Thursday, July 26, 2007

Meltdown

Yesterday I went to the university to change the grade of the student I had failed. I had got in touch with a colleague who would be there today, administering tests, and we planned to have dinner together after she finished. One of the faculties is insisting on tests, this year. They are not speaking tests, although the courses are supposed to be speaking courses. Also, the tests were not written by the teachers, but by the course coordinators. I was very fortunate in that I did not have to do these tests. This year I did not have any students from that faculty, which seems to be suddenly very much into micromanaging every aspect of what the teachers do. I have been watching my unfortunate colleagues climb the walls all semester ("THEY HAVE TAKEN THE CHALK OUT OF OUR HANDS!") and feeling a little smug at my good luck.

I arrived earlier than I needed to. Changing that one grade was easy, because the boxes of grading papers was still fairly empty, and having handed them in early mine were right at the bottom and easy to find. Having done that, I discovered I still had an hour before my friend's test was due to finish.

I knew which classroom she was using for testing, so I went over there and spied on her from across the quad. I could see her explaining something to her class of students, and gesticulating wildly. She appeared to have suddenly turned into a French person who has just been involved in a traffic accident, and I could see her audience was fascinated.

I went back to the teachers' room to wait in air conditioned comfort. A couple of other teachers came and went, mostly finishing off grades and so on. We chatted. Most people did not have tests today, only the (very pissed off) teachers who had students from that one faculty.

Eventually I went back to the corridor to see if my friend's students had gone. They had, so I went into the classroom. My friend was standing at the podium, writing numbers on cards. When she saw me, she went pink and started yelling.

"ADMINISTERING THIS TEST WAS MORE STRESSFUL THAN TEACHING!" she shouted, and went off onto a long rant about how stupid her students were, how stupid the coordinators of the program were, and stupid the test was, and how stupidly things had gone.

There had been problems with the test, I gathered. She was testing all day yesterday and today, and was Not Happy. She had had to change a couple of questions on the test paper that did not make sense, but since the papers had already been printed that meant she had to write the new questions on the board and tell the students to do those, and not to attempt the ones on the paper.

"NEVER MIND PILOTING THE TEST!" she shouted. "THEY DIDN'T EVEN PROOFREAD IT!"

Every time she collected the papers she discovered that despite her careful instructions a few of the students had ignored what she wrote on the board, and had tried to answer the unanswerable questions on the paper.

"WHICH PART OF THAT DO YOU THINK THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND?" she yelled, pointing at the board. "THE BIT WHERE I WROTE THE QUESTION ON THE BOARD AND DREW A GREAT BIG CROSS THROUGH IT AND THE WORDS, DO NOT ANSWER THIS QUESTION? AND WHAT ABOUT COLLECTING PAPERS? WHAT IS SO DIFFICULT ABOUT HANDING IN A TEST PAPER?"

She was gesticulating again, and I was as fascinated as her students had been. Gaijin always look like gaijin here, but at that moment she looked like a VERY gaijin.

The day before, one of the students had walked off with his test paper, she told me indignantly. This, it turned out, was her fault (the teacher is always wrong, especially gaijin teachers), and for every test after that she had to count the papers before she could let the students go. The students, however, did not seem to understand "DO NOT LEAVE THE CLASSROOM!" and kept trying to escape, which meant she had to run out into the corridor and herd them back into the classroom until she had counted the papers. Every time she started counting, another couple of students would decide that since she was paying attention to the papers and not to them they could leave, so she'd have to chase them, which meant she would lose count and have to start again. This situation was not helped by the classroom having two doors, neither lockable.

I wished I'd seen that bit. I could have helped. I could have done my sheepdog impersonation, and barked them all back into the room. I am from NZ, after all.

Instead, I sympathized. This involved a lot of nodding and saying, "Uh-huh, mmm, um ..." and so on, because I could not get a whole word in edgewise. My friend was on a roll. She had reached the end of her rope and could not stop shouting. Everything she told me reminded her of something ELSE idiotic that had happened. She had not had a very happy couple of days.

Eventually I left her to finish marking the tests, because she had to do that today, and I knew that if I was in the room she would not get anything done. She had too much to get off her chest.

When she had finished, we went out to dinner. After a couple of hours of good food and wine and intensive, in-depth criticism of the Japanese education system she was much recovered, especially after we veered off on a tangent and ended up talking about embarrassing teacher moments instead. We shared a few loss-of-dignity stories, and ended up laughing.

It occurred to me, as we said goodbye, that if the semester were extended one more week we would have to stock the teachers' room with wine, to stave off teacher meltdown. It's the only thing that works.

6 comments:

Lia said...

I should have gone to school in Japan. Because I, as the student, used to have that kind of meltdown every semester. No one offered me wine, but I got offered every type of caffeine and stimulant that people can buy through Canadian pharmacies.

Radioactive Jam said...

"I am from NZ, after all." Ha!

Great story. Glad you were able to help her recovery.

Badaunt said...

Well, I AM from NZ. What's so funny about that?

Actually, that reminds me of a concert I went to in Wellington once. After the concert, actually. Hoards of people were pouring out of the venue and along a fairly narrow road, quite late at night, and I guess because we were all Kiwis and not really used to crowds, people were being very well-behaved and sort of carefully quiet (we were approaching a residential area), but there were several thousand people at that concert, and inevitably there was some noise. The noise, however, was also typically Kiwi: someone started making sheep noises, and a couple of others started doing the dogs, and the farmer's commands, and it was SO surreal, because we all took it up, but sort of quietly, and in the dark it was very easy to imagine we were in the middle of a flock of rather sleepy sheep.

I can't even remember who the concert was, now, but I remember the sheep-herding afterwards VIVIDLY. It didn't last all that long, as people headed off in different directions, but it was blissfully funny.

Badaunt said...

Oh, and Lia? Wine works better! Coffee works during the day, but after classes you need to wind down, not up.

tinyhands said...

Your university stories always leave me feeling stressed. I need to find a Japanese administrator here in the States that I can smack around on your behalf.

Pearl said...

Oh, end of year meltdown. So glad I'm not teaching any more. Thanks for the reminder. :)