The tension is so thick, you could cut it with a knife.
Today was test day, and students are feverishly working away, oblivious of how much time they have spent working on this 55-minute ordeal.
Suddenly, a voice shatters the deafening silence,
“There’s 10 minutes left.”
Thirty pairs of eyes stare at me incredulously, as they each realize that’s not nearly enough time to finish the rest of the test.
I stare back, trying not to crack a smile.
After five seconds or so, but what must feel like a life time for the students, I announce, “Just kidding, there’s 25 minutes left.”
There’s an audible, collective sigh of relief, and I hear a few students murmur things like “that was the worst”. But at the same time, when I look around the room, everyone is smiling. That’s quite an accomplishment in the middle of a test.
I’ve been doing this with the first test of the semester in all of my classes for a few years now, and I really can’t remember what first motivated me to do so. (The joke only works once for each class, if it works at all.)
But it seems to me that this “comic relief” is in line with Tony Robbins belief that you can change a person’s mental state in an instant, and I think humor is a great way to do this. The momentary shock followed by a good laugh serves as a quick way to alleviate some of the pressure the students were likely feeling. I also think it’s a good way for students to get “unstuck”. I usually make this announcement when the students are about 30 minutes into their tests, at which point it’s likely there’s one or two things they’ve become fixated on. Maybe they are trying to remember a formula, or the format of a financial statement. Having your thought pattern interrupted, for even just five seconds, may help the students to look at a problem with a fresh set of eyes. I also hope it helps them to realize that they don’t have to take everything so seriously.
Of course, in the end, it may be that I am the only one that finds humor in all of this. But that’s enough to keep me going.
I’m already looking forward to next semester.