Big Test, Big Drama

This week was one of the more bipolar weeks, in terms of the difference between kindergarten and elementary classes. In terms of kindergarten, it was a relatively uneventful week. Sure, the children got on my nerves and were brats but were also good and cute at times, but that’s pretty much the norm. The surprises this week lay in my elementary classes. The reason for this – Big Test.

At our school, Big Test is a 50-question test created for each class by their teacher, assessing the entirety of the work covered in each class for the last 3 months. Writing these tests was both a pain (due to the time-consuming nature of doing so) and an interesting test of my own ability to pitch a test at the correct level for the students of each class. I drew some of my questions from the textbooks and websites that go along with them, but I also devised a host of my own questions. I was interested to see how they would do, and also how I had done.

The first class took their test on Wednesday, and this proved to be one of the most surprising and bemusing moments of teaching I’ve had up to this point. I sat two boys in the class down, explained the basic rules of a test (no talking, raise your hand if you need clarification on a question, that sort of thing), and let them begin. One of the boys, Chris, was noticeably struggling from the beginning, mumbling under his breath about how hard the test was, and progressing slowly through the questions. The other boy, Jason, had a smile on his face, and confidently answered the first few sections with relative calm. This was soon to change.

Jason reached one question where he was unsure of his answer, and put up his hand to ask for me to explain the question. I did, and he then asked if his answer was right. I dutifully informed him that this was a test, and that I could not do that. He looked at me with mild frustration, and then simply stared at his test. I thought that he was just going back to his answering routine, and I walked away. However, for the next couple of minutes, Jason simply stared at his page. Then, suddenly, he let out a wordless cry of rage, threw over his table, and sat in his chair with his arms crossed.

Inside, I was seething. What right did this little boy have to throw the desks around like that? I walked calmly up to him, and in an authoritative but fair tone, I told him that he is not five years old anymore, and that kind of behaviour is unacceptable. I picked up the table, the test, and his pencil case, and told him to get on with it. He didn’t. At twenty minutes into the test, he simply shut down. His arms remained crossed, and he just stared into blank space. After about ten minutes of him sitting in sulky silence, I called my Korean teaching assistant to come in and talk to him. He uttered not a word. Ten minutes later, our supervisor came in and talked to him. Still, not a sound came out of his mouth, other than the occasional mumble of Korean or exasperated sigh.

I was beyond floored. I wondered what had happened outside of the classroom to put him in this kind of emotional state. There was clearly something else going on in his life at that point in time, and my class was his chosen outlet of that emotion. I felt angry. I felt used. But I also felt sorry for this boy, who clearly was under immense pressure and emotional strain. So there he sat. The test time passed. I took in his paper, and Chris’. They left. I was left wondering what had just happened.

Jason returned on Friday (he only comes in three times per week), looking a lot more chipper and bouncy – his usual self, particularly on Friday. Chris goes to soccer practice on Fridays, so our class is just a one-on-one session between him and I, and I know that he prefers it this way. I asked him what happened on Wednesday, and he simply shrugged and smiled. I guess that there was no closure to be had there. Our supervisor said that I could give him his test to finish, because he clearly was not in the correct mental space for testing on Wednesday. So, I did. Tentatively, I asked him if he was ready to finish his test. He beamed, and was very eager to do so. And within half an hour, he completed the test. If only he had done that the first time. Although, I suppose if he had, I wouldn’t have this story to tell.

Luckily, giving the test to my other elementary class went much more smoothly. There wasn’t an emotional breakdown in sight. There were some ‘But teacher, this is too hard!’, ‘Teacher, please tell me the answer!’, and ‘Teacher, I can’t do this!’. With that class, however, I was used to melodrama, so I rolled my eyes, reassured them that they could do it, and encouraged them to do their best. Some of them did. Some of them drew doodles on their paper. The three children that took the test from that class (one was absent) all placed along the spectrum of effort, with one lying firmly at ‘couldn’t give a damn, so won’t give a damn.’, one perched at ‘I was lazy in class, but I will try my best in the test’, and one at ‘I listened in class, I studied, and I will try my best in the test as well’. The marks reflected this, with the lazy one failing miserably, the one who tried hard only in the test scoring exactly fifty percent, and the one who worked hard all round getting a solid seventy-odd percent. While the scores were a little lower than I expected, both they and I felt that it wasn’t an unfair test, and I was happy with that.

So, from one student having a breakdown mid-test, to failure, to success, Big Test was rather eventful. With it behind me, I can sit back, relax, and enjoy a long weekend in celebration of Buddha’s birthday on Monday. I may not believe in him, but I will certainly thank him for giving me an extra day of peace, quiet, and relaxation, free from table-flipping children.

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