I am beginning to recognize the dangers inherent in the optimistic, happy-go-lucky fashion with which I approach temping. Whenever I am offered a temp job, any sort of temp job, my mind immediately flashes forward to imagine what that job might entail. For anyone else, this imagining would certainly offer insights into whether or not the job should be accepted. For me, this flash never has any bearing whatsoever on reality. It is probably based more on what I’ve eaten most recently than on any of the details I am given about the potential job. For example, when in Honolulu I was offered a part-time administrative position at a local YMCA, I somehow assumed that this job entailed holding hands with a line of smiling children and jumping into a swimming pool. My first day of work, twenty minutes into a box of donation cards I was told I would spend the month alphabetizing, I saw the error of my ways, but it was too late. Sure, there was a swimming pool at that Y, but it was always full of old people doing Aqua Aerobics; and my help was neither sought out nor appreciated.
So it was most recently with Exam Proctoring. In my brief disillusioned flash, I pretty much pictured myself being handed free money. “Sounds good!” I told the temp agency. “Sign me up!”
My first day of proctoring, I had to stand up in front of twenty-six stone-faced law students and squeak at them to turn off their cellphones and watches, and to leave their exams face down until I told them they could begin. Once they did, the pressure was mostly off, unless, like me, you happen to find it overwhelmingly stressful to keep yourself from making noise lest you disturb the intense concentration of twenty-six scowling, furiously scribbling law-school students.
I spent the time writing letters to friends which I‘ll probably never bother to send, and stealthily eating candy. Whenever I tried to read, a hand would shoot up imperiously from the back of the room in a silent demand for a fresh bluebook. Toward the end of the exam, I gave up on my quiet activities and instead sat staring at rows of fresh-faced, ambitious law students. I imagined recognizing one of them across a courtroom, years later, when I am brought up on a public urination charge. “You can’t do this to me! I made you!” I’d cry. “Remember how I brought you extra scrap paper when you needed it? Remember how I lent you a pen to use the bathroom sign-out sheet? What if I hadn’t? How long could you have held it? Huh? Huh?”
At the end of that test, I noticed that the boy I had been eyeing with boredom-induced lust was the last to gather his things and leave. Quick, say something! I thought, and said the first thing that came to mind. “So, could you tell it was my first time proctoring?” The boy gave me a strange look. “You did fine,” he said, shaking out his hand, cramped from three straight hours of answering questions about Family Law, and I was stricken with shame. This guy finishes a three-hour law exam and my first question to him is, “So, how’d you like my proctoring?“ It was the equivalent, my friend noted, of a funeral director coming up to the bereaved after a service and asking if they liked his flower arrangements.
My second time proctoring was both less stressful, and worlds more bizarre. I had only one student, a serious, bearded young man whose test was supposed to last for six hours. That’s right: six hours. During the course of the exam I tried to remember the last time I’d spent hours alone in a room with a boy I barely knew, the awkward and total silence between us punctuated only by the occasional sigh. Then I remembered– the previous weekend. I tried not to look over at him too often, partly because I didn’t want to unnerve him, and partly because any sort of supervision seemed completely unnecessary. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why one solitary student needed a proctor to supervise his open-book exam. Is there really any way to cheat on an open book exam– especially when you’re the only one in the room and you can’t even sneak a peek at someone else’s open book? Short of his smuggling in a magical phone booth ala Bill & Ted, then using it to go back in time and find Socrates and ask him questions about Insurance Law, I couldn’t imagine anything illegal that my presence in the room was preventing.
Toward the end of the exam, I began to wonder whether any sort of strange bond was going to develop between this student and I as the result of spending so many silent hours together, and then decided it was unlikely. We had been in the same room all right, but while he had been struggling with essay questions and flipping anxiously through highlighted textbooks, I had been knitting and eating Chewy Sprees. This had clearly not been a shared experience.
“So, did everything go all right in there with Alex?” my proctoring instructor asked me when I brought him the lone completed exam at the end of six hours. I assured him that everything had gone smoothly. “I only had to take him down twice,” I joked. He didn’t seem to think that was funny.