1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Saturday, January 16, 2016

CSET, English, Subtest IV

These Things I Carried ...

Books, notes, and colorful pens

I was flummoxed by my inability to pass the fourth subtest. I generally test well (I achieved the highest possible score on the GRE written exam), so failing the first and then second time were bitter disappointments. The first time I failed, I attributed it to fatigue: after attending to 100 multiple choice questions on literature, textual analysis, composition, rhetoric, language, linguistics and literacy, and two long essays on these same area, I was done. Having to write four shorter responses to unpredictable questions on topics ranging from drama to media to technology to poetry, graphic design, elocution, stage combat, oral interpretation, pantomime and underwater macrame (OK, officially it's only speech communication, journalism/media, drama, and creative writing, which is diverse enough) after hours of testing was akin to taking the Army's PT test consisting of push-ups, sit-ups and a two mile run, and then completing some activities that require fine motor skills such a Jenga and "pick up sticks."

I couldn't blame my second failure on fatigue. I blew it by misreading the directions. I thought I was limited to no more than 125 words per short response but the direction state clearly that the written response should be "approximately, but not limited to, 75-125 words..."  Ugh. Hence I wasted valuable time paring down my responses to this self-imposed limit and failing to attend to having thorough answers.

The Third Try 
Another unacknowledged unvictim of gender bias?


I toyed with idea of filing a class-action lawsuit claiming gender bias on behalf of all the other men who have repeatedly failed this subtest, but that didn't seem like a productive use of time. Did you know that in 2009 nearly 70% of the Ph.D.s in English Lit went to women? Or that around 60% of all secondary teachers in the U.S. are female? That's up 5% from 1999. I could not find statistics on percentages of male versus female high school English teachers but I suspect it's close to 25/75 (merely anecdotal: I've subbed for half a dozen female English teachers but only one male).

The unease I experienced taking and preparing again and again for subtest IV is rooted in this: these four domains (speech communication, drama, media/technology, creative writing) require their own set of competencies. On the test one is asked to do two things well: first, to have a firm grasp of theory and practice on each of them; secondly, to be able to summarily articulate how one would approach a problem in each area. The breadth of this task seems to favor women if the observation is valid that women tend to be better generalists and men specialists.

What is the point of this silliness? Merely to say that complaining is much more fun than buckling down and doing the work require.d to complete a task. I'm glad that I chose the route of work instead of complaining ... this time

Let the games begin...

Instead of launching a frivolous lawsuit, I took an online course (more of a set of resources) from the San Diego County Office of Education which proved really useful. It was $40 for the single subtest, but spending money motivated me to take the test seriously.  I also purchased a test preparation book. The resources are only as good as the effort one puts into studying so made flashcards with key terms and ideas, wrote sample responses to sample prompts, and perhaps what proved most important, I racked my brain to remember relevant teaching experiences and anecdotes. 

Notice the missing checkmark beside drama. This lack was evident in the results.

Just the facts, Ma'am... 

For each of the areas (speech, drama, media, creative writing) I made an outline of how I had taught some aspect of the category before. While not exactly having a "canned" answer, I tried to have a grasp of things that could be quickly recalled and applied to potential questions. Interestingly, as seen above, I passed all three of the areas with flying colors but the feedback I got on drama was "lacking support." Hello, I've never taught drama in my whole life nor do I expect I will. 

Preparing for the speech portion, I outlined an experience I had with adults at a parent-teacher night while a middle school teacher. I used this experience during the test. One of my potential media/technology topics was a beautiful Proctor & Gamble commercial for the 2012 Olympics, which I was able to use. Finally, for creative writing (the essay questions are more about editing or teaching writing), I used a comparison of two narration styles used in two chapters of The Things They Carried: third person omniscient in "The Man I Killed" and first person in "Ambush"). As the paper indicates above, I prepared for at least two scenarios for each of the areas. This preparation was very worthwhile. 

Concerning that drama essay, a note I took after the exam reminded me that the essay question was something about an Oscar Wilde play and what I would do to help students be funny or somesuch thing. Hmm...  I had no clue so I was reduced to blowing smoke.

One last hint

While not explicitly recommended, I chose to go back and read (or more accurately, read for the first time)a half dozen  "classic" high school books. This gave me a lot of familiarity with books that might be alluded to on the exam. This didn't have a big impact on the exam but it was important to do anyway. It boosted my confidence a bunch. Another "final" hint: I read and re-read Shakespeare's Hamlet, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, and Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. 

Why bother anyway? I'm already certificated in Social Sciences... 

My rationale was straight-forward. About 10% of secondary teachers teach history while a full 20% teach English. Demonstrated competency in these two areas makes me theoretically employable for almost 1/3 of the teaching vacancies. Any minute now I'm expecting that call to come with this invitation: Mr. McGuiness, come pick out your classroom!

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