With board examinations round the corner, tenth and twelfth grade classes in most schools across the country are in revision mode. Pre-finals and preparatory examinations are in full swing. Teachers carry around notebooks and folders to be corrected and report cards to be filled, juggle timetables to squeeze in that one extra class, and hold last minute discussions with colleagues and parents on how to handle troublesome promotions. Just another day at the office, perhaps, but the end of the year lends a certain tension to the school air. There is anxiety on some faces, resignation on others, a weary acceptance on the more seasoned visages, and, for the few who have learned that anxiety is neither warranted nor wise, this time is like any other… just, as Lewis Carroll would say, more so!
“The end of the year need not be any different from the end of any term,” says Gita Iyengar, Principal of Johnson Grammar School in Hyderabad. “The curriculum is broken up by term, reports need to be finished each term, so for the individual teacher, there are deadlines to meet every term,” she explains.
Such a pragmatic attitude may be understandable, and perhaps to be expected, on the part of a principal, but do teachers really feel the same way? Are they able to treat the final examination only as a barometer of academic achievement and not some ultimate pronouncement on performance? Is the yearend stress not as big a deal as it is made out to be? Or is it only something students feel?
For most teachers, the end of the year and everything it brings with it may be routine, but it is no less difficult or stressful because of that, but each individual deals with it differently and finds ways to cope. “Teachers do have a tough time when the third term comes around,” observes Sumalata Yadav, a high school social studies teacher in Kendriya Vidyalaya, Secunderabad. “The slow process of syllabus completion picks up speed, and we have to create an atmosphere that motivates the children to work toward the exams – particularly the school leaving classes.”
While, as Gita Iyengar notes, “wiser” teachers may know how to pace out their work in such a way that they are not faced with a huge workload at the end of the year, there is still a certain amount of tension that characterizes the pre-exam weeks partly because of the high expectations of parents and school managements.
“Yes, we are all concerned that the children should do well in the board exams,” agrees Sonja Dutta, who teaches Geography at Vidyaranya High School, Hyderabad. “And of course we are partly glad that they fi nally feel pressure to perform,” she adds, only half joking, and quickly clarifying, “But we also take care to help them deal with the pressure and not make much of it.”
“I think stress can also be a good thing,” notes Gita Iyengar. “The thing is to understand how to handle it.” Like her, Sumalata Yadav too feels that the right amount of pressure can actually be good for the children, and it also acts as a motivator for teachers to put that little extra into their work. “You won’t believe it, sometimes teachers are actually fighting to get those extra periods to fit in revision or practice tests for their final year students!”
Sonja too finds that the year end brings a change in the rhythm of the school, with both students and teachers making a different time-table for those months, focusing on finishing portions, meeting goals, and catching up on things not done. Sumalata agrees, adding that the first two terms tend to be busy with other things, such as sports, debates, competitions and other extracurricular activities. “From January, there is no time for these things, and the focus is entirely on lessons. Suddenly we are faced with having to prepare them for exams, using all the different ways we can.” Sumalata spends much of this time getting the children to understand how to approach the question paper, how to present their work so that examiners find it accessible.
Some schools have institutionalized a mechanism that helps them through the pre-exam period. Gita Iyengar, for instance, describes an “internal audit” that they perform a few weeks prior to the end of the final term to determine whether syllabi have been completed, whether set goals have been met, and whether measures need to be taken to help specific students do better.
The board-facing classes are of course under pressure also from parents, and often this pressure rubs off on to the teachers. Gita Iyengar feels that this can go beyond the acceptable at times, and this is something that needs to be addressed by society as a whole. This, perhaps is the kind of pressure that teachers – and students – do not need.
“So we also end up spending time counseling and guiding the children about different things, helping them deal with the pressure,” notes Sumalata.
This is an important role teachers need to play at this time of year. “Moreover, these are adolescents we are dealing with, and we need to help them through this difficult period which is not just about academics,” says Sonja.
But the year end is not only about pressure and examinations. It also is a marker of other processes and relationships, for transitions and goodbyes. These things impact different age groups and different kinds of children in different ways.
“At the end of the year, many children are already switched off from what you are saying and have mentally moved on, into the next class, and it becomes difficult to retain their attention and interest,” says Sonja.
In some schools, this transition is not so easy and the children have to be led through it gently and with sensitivity. Rajashree Vijay, who teaches in a special school in Bangalore, says, “We have to spend a lot of time in the last couple of months preparing the children for the next environment – they are easily unsettled by change, and so we have to talk them through it, helping them understand what to expect, and how to deal with it.”
In her school, Rajashree and her colleagues use the year end to prepare individual education plans for their special wards, and also talk to the teachers who will handle the same group in the following year, giving them the information needed to work with the children.
This transition must be handled carefully not only in special schools. “We too spend some time looking at the classes as a whole, considering whether it is necessary to regroup children in any way that would foster better interaction,” says Gita. “Of course, we also have to be careful to not pass on prejudices and labels from one teacher to the next, so even these sessions have to be handled judiciously.”
As students move up through the classes, teachers say goodbye to one group and get ready to welcome the next. Is there a feeling of regret and loss that comes with each goodbye?
For Sonja, like many other teachers, transitions from one year to the next have become a matter of course. “In my first few years as a teacher, I used to find it difficult to say goodbye to the leaving class, but over the years, I’ve developed a detachment and am not hassled by it any more.”
The end of the year therefore brings relief that the stress of exams is finally over; it brings hope for a new year of interesting new faces and new possibilities of creating understanding; and it brings that most welcome of things – the annual vacation!
The cope list
- Make a calendar for the whole year in such a way that you allow two full months for revision and exam preparation.
- Make sure that you have enough time for personal priorities when the demands from school are less heavy.
- Balance academic counseling with emotional and psychological counseling so that students are prepared both intellectually and temperamentally.
- Organize term-end reviews of your students if possible along with parents, so they are not surprised at the end of the year.
- Take time to relax by yourself and with your students just before the exams.
- Talk to other teachers about how they cope with the demands of the syllabus and with time management.
- Spend a little time on test taking strategies that can help ease the pressure that students feel.
- Spread out your assessments so you are not saddled with the entire lot just before reports have to be made.
- Organize a tea party or a potluck lunch before the teacher group has to start correcting papers!