Some things are worthwhile

I'm sitting here behind the teacher's desk, facing a silent class. The room is not empty though; there are 15 fully concentrated young learners writing a progress test. I'm not really busy at the moment so my only task is to watch them and enjoy the silence. 

I have to smile when I look at the girl right in front of me who's mouthing words while reading the instructions. She looks so cute with her nose almost touching the paper. She has a very important job to do today - to come up with the correct answers to my questions. She probably spent all day revising for the test, instead of doing something more enjoyable, and so I honestly keep my fingers crossed for her.

When I started teaching English I didn’t use to be a fan of proficiency and progress tests; I didn't like them because they usually spoilt the students’ average grade score. This was mostly true for the weaker students in the class. I couldn’t get it why the kids who got straight As or Bs in all short tests did so badly in a progress test. When tested on separate grammar features and vocabulary items, they did well but when all these things were put together in one longer test, they messed it up completely. I obviously blamed myself for being a bad teacher. 

I've just heard somebody coughing. I think it was the girl in pink trousers, chewing her pen nervously. She's going over her answers now and scrutinizing her brightly polished nails. Now she's put her head on the desk - I think she's not well; she seems to have a cold but she's here anyway because she doesn't want to miss her lessons. 

Some sneezing and nose blowing again. It' the boy who never stops smiling - he's such an optimist that it sometimes irritates me, especially if I'm in a hurry and have no time to listen to his stories. He enthusiastically talks about his imaginary worlds and the journals he writes. He's written a few so far - mostly fantasy stuff, I think. But my breaks are too short for me to fully appreciate his creativity... In the morning he told me that his mother is a massage therapist and that I *must* check out her Facebook page. Just before the lesson he asked me if I had done it yet. 

Now a girl has asked me politely if she can go to the bathroom. She says thanks when I nod and rushes out of the classroom. To the left there's a girl who uses thick markers to take notes and to fill in her tests, which makes them absolutely illegible. Well, I usually lend her my own pen. She finished a couple of minutes ago and it seems she's writing a poem now - with her thick black marker, of course. This girl is terribly forgetful; she rarely remembers to do her homework but she’s a brilliant student anyway and amazingly creative. Whenever I announce a project to be done, she jumps up happily. And her work is usually fantastic if I manage to decode her handwriting. 

The sick girl has finished too so she has more opportunities to cough and sneeze and blow her nose, paper napkins all over the desk. I’m surprised I haven’t caught flue yet; everybody seems to be under the weather these days.

It's so refreshing to watch the kids work when you’re not involved. I wonder what happens in their little heads. Do they have to rack their brains to form the past tense? What about the functional language - we've practised it so many times before; I hope it's a piece of cake for them to recall the correct answers.  
Now everybody seems to have finished. One boy has collected the tests and the kids are checking their answers against their workbooks or they ask each other to compare what they came up with in the test. Most of them seem to be happy with their answers. That’s a good sign. I don’t think I’ll be able to mark their tests by Christmas even though I’d love to. The quicker the feedback, the better but the day only has 24 hours.

It's the last lesson before lunch so they're getting slightly impatient and want to start packing their books and stuff. We've only got a couple of minutes left and I think I can let them go because they've worked really hard over the past 45 minutes. They’re off to their own worlds – to horse clubs, music schools, libraries, dance clubs, parks, or bedrooms. 

I'm really glad that I spend more time preparing my students for progress tests than I used to in the past. I tell them what exactly they may expect and I draw their attention to things that cause problems. I sometimes give them a mock test or even show them the real test in advance. This, in my experience, gives them a sense of security and encourages them to go over the things we have covered in the course so far. This works best with young learners. My motto is: no surprises but the rest is obviously up to them. This approach pays off and the reward is the shiny happy faces glowing with satisfaction and pride after they finish and hand in their work. This makes me happy because I know I did my best to help them succeed, and it also makes me feel less frustrated when they fail.