Saturday, December 11, 2010

I'm the CBEST: tales from the classroom

So in addition to slowly completing my dissertation, many of you know that I also teach in the classroom.  It's been a slightly harrowing process to become a certified sub, but a big step included passing the CBEST.

This was probably the easiest hurdle of the whole substitute