But test supervision is a close second.
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)
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.
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.
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.