What I Hated the Least Today 147/365: Invigilation

Seen from the teacher's perspective
Seen from the teacher’s perspective

Invigilating students writing tests is arguably the most boring part of teaching. When I was a student myself, teachers would bring newspapers to amuse themselves with while sitting for hours on end in oppressive classrooms and wondering whether the students have unionised already and will stage a revolution to overthrow the tyranny of the teacher. It never happened during my student lifetime, which means it’s bound to occur now that I’m a teacher myself, so that I could get the full enjoyment out of being trampled to death by a horde of frustrated kids.

Like my teachers before me, I don’t take any interest in the students’ struggle. I’d like my efforts to be commensurate with my wages, but I already work considerably harder than what I’m paid for, therefore there arises no obligation for me to be committed any deeper. I can’t say that I bring newspapers to read while on my watch – I make use of current technology to pass away the time of torture for those sitting the test and time of dullness for me as the not-so vigilant overseer.

I’m gradually getting the hang of it – of trying to do something at least marginally productive during the time that is bound to be wasted – as illustrated by the following sample of activities I indulged in during my most recent babysitting, I mean studentsitting session.

  • I updated my Instagram with my latest rubbish phone snaps; reorganised (again) all app icons on all my phone’s screens; messaged a few colleagues who were at work and not currently invigilating anyone, therefore disinclined to entertain me; and set up a new email signature for my phone, saying, besides my name, Sent from my dumb mobile device. Then I grew bored with the phone and decided to take it a level up.
  • I switched on my hardware-keyboard-equipped tablet with the intention to blog a little. My tablet does not have its own SIM card with a data plan, so I proceeded to set up a hot spot to make my tablet receive my phone’s 4G data without the need for cables. (I don’t carry any cables to class because I would be in real danger of using them to strangle myself in frustration.) The hot spot I set up worked. It was my first time trying, so I was pretty pleased with myself.
  • The cheating students proved to be too distracting for me to do any blogging, so I warned them (again), Zip it up for gd’s sake, you’re disturbing me, on which they did zip it up (for a while), allowing me to surf the depths of tech net to see what I can do about the increasingly annoying Instagram adds evilly masquerading as regular posts. It turned out I can do next to nothing. Even if I were willing to pay to remove adds, such option does not exist. There is one way, which involves rooting your Android / jailbreaking you iOS, which I wisely decided to abstain from since I wouldn’t know what I’m doing.

That’s one thing I share with my students after all – we don’t know what we’re doing. There is one difference though: I know that I don’t know what I’m doing, therefore I avoid doing it, whereas the kids don’t know that they don’t know what they’re doing and erroneously think that they know what they’re doing. Are you following me? In any case, I have to excuse myself now, since I need to stand up and yell at the students present to put their bloody hands so I can see them and stop Googling the test answers. Or someone gets hurt.

21 thoughts on “What I Hated the Least Today 147/365: Invigilation

  1. Yeah, that’s a huge, important difference; you know you don’t know what you’re doing … they don’t. I’d never do the jailbrak thingy on my phone. I’m scared of it.

    The online world must have changed everything, when it comes to teaching/learning. Not only exams, but also hard to determine plagiarism.

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    1. Plagiarism in essays is a difficult thing to prove – not that difficult to tell though. When I taught academic writing, students would typically find an analysis of the book online and then would rewrite it in their own words – going step by step in the precise order as the online article. You can’t prove this to them.

      In the general English tests in my most recent teaching gig, there was another interesting form of cheating – there was a reading and a listening section, which is always drawn, for practical reasons, from one of several possible teachers’ books. Now, quite a few students scored, say 30% on the grammar test that I prepared from scratch, but 100% on reading and listening. I’m sure they put a lot of effort into obtaining all the possible tests and answers. I’ll never believe that a student who can’t create a coherent English sentence will suddenly get top marks for reading and listening.

