We are in the midst of mid-year exam frenzy. Even though that time in my own student life feels like a long time ago (probably because it is), there is something about seeing the uniform lines of desks and chairs, tubs of calculators and dictionaries, and kids clutching notes that makes me feel a bit nervous. Today, I worked out why that is.
As a teacher, I challenge you to nominate a more brain-numbing, head-bangingly horrific job in a school than supervising an exam.
Sure, it starts off smoothly enough — the no-talking talk, the stay in your chair until the exam is finished reminder and the collection of errant mobile devices. Then there is the anticipation of announcing the start of reading time and the satisfying striking-off of the first time recorded on the whiteboard.
Things always get off to a reassuring start. And then they drag — oh, how they drag.
Initially, I pace the room offering paper, supplying tissues, sourcing erasers. I think smugly to myself that I am probably going to get a fair bit of exercise done in the hour and a half I will be striding and supervising and wish I had worn one of those things that records the number of steps you take. That would be an interesting fact to know, I think.
After parading the room and striking off the second time interval on the whiteboard my enthusiasm starts to dwindle. Those 15 minutes took a very long time. I scan the room and see, disappointingly, that no one needs my help. I pick up a copy of the exam paper and begin to read through it. It’s maths. I put it down again.
I strike up a conversation with a colleague with whom I don’t have much in common. We both keep the conversation going longer than we should in a desperate attempt to occupy ourselves. We both know that the other one is simply biding time until the race to the board to cross off another time interval.
Carrying my whiteboard marker with me I hover near the board as the time draws near. I remove the lid at the “two minutes to go” mark and, as the time changes, I strike.
I have stopped pacing. Perhaps someone would start a scene and give me something to do. A few sniffing noses are the only highlights. I become an overly-attentive tissue provider … to the point where it gets weird.
I wave at students walking down the corridor — I don’t know all of them. Only a few wave back. I return to read through the exam paper another time. I count the number of times the number 8 appears on the first three pages: 12 times.
I decide to open my laptop. I start to reply to an email and four students look up accusingly from their papers.
My typing is too loud.
Intimidated, I shut the lid and start to pace again, willing the end to come, knowing I am not even halfway there.
The clock ticks on …
Christina Adams is a member of the Australian Education Union (Victoria) and a stand-up comedian.