Today my students took an impromptu essay. That means I gave them a prompt at the beginning of class, and they spent 45 minutes trying to write a satisfying answer to the prompt, in class. All I had to do was sit at my desk and watch the clock. Every few minutes I would walk to the chalkboard and write down a number; something like, “30 minutes remaining” or “10 minutes remaining.” It was my job to proctor.
Whenever my students would hear the chalk hit the board, they would look up from their scribbling pens, startled, like a pack of meerkats who hear hyenas approaching in the distance, and wait to see which number I put down. If it’s a big number, like 30, they are relieved and go back to their words. If it’s a smaller number, like 15, they look to me with wide eyes, praying that I’ve counted wrong. Yeah, I’m bad at math, but nope, you have 15 minutes left to impress me with your writing.
They hate it, though, if I don’t put a well-rounded number. I once wrote, “26 minutes remaining”. They glared at me. I heard mutters. I later put “12 minutes remaining” and some of them threw up their hands and leaned to their peers to ask if they could believe my nerve. I admit that I have one job to do while they’re taking an in-class essay–to alert them about time–and sometimes I miss the exact “30 minute” mark; but come on! Don’t waste time glaring at me! Keep writing! Impress me! Because once those 45 minutes are up, I am taking that paper.
So I sit at my desk, watching them take a test. Sometimes I look at the clock. Sometimes I rifle through loose papers to sound busy. I think about how later I will have to read all of these essays, locked away in my dank office like Grendel from Beowulf — their 45 minutes will mean 4 hours for me. But mostly I watch them, stone-faced, remembering how the sweat used to drip down my spine during tests, and how I ached for summer vacation, and how cool and collected my own teacher looked as he wrote “10 minutes remaining” on the chalkboard.
A teacher’s small revenge.