It was our final exam and my students were busily writing in their individual Google Docs. Each had two hours to prepare a coherent cause and effect essay. I, meanwhile, observed them remotely, watching words magically appear on my screen; cursor blinking as they thought, letters disappearing as they changed their minds, spelling errors corrected instantaneously as they used the spell-check function. Slowly the essays took shape as each author crafted their thoughts and a semester’s diligent learning into their final masterpiece.
Except for one.
Matthew was struggling. He knew how to think and was quick to challenge and question in class. However, when expressing his thoughts in writing, he needed a little extra time for them to simmer until his pen could shape the words. I had learned to work in that extra pause in class so he could formulate his answers at a similar pace to his classmates.
This essay was no different. I watched his document remain empty for more than 20 minutes. I knew he needed a little encouragement. Finally I said, “Matthew, start typing your essay in the document you are looking at right now. Just go to the end of the page and start writing.” A moment later, the cursor started to move to the right as letters preceded it, tumbling into words and soon whole sentences. He was figuring it out.
After Matthew had written a fair amount, I scanned his document and realized he was having another challenge: he was struggling with organizing his thoughts. Once again, I spoke.
“Matthew, you’re doing a really good job, but I need you to pay attention to several things.” I pointed out the areas to fix and left him to continue. When the exam time was up, he had produced an excellent piece of writing. I was proud of what he had accomplished and told him so.
I learned something from Matthew that day. I learned that teaching never stops. The best teacher is ready, even in the final exam, to make the experience a learning moment. We have the perfect example of this when Jesus ate the last meal with His disciples and was later arrested by the rabble to be crucified. Jesus taught even in His final moments of earthly life (Matthew 26:17-56). He could have told them, “You’re on your own now. I’ve taught you for three years. If you haven’t figured it out by now, it’s your own fault.” Instead, He reminded them of His sacrifice and that He would not violently defend Himself to fulfill His Father’s plan.
I believe Matthew left his final exam confident he could accomplish a goal, rather than defeated, confused and overwhelmed. Just as Jesus supported His disciples, we as educators can support our students to help them learn and grow. Education is not a rigid system that penalizes those who understand things differently. Education is transformation through learning. We can teach to the test but when the test comes, let us not stop teaching.