Test Supervision

Previously, I wrote that speaking tests may be my least favorite duty as a high school Native English Teacher.

But test supervision is a close second.

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My favorite duty is appreciating my students’ whiteboard art.

Students take four exams every school year – one midterm and one final per semester.  In Korea, examination scores weigh heavy on a student’s overall grade. Therefore, the process of exam writing, printing, and proctoring are closely monitored for fairness and integrity.

As a result, all teachers must supervise different classrooms during 8 testing periods.  Most teachers supervise 6 or 7 exams during a given week. One teacher stands in the front, serving as the primary supervisor while another stands in the back serving a support role.

As the least-proficient Korean speaker at my job, I exclusively serve as the “support” supervisor.  My job details are as follows:

  • Watch the students.
  • Watch the students some more.
  • Escort them to the toilet (rare)
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Watching the students sometimes leads to noticing some funny sweatshirt.  This sweater would not fly in my high school.

The only thing more agonizing than taking a test is watching other people take a test.  Watching paint dry may prove more pleasurable. At least all of the paint succeeds. I don’t have to see half of the paint smiling in relief while the other half hangs their head and tears up.

During my first semester at Namak High School, I sincerely enjoyed test supervision because of my laissez-faire co-teacher.

“Yeah, don’t worry,” he said.  “Just sit in the back and read a book.”

So I did.  And my first three exams went swimmingly.

“This is great,” I thought.  “I might finish three books this week.”

But then I supervised a test with my main co-teacher.  She did not appreciate my ho-hum attitude toward testing.

“Ian,” she hissed, “you have to watch them.”

After the test, she explained that cheating is an ever-present possibility and we could face serious trouble if we allow it under our watch.  So I straightened up and committed to sincere supervision.

My biggest problem, however, is I don’t know what to look for.  Is it like American movies with answers printed on water bottle labels, secret hand-signals, and under-the-table texting?  Or are Korean students wiser than that? I have no idea. I’ve never witnessed cheating in an exam nor have I ever heard secondhand from another teacher.  I just know I need to “watch them.”

While I refrain from obvious signs of inattention (like staring at a Kindle screen), I cannot honestly admit to vigilant test policing at all times.

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If only I could keep my eyes this wide open for 50 consecutive minutes.  Alas, I cannot.

How do I combat the boredom?

Anything.   Anything will do.  If the back wall has some reading material (in any language), I will devour it.

“Oh.  Min-ho is on trash duty this week.  How interesting!”

“They’re going to study Franz Kafka next month?  Where was Mr. Kafka when I was in high school?”

My high school apparently preferred Orwell.

Other times, I will quiz myself.  All classrooms order students’ desks alphabetically.  Thanks to Anki flashcards and a homeroom teacher’s excel file, I’ve learned most of my first-graders’ names.  But what if I can only see the back of their heads? By only assessing their hair, relative size, and alphabetic position, I try to identify as many students as I can.  This kills a good 15 minutes.

Other times, I just use the quiet time to meditate and daydream.  I find this surprisingly refreshing. Most days I am busy with classes, psychology homework, writing, video production, or other personal activities.  Whenever I walk anywhere, I often have an audiobook in my ear. I rarely afford myself time to sit in total silence and permit my mind to wander (my only silent time is often meditation).

Sometimes I get great insights toward a new lesson plan, introspect about my current circumstances (counting my blessings or searching for an optimistic spin), or try and watch myself think from a more detached point of view (a kind of meditation).  Each exercise proves beneficial in its own right.

While the last five minutes are still agonizing, I also don’t succumb to banging my head against a wall.  Mostly because I worry the students would find it distracting. However, 50 minutes of complete silence with no book to read or screen to stare at is a wonderful exercise in patience.

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Just like convenience store ramen aisles are wonderful exercises in variety.

When I leave Korea someday, I could even keep this as a habit in my weekly routine.  30 minutes of uninterrupted silence with no screens or books could prove very beneficial.  

By seeking to maximize my productivity and learning, I sometimes interrupt my mind too often.  Or one could say I don’t interrupt my stream of thought often enough.  Maybe I need to take time to sit back and listen to what my mind is trying to tell me.

2 thoughts on “Test Supervision

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