“Exams test your memory, life tests your learning; others will test your patience.”
― Fennel Hudson,
It is 2:00 p.m. Thursday the last day of exams for our program. It is also my last time to give a final exam. I can’t count how many final exams I have given in the past forty-two years of my teaching life.
Nineteen students file in and place their beloved cell phones on the table in front of the room. They sit in alternate seats so that they don’t cheat. The rows in the class are set up as five sets of desks going across the room and six sets of desks in each row. They place their backpacks on the floor next to them and take out only an eraser and a pen or pencil.
One student does not have a pencil and asks his friends if they have one he can borrow. This student has not been prepared for class since he walked in the door seven weeks ago. One of my very well prepared students offers him a choice of two pencils and he chooses one. I pass out the test to the students in the front rows and they pass them back to the other students in their rows. There is complete silence and anxious faces. I go over the directions and ask for any questions. The student who did not have a pencil asks me to put the time on the board. I point to the wall clock in front of the classroom and tell him to watch the time. He and the other students never knew there was a clock in the room. The only way they keep track of time is with their cell phones. They vibrate in their pockets when the class is over.
The students have seventy-five minutes to take a reading exam. The exam is worth 15% of their grade. This was a good class so I expect most of them to pass. The test begins and I keep an eye on them. I have never been one of those teachers who feels comfortable reading my e-mail, grading other papers, or searching the Internet during a test. Students have figured out so many ways of cheating. I once had a student who wrote an essay on five ways to cheat during a test. The information was not very surprising, but when your future depends on a test you will try anything.
Twenty minutes have past and students are reading the passage flipping the pages back and forth because the first part of the story is on the front page and the second part is on the back. Some students begin to crack their knuckles, some are tapping their feet, and others are staring at the clock. The students have been in my classroom for seven weeks and I know who will get a passing grade and who won’t. Fortunately there is only one who will not pass. Yes, you guessed right. The one who came to class without a pencil.
Ten minutes are left in order to finish the test. Ten students have finished and handed in the exam. They grab a brownie, wave goodbye , and head out the door. As time goes by more students are finished and leave the room waving with brownie in hand. Time is over and the last student to hand in his test is the student who did not have a pencil. He hangs back until all the students have left and asks me if he is going to pass. I must give him the news which he already knows , no he will not pass. He asks me if there is anything he can do to pass. I tell him it is too late and I am very sorry. He looks at me sheepishly, takes his brownie and waves good-bye.
“The job of an educator is to teach students to see vitality in themselves”
― Joseph Campbell
This is the last final I will ever give . I will miss my students and I will miss walking into a classroom and seeing the expressions of my international students who had to listen to stories that I told them about my life when I was a student and how easy their life is. As I sit here looking at the empty classroom, I begin to feel sad. Teaching has been my life, but it is time to move on.
Goodbye students! Goodbye teaching!