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.

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)
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.

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.

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.

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