1. a person appointed to keep watch over students at examinations.
2. an official charged with various duties, esp. with the maintenance of good order.
–verb (used with object), verb (used without object)
3. to supervise or monitor.
[Origin: 1350–1400; ME; contracted var. of procurator]
End of Grade exams (EOGs) were this week at my son’s middle school. A few weeks ago I had volunteered to help relieve teachers for while so they could enjoy some punch and cookies and a massage during Teacher Appreciation Day. At the end of the day, I was asked if I would consider being a proctor for the EOGs, and gladly said I would.
I was a little mystified about the need for proctors at a middle school, but upon looking into the matter the fog cleared quickly. EOGs are state level assessments, similar to the annual fill-in-the-circle exams we took when I was in school. North Carolina takes the integrity of these exams to a whole new level, however. Teachers check out a tub full of exam booklets and answer forms each morning, are required to keep that tub with them at all times throughout the exam period, and check it back in at the end of the day’s testing.
Proctors are assigned to each classroom to watch teachers and students, ensure that there is no cheating, and verify that each student has a matching color-coded test book and answer sheet with their name pre-printed on it, among other things. Proctors are not permitted to touch the exams, the answer sheets, or even the students’ pencils or calculators at any time, even to assist in handing them out or taking them up. Each item is meticulously and methodically rationed out by the teacher, one student at a time. Not even a “take two pencils and pass the rest” approach is permitted. If the proctor spots what may be an issue with a student, the proctor takes the concern to the teacher rather than address the issue directly. Should a student require an emergency bathroom break, the proctor escorts the student to and from the toilet.
It’s all very easy and mundane, with only one real hurdle to overcome: proctors are not permitted to sit at any time. So for a little more than four hours each of the last three mornings, I have diligently paced between the desks of students while they furiously but silently filled in little circles on answer sheets (with only number 2 pencils, of course!). It was an interesting experience, being able to just watch the students while they mostly paid no attention to me. It seemed almost like a science experiment where the scientist watches the behavior of his laboratory mice from behind mirrored glass.
I’ve written a little about it below the fold.
On the first day, Tuesday, I wear my green suit with the soft heeled brown loafers Little John got me for my birthday, hoping they’ll be pretty comfortable. They are. I amuse myself while performing my proctoring duties by mentally noting the little quirks and mannerisms of each of the students. It’s reading comprehension day. She absently bites her pencil while thinking. He taps his expensive sneaker to an inaudible rhythm in his head. She is the only left-handed student of the seventeen, and tilts her answer sheet at a nearly perfect right angle, even though she’s not really writing on it, per se. He reads each problem very slowly and carefully, and she moves her lips when she reads, which is kind of cute and amusing to watch. She pulls her arms from the sleeves of her sweater, and stabs one out through the neck hole with vicious confidence to make her circles when she’s sure of the answer, but timidly peeks it out from the waistline when she’s more doubtful. In my head, I nickname this one “Turtle”, though she is one of the first to finish. There are only three boys in the class, and they are slower to answer than the vast majority of the girls. He checks the clock after each answer. She obsessively covers her answer sheet while working on the problem in her book, constantly shuffling her papers.
On Wednesday, I opt for black slacks and a white shirt and red tie, forgoing a sport coat. My ten year old deerskin shoes have a more traditional hard sole that taps on the floor as I stroll around the room, in stark contrast to the teacher’s squeaky sneakers. By this time, I’ve figured out that pacing slowly, about the same pace as the ticking of the clock on the wall, will get me through the day with less pain.
She finishes first today, a full 45 minutes ahead of the next student. It’s math day, Barbie can go suck an egg. He’s kind of antsy today, and the rhythmic tapping is absent. She falls well behind the other students right from the start. She sits up very straight, relaxed and elegant, and looks more like a young school teacher grading papers than a middle school student under the gun. She slouches down in her chair in stark contrast just across the aisle. He works his problems out on the scrap paper first, then colors his answer, while she works all the answers out in the book itself, completing a whole page before she goes back and fills in the answer sheet several questions at a time. I know all their names by this morning, having had little else to do. Some of them are friends of my son so I have a head start, and he “dated” this girl and that one, and I think that one over there as well, once or twice. The only noises in the room are the sounds of shuffling papers, scribbling pencils, squeaking tennis shoes, and the tapping of my soles.
My son has spoken to one of his former girlfriends, and my shoes and the teacher’s nearly drove her insane in the quiet of the day before. I opt for the green suit and soft soles again on Thursday. They’re nearly silent. Most of the students are breezing though, with no hint of frustration or massive effort. Lefty is very organized and methodical, neatly marking up her Periodic Table with lines and headers and notes and divisions before she starts. It’s five minutes into the exam before she even cracks the test booklet, but still she finishes first. I’m thinking these students have a very good Science teacher. Not very many of them are skipping any questions to come back for later, just a few here and there. Turtle has her arms properly in her sweater. He’s catching up to the rest, though he fell a little behind early. She wears a smirk that says, “Are you kidding me? Did you really just ask me such a dumb question?” I’m encouraged.
The first three students finish nearly as a group, and after a brief pause the bulk of the class close their exams faster than I can keep track.
Rhythm-norhythm boy has pulled his hood up over his head, attempting to mask his eyes which are closed. He opens them occasionally to circle answers to questions which don’t even appear on the open page of his test book. I bring it to the attention of the teacher. He reassures me that it’s not unusual for this boy who dreams of being a rap artist. We do all we can to hover by his desk, to no effect whatsoever. I’m saddened that he will fail his Science exam and not move on to high school.
u r doin it rong!
I can’t say anything to him, but I want to. It’s killing me, but all I can do is scuff my shoe as I meander past, hoping it will bring him out of dreamland and back to reality. It doesn’t. He “finishes” at the tail end of the bulk of the class, leaving only three students to complete the task. They finish shortly thereafter, and I keep watch of the students for the third straight day while the teacher carries his priceless Tupperware box back to the office. I have very conflicting emotions about the experience, but by the time I squirm into the driver’s seat of my car, those emotions compete for attention with the pain and numbness alternating in my legs. I just want to get home while I can still press the brake pedal.
Could I help a boy like that? Would I give up in frustration? Do I really want to be a teacher? Sonuvabitch that spike through my back and leg hurt. I’d better decide soon, I’m not getting any younger. I think I could do it physically, if I can stand, sit, and pace as necessary. Could I deal with the non-physical part of it on a daily basis? I think so.
I’ve bitched before about some of the attitudes of some of the teachers there. I have to say that during my few hours there over the last few days, I saw some of the best and some of the worst of some of the teachers. Though my total interaction with the teachers was limited, there were a few things I saw that were, frankly, appalling. They were incidents that I would consider rather inappropriate and demeaning – problems I am powerless to mitigate from the outside. Could I help or would I burn out and fade into the background? I’m thinking I have to at least try, my body be damned.
With the large influx to this area of Marines and staff expected over the next few years, the district is going to be stretched way beyond its already insufficient ability to supply teachers. I think I’ll pop over to the local community college today, and see how things go.
From Whence Came the Art: