Friday, October 28, 2016

Invigilating Preschool Teachers

So for the better part of this week, I was involved in invigilating an English language proficiency test meant for public preschool teachers. This involved being in a big hall to stand around and make sure nobody cheats on the reading, writing and listening papers as well as conducting a speaking test.

The reading, writing and listening papers were pretty straight forward. All I had to do was hand out some papers, wait until the allotted time was up, then collect them for marking. Waiting for people to finish answering written tests may not require a lot of skill, but it sure as heaven requires a lot of patience. I don't think that I would have minded it as much if I was allowed to listen to podcasts or even read a book while waiting. But, no. What was expected of us was to hand the papers out, wait while doing nothing, and collect the papers at the end. Nothing less, and certainly nothing more. Even having conversations with the other invigilators would be problematic because that would mean being a distraction to the people who were sitting for the papers. So I paced back and forth, sat down, stood back up, drank lots of water, went to the restroom, came back, paced back and forth again. Not the funnest thing in the world, I assure you.

The speaking test was a lot more engaging, since I had to speak to the teachers, or to put it more accurately, get them to speak and listen. I got to talk to eight preschool teachers, four at a time, about their families, travel dreams and their thoughts on the teaching profession. Some of the teachers' expressions sounded rehearsed, but I guess that is to be expected in a test setting. English certainly wasn't the first language of any of these teachers, so of course they would want to go into the test with some lines nailed down before doing it.

I felt that they were somewhat more candid in their thoughts about being a teacher though. Several seemed to go off script and started just telling the group their grievances about their profession and some shared stories about their kids and their real life classroom experiences. That was more engaging to me as the person on the other side of the marking sheet. Because they were more engaged in the conversation, I inadvertently became more invested in them. I was glad that they allowed themselves to open up and explore their thoughts more plainly because it felt more sincere and hit closer to home. And although the marking rubric is still the marking rubric and I had to give them points based off of their language proficiency, they definitely brightened up my day with their willingness to share. By the end of the sessions, I wished it didn't have to end so quickly, since I was absolutely invested in their thoughts and stories. But of course, a test was a test, and the preschool teachers wanted nothing more than to have the session over and done with so that they can go back home to their families and not have to face the stress of taking the test anymore. I would feel the same way if I were in their shoes.

The whole experience allowed me to interact with adults in a weird way. Like, what I had to do was encourage the teachers to speak so that I would be able to better assess their ability to speak in English, so when they got to a dead end in their monologue, I'd chip in with a question to get the thoughts flowing again so that they may talk again. A lot like an interview, and I liked it. Like, I was facilitating their thought process and reminding them of things they already know, just needing the slight nudge in the form of the right question to get the thought out there. And I like being able to do that.

At the end of the session, one preschool teacher asked me if I was from the JPN (Jabatan Pendidikan Negeri), and was surprised to know that I was a primary school English teacher. It was fair of them to think that, I think, because if I were in their position, I wouldn't expect the person assessing me to be a peer of mine either. The teacher who asked me that said that I seemed more like a counsellor, and I found that amusing. I asked her why she felt that way, but she couldn't find the words to explain why she said that, but I thanked her anyway.

I'd like to comfort myself with the thought that she said that because I was able to make her and and the other teachers feel comfortable expressing themselves in a test setting. That I was able to ask the right questions to get them to continue speaking and sharing. But of course, it could also mean that I didn't seem like I had any competence to handle a class of school children. It could also mean that I lacked the gravitas to be able to control 30 screaming kids at any given time. I guess I'll never know what she meant by that, but I guess that's okay.

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