      Anyway, enough of teaching for now (and hopefully for a while). I’ll need to find other things to blog about soon. At least it won’t get so boringly monotonous.

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      1. It never was [boringly monotonous]. I understand it must be really difficult to get them on the plagiarism these days. My husband had retired when all this came into play.

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  2. Invigilating is SO boring! When I was teaching, we weren’t allowed to read or write or do anything but oversee the students in the exam hall. I would sit and work out ratios in my head – proportions of students with blonde/brunette/red hair, left handedness rates – and when I’d exhausted all those possibilities I would do things like count the proportion of broken ceiling tiles. It was absolutely mind-numbing.

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    1. I’m extremely impressed by your ability to employ your mind during such a mind-numbing task. There was no one to invigilate me, so I felt free to amuse myself as I saw fit. I was invigilating at entrance exams several times, which was far more strict, and I would spend the whole day pacing to and fro across the classroom, thinking of absolutely nothing…

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      1. My worst experience was invigilating the Oxford entrance exam in a demountable when one of the students got sick. I was the sole invigilator so couldn’t leave so had to wait for a younger student to walk past so I could grab her and tell her to go and get the first teacher she could find to come to my assistance.

        As a student, my worst exam experience was when I was 14 and a girl went into labour, waters broken all over the floor, and the paramedics struggled to get her out of the desk. The exam was halted and then we resumed once the drama and mess was over.

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        1. Hands down, this is the worst. story. ever. If it weren’t you, I’d think it couldn’t have happened. Not the student getting sick – that happens, and I recall we always had paramedics present during entrance exams – but the labour story? I’ll probably have nightmares only imagining it…

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          1. Suicide?! Sad though it is, I always hate it when people are so inconsiderate as to commit suicide in such a way that inconveniences others. The class must have been traumatised.

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  3. You know that a teacher’s lot means that when you die and you front God and he looks at you and says you have been such a crap person in life and then sends you to hell, your hell will be everlasting exam supervision. Could you think of anything worse? I agree with Laura, mind numbing. We used to have students with special provisions which meant if needed they would sit in a private space to do their exams which meant a teacher would have to sit with them. I wrote many a ‘brilliant’ poem at those times, highly self indulgent I admit but what else was i to do, the student didn’t need me….hard for them to cheat when they were alone and we held all their phones…..maybe that’s what you need to do, have a box like we did and all phones went in there…..

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    1. As long as there is Wi-Fi in hell, I’ll keep myself amused… Not to mention that I rather prefer the warmth. Your idea of hell is quite hellish though.

      I see what you mean with the special provisions students – fortunately, I never had to work with any of them, it would be surely very taxing.

      It’s a great idea to collect students’ phones in a box! It could work. Unless the students would sue the university for curtailing their personal rights. Which is another likely outcome.

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  4. Invigilating. Now there’s a word I haven’t heard before. My wife has done several days of statewide tests over the past few weeks, and teachers are forbidden to even sit down, let alone read something or fiddle with a device. State standards–she spends hours pacing around, patrolling students who are mostly too lazy and indifferent to even put forth the effort it would take to cheat. Best of all, their success is factored into her performance evaluation–and not just the English scores. The school’s overall scores also play a role in her evaluation and, at least theoretically, her promotions, even her future retention.

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    1. Invigilating is a word I Googled, and it seems to be legit – though I can’t say, as a non-native speaker… I never heard of what you describe for a chance – the student’s performance reflected in the teacher’s evaluation? Ridiculous. That’s in Britain? I’m asking so that I wouldn’t accidentally emigrate to a place where this is done.

      State regulated exams are different, I imagine I wouldn’t have the same freedom of amusing myself as I saw fit if it was other than just a minor exam at a minor college.

      On a happier (or sadder?) note, I can report that my students are creative cheaters and invest more effort into cheating than they do into studying – often I think it would be just easier to study for the exam than to invent intricate ways of cheating during the exam.

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