It’s exam time again at my school. This time, unlike last time, I was prepared for it. I remembered to ask ahead of time when my exams were due and turned them in finished and on time for review. I remembered to check the chalkboard in the Teacher’s Lounge (Living Room) for the posted schedule of when each exam would be held and where. I remembered to check the chalkboard again days later to see when the “proctor/supervising” schedule would come out signaling the days I was expected to facilitate the exam process. I even remembered to change around the wording of my Creative Performance exam so that the administration wouldn’t hassle me again like they did last term over the supposed ‘wrongness” of me giving all three classes the “same exam”. Check, check, check, and check! I was a pro! The exams would be held, as they always were in either the S1 Homeroom, the Refectory, or the Studies Room. My exams would be given every other day and I would be expected to proctor only my E.L.C.S and English Grammar classes. My Creative Performance classes would be supervised by other teachers. Which is why I was super glad I had made the Creative Performance exam as easy as I did. The last thing I needed was for my fifty Creative Performance students to get a shrug or a bad explanation from another teacher when they asked a clarifying question. It was bad enough that when I glanced at some of the other exams I noticed grammar and spelling mistakes abounded. Too late to fix that.
I had it easier than most teachers since I taught English and not Math or a Science. There were no formulas or graphs or charts or complicated problems to meticulously check and recheck. My English exams were long on Critical Thinking Skills and short on bullshit fill-in-the-blank this term. I knew my students knew the material. They knew it backwards and forwards and in their sleep. They could recite any grammar rule I could possibly ask them. The problem was the application. They struggled to apply what they had learned into either spoken or written English. So, they really only “half-knew” the material in my estimation. On this English grammar exam I was determined to test them fairly yet show them that application was key to understanding and processing a language successfully. This term, unlike last term, the questions would all be Critical Thinking questions. They would all involve having to read, understand, process, and apply the English language. It was going to be difficult and it was going to require them to study harder than they normally did and in a different way than they normally did. I’m not an ogre, I did give them a “heads-up” in the Revision period before the exam. I told them what they should expect on the Final Exam. I listed all the grammar we had learned this past term and told them they would have to know all of it and also know how to use it in writing cohesive and correct paragraphs. I wonder how many of them thought I was just trying to scare them.
Exam day came and when I walked into the Secretary’s office I was met by my fellow proctor’s for the exam, two teachers I liked very much. They were reading my S2 English Grammar Exam to themselves and commenting out loud. One of them turned to me and said, “I do not understand. How does a student complete this exam?” So I explained it to him. There were ten “situations” on the exam paper. Each “situation” was a problem the student might encounter in her daily life. The student must write a full paragraph offering a 1 paragraph (5 sentences) solution to the problem using all the listed grammar terms they could plus proper paragraph format, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. The more grammar terms they used the higher their score. The less terms they used or the less they paid attention to proper paragraph format, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation, the lower their mark. He nodded approvingly. The other teacher smiled gleefully and said, “This will be very, very, difficult for the students. I think most of them will not succeed!” I said, “Um…I was hoping most of them would, actually.” The school secretary said to them, “Josephine wants her student’s success!” and smiled at me. We took the exam papers and the “draft” and “loose leaf” blank papers that the students would use for their work and walked to the Refectory. I passed out my own exams to my own class. The looks on their faces when they turned over the exam paper and began were priceless. Not exactly shock, not dismay,…more like incredulousness. The exam was not what they expected in spite of what I had thought I had prepared them for. They apparently thought I had been joking when I told them there would be no matching, no fill-in-the-blank, no rearrange-the -sentence. I didn’t feel bad. Not one bit. I knew what my students could do, even if they didn’t. They had three hours to show me their stuff. And it would require the whole three hours.
At 2pm the head Proctor announced “Begin” and three classes of a combined total of over 150 students in Geography, Entrepreneurship, and English Grammar all simultaneously hunched over and began. As they scribbled, I watched them work. A lot of pen cap chewing, staring off into space, rubbing of eyes and temples. I remembered my own days as a student and making those very same body movements. My job was to hand out extra paper to those who required it and to answer questions as they came up. The students would quietly raise a pointed finger from the elbow up and I would walk over, “Yes?”. They would either say, “Paper”, “Draft”, or “Question”. Much more regimented than the U.S’s test taking procedure it seemed to me. My exam required a lot of paper, more than they were used to using. I had thought of this and handed each of my students extra paper when they received their exam at the outset of the period. Birds flew in and out of the Refectory, some perched on the bars that guarded the outside facing windows and sang loudly. My fellow proctor’s and I walked slowly up and down between the seated students at their blue lunch tables. No cheating here, not today. I answered few questions, which I counted a success. It meant my vocabulary choices had been appropriate and my structure was easily understandable. Other students from other levels who were in the Refectory taking the “Entrepreneurship” and “Geography” exams got up and left. I got called away for an important phone call. My students wrote on. I walked around and checked their progress to make sure they would indeed finish in the allotted time. So far, the pacing was an affirmation of what I had come up with. Some of the students who finished too early-before the Head Proctor deemed it acceptable to hand in- went to sleep on the table, head in folded arms. But most of the students kept writing, filling page after page, taking it seriously as far as I could tell. That made me happy. The last student in S2 handed in her work at exactly 16:54 (4:54pm)…six minutes to spare and nobody in tears.
I took a quick look over what had been turned in before I opened my bag to place them inside my red plastic folder. Some errors but it looked like S2 did a fine job. I would spend most of Monday grading their work and after that quick glance I was looking forward to it. I could have done a lot of “fill in the blank” etc. It would have been faster and easier to grade. Learning a fourth language is no easy task. My students tried hard and wanted to learn. Their confidence wasn’t always the highest when it came to exercising their language skills. They were more likely to hide behind their notebooks and wait for other’s to make mistakes rather than go out on a limb on the off chance they might be correct. I understood but didn’t want to encourage that behavior. English was the future of Rwanda. My students knew that and tried hard to incorporate it into their already packed days of studying everything from their native language to Physics. I was confident that they knew the material. They just needed an opportunity to exercise that knowledge. Their success wouldn’t surprise me. I knew what they were capable of. I just wanted to see if they knew.