Exams are upon us and the general attitude of my students is absolutely dismal. I have never seen such a morose group, especially with Christmas right around the corner. I have truly underestimated the power of exams on teenagers. If asked, they might liken this semi-annual test-a-thon to thumb screws or the rack. Little do they know that exams are just as stressful to this new teacher as to the students themselves. I am currently writing my first exam. The pressure to get it right is immense. This is a quarter of my students’ grade so I have to make sure it is a good test, a fair test, and a test for which they are prepared.
I think I have laid the groundwork for success throughout the semester by carefully planning my content units and assessments. But now, with this mega-test, I find out just how well my teaching is going. If my students do well, I know I have covered my content well. If they fail miserably, then I know I am not doing my job well. If they are somewhere in the middle, I know there is room for me to improve. Well, there is always room for improvement—the exam just tells you where it’s really needed. It’s like taking notes during the run of a show. Some things go well and you get to give positive, celebratory feedback. Small mistakes can be corrected with just a verbal note—the actor was already headed in that direction and needed a tweak or two. And then there are those moments in the process when things utterly break down and you have to get everyone back onstage to clarify, run again, clarify again, run again—until it’s right.
An exam is very similar. I hope there are only one or two small concepts I need to remediate when all is said and done. But if I have to get everyone back onstage and run it all again—I will! In my master’s program we learn: assessment then reflection, use data to improve teaching and learning, differentiate and remediate until every child can reach a mastery level. I have tried to keep these top of mind during my first semester of teaching. I guess the results of my students’ midterms will tell if I have done it successfully. Kids think they have to take all the tests, but my own grade on this exam will mean just as much to me as it does to them.