this together. Thank God for the Suzanne’s of this world.