At Time of Writing


My senior English class are sitting their final exam. Right now. As I write this. In about 30 minutes a colleague will knock on the door and hand me a copy of the paper and I’ll see whether I’ve prepared those kids well or not.

“Don’t worry about what mark you’re going to get. Make sure you come out of that exam knowing it represents your honest and best efforts.”

In honour of the occasion I have my year 11’s sitting a practice exam that I’ve scaled down to fit our 100 minute double period. After all, why should the seniors be the only ones to have fun? Share the love I say. So, at the business end of the school year, in a silent and seemingly serene part of the world, everyone is busily writing – except me. Oh the irony! While my students are all busy putting pen to paper I sit here at a laptop struggling to explain coherently my sense of the situation.

“You’re task is not to answer the question but respond to it in a way that gets all the relevant ideas out of your head and onto the paper.”

Actually, I’ve written pages of stuff for the blog over the last two weeks. None of it is really appropriate for publishing though. Most of it has been reflecting on the nature of exams. How the last term whooshes by and is now a bit of a blur. How, in those final weeks leading up to today, my role becomes one of mentor and coach rather than teacher. How I help improve writing technique mostly by managing each student’s expectations and anxiety levels. How it becomes an ever-present, even an all-consuming distraction.

Some of it has been philosophical analysis on the symbolism of school for life or life for school. I even reviewed one of the texts we’ve studied in class with intentions of showing how this says something about education more broadly. With so much information to impart I am struggling to express it. I’m exactly where I was when I was a student myself sitting exams. Everything I do with these kids is geared towards avoiding this.

“The only thing worse than complete rubbish is incomplete rubbish. You get no marks for a blank page.”

Mrs Sterlinghurley, my editor in chief, has dutifully read several drafts and very kindly pointed out that it’s all been a bit too intense and hard to follow. Which is true. My wife must love me very much to have endured reading it all and not resented the waste of an hour or so of her life.

“The exam doesn’t favour the smartest, it favours the prepared.”

So, as I write this now, my colleague has been and gone. I’ve had a chance to read the exam. The essay topics in section A ‘Text response’ are good with lots of implications for the knowledgeable and prepared writer. The prompt for Section B ‘Writing in Context’ is useful so students who have a plan of attack for this should be able to execute it. The text for Section C ‘Analysis of language’ shouldn’t confuse anyone. They should be able to prove their worth.

“Remember the exam is out to test you, not trick you.”

In three minutes my year 11s will be done. In a few hours I’ll try to catch up with a few of my seniors as they leave. They all have other exams to study for now and their minds will be elsewhere soon.

You know what? That’s all that matters. Best I don’t over think this. Mission accomplished. Job done.

Students were warmly greeted by these signs this morning.

Students were warmly greeted by these signs this morning.

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