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“Well, No One’s Complained”

As I walk the halls during testing week I always peek into classrooms to make sure the lights are on. Far too often I’ve encountered teachers who leave the lights off while students are taking exams. I’m really not sure why; maybe their resentment at having to proctor an exam leads them to prioritize their own comfort over that of the students?

When I see that the lights are off, I’ll step in, flip all the lights on, make eye contact with the proctor, and loudly say “The lights need to be on during testing”. Most of the time the proctor quickly averts their eyes, knowing they were in the wrong and embarrassed they’ve been called out. But one time a teacher, seemingly offended, responded “Well, no one’s complained.” I’ve heard a similar defense from teachers flouting school-wide homework and testing policies: “I give tests on whatever day I want. The students don’t complain. It’s fine.”

But there are lots of reasons a student might not complain when a teacher doesn’t follow the rules. A student may not want to publicly confess to poor eyesight in demanding that a teacher turn the lights on; a student who already has two tests on Friday may not want to risk upsetting classmates who would be happy if the teacher breaks the rules and gives them a quiz that day; a student may not want to risk possible retribution from a teacher by pointing out they aren’t following school policy when it comes to assigning homework.

Students exist on the wrong side of a perpetual imbalance of power in the classroom. Challenging authority is especially difficult under such circumstances, and in cases like this, students shouldn’t have to. We adopt rules and policies to protect student interests precisely because we know that young students aren’t always able to advocate for themselves. It shouldn’t be a student’s responsibility to make sure teachers follow the rules. It’s our responsibility, and our job, to follow them, even if we think no one will complain if we don’t.

2 Comments

  1. I’m curious: does your school actually have a rule that lights need to be on during a test? (or during class?)

    I agree about power imbalances in school, and my default is to have half the lights on in the room (which, with daylight from the wall of windows, is plenty bright; both sets of lights is actively uncomfortable). But sometimes on sunny days an entire class of students will insist they prefer lights off, which is fine with me if I walk around and check and nobody objects. As a student I myself always found fluorescent lights to be unpleasant and even headache-inducing, and strongly preferred natural light. I guess I’m wondering why you’re so sure it’s the (older) proctor’s comfort that’s driving the lights-off decision rather than the students’ comfort.

    I’m just thinking that if a senior colleague popped in and loudly announced lights needed to be on after we had a classroom agreement to turn them off that day, I would be too taken aback to object for the same reasons you list for students feeling too shy to object. But as soon as s/he left, we’d probably turn the lights back off, because otherwise adults would be imposing their preference on kids when it doesn’t seem necessary.

    Again, there’s no rule like that at my school and I’ve never heard anyone suggest the need for one, so it might be a really different situation. I am a fan of adults being consistent about implementing or enforcing school rules.

    • MrHonner says:

      I’m referring specifically to state testing week, when we administer Regents exams (and other similar exams). State testing policy requires that rooms be “well lit”, and internally we communicate that lights must be on during the exams. I wouldn’t impose myself under normal classroom circumstances, and I assure you that, when I’ve done this, turning the lights had made a substantial difference in the room.

      I was speculating when I suggested this was about the proctor’s perceived comfort; I honestly don’t know why they would turn the lights off during a high-stakes exam. It’s simply not conducive to exam-taking.

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