Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Today I arrived at work twenty minutes before my first class and there was a message for me. I was to call the loopy professor with whom I share two of my classes.

I called. She told me that today the students for both our classes had to have a vocabulary test, for unit seven of the textbook. I goggled at the phone.

"All right," I said, although it wasn't. I am always agreeable with this professor. She hires me.

"It should take about fifteen to twenty minutes," she said, "At the beginning of class."

"Um," I said. "Er."

I was trying to dream up a vocabulary test for unit seven of my textbook while I was listening to her. How could she do this to me?

"I will hand out the papers," she went on. "But I'd like you to collect them from your class. Let the students have about fifteen or twenty minutes to finish."

"OH!" I said. "Yes! Of course!" Then, to make sure, "Er, do you already have the tests prepared?"

"Yes," she said.

I sagged with relief. The test was for HER textbook, not mine.

I did not stay sagged for long, however, because I then realized that my lesson plan was going to take too much time and I would have to prepare something different. Fortunately I had something suitable in my enormous bag. (This is why I have an enormous bag. I am prepared for ANYTHING.)

Unfortunately, the copy machine chose this moment to stop working.

Also unfortunately, in a bizarre effort at cost-cutting this particular school has decided the part-time teachers no longer need a secretary, so while we have a secretary's desk there is nobody sitting at it, and nobody who knows the vagaries of the copy machine, which stop working on a regular basis. One of the teachers, on her way out the door to her class, noticed me jumping up and down and making rude noises, and laughed sympathetically.

"Chotto matte, she said, and disappeared.

I chotto matted, and eventually someone from the office appeared. He consulted a manual, and fixed the machine.

It was now five minutes after my class was supposed to begin. However, the students were doing a test, right? And in any case, the professor was always late for her class, so I was pretty sure it would be all right. I made my copies.

Then I raced up the stairs to my classroom, just in time to spot the professor at the end of the corridor waiting for the lift to go down.

"I have given them the test!" she cried cheerfully. "Please let them have about fifteen minutes, and then collect the papers. I forgot something in my office. I'll be back soon."

The lift doors closed behind her.

Puzzled, I went along the corridor and peeked in the two classrooms where our students were. I had thought that she would put the classes together, but she hadn't. Nor were either of the classes supervised. I went into the wrong one, first (I do this almost every week because we change rooms each week and I always forget where I'm supposed to be) and said hello to the students. They did not seem to be doing a test. They seemed to be having a party. We greeted each other cheerfully and they told me I was in the wrong room.

I went through to my classroom. Half of my students had finished the test and were having a nap, and the other half were still looking up the answers. There were some unused test papers on my desk, and after a couple of minutes two latecomers arrived. I handed them the test papers. They sat down, asked their friends for the answers, wrote them down, and promptly fell asleep.

I looked at the test. There were six ridiculously difficult words on it, three in Japanese and three in English. The students were supposed to write the translation the other way, and of course they were doing it perfectly. That's what dictionaries and textbooks are for.

I could not imagine the purpose of this test. Nor could I imagine how it could possibly take fifteen or twenty minutes. I collected the papers. The students had all written identical, perfect answers.

After about ten minutes of thumb twiddling (me) and napping (the students) the professor came back and I gave her the test papers.

"The students seem to have done very well," I said.

"Yes!" she said, enthusiastically, leafing through the papers. "They're very good students!"

She smiled at me. I smiled back. Neither of us displayed even a tiny hint of irony. We were totally, whole-heartedly sincere and self-congratulatory. Actually, I don't think the professor does irony. It is not in her repertoire.

We went to our classes, and everything went back to what passes for normal.

I can only remember two of the words on the test. One word was diagnosis. The other was brain-damaged.


Lia said...

Have I mentioned recently how much I love your stories?

This reminds me of a test I took in college, where the TA "stepped out" for an hour and a half, and out came the laptops and Google. The TA didn't even care, but it drove me nuts.

Ian said...

For me I'd line up to have a google search function installed in my brain.

Maybe it was a test of their ability to look up words in the dictionary? Did the words have multiple meanings?

Like Yasumi, Weekend/Vacation?

Badaunt said...

Lia: Thank you! And wow, it happens in other places too? Although that was a TA, not a professor. I don't mean it is any more professional - it isn't - but surely the person in charge of the course overall should CARE about these things!

Contamination: They were all medical words. These students are in a course that is supposed to be training them to become school nurses one day.

Actually they were using their textbooks if they had them and dictionaries if they didn't, and since the words came straight out of the textbook, which had the translations in it, it was just a matter of locating it.

It was all rather bafflingly meaningless, like so many other things about university life here.

Bill C said...

Clearly they're very good students because they have such well balanced teachers. Imagine if you were both loopy (chaos) or both adept, capable and coherent (anti-chaos).

Okay that might not make much sense, but let's remember *I'm* not the one facilitating brain-damaged tests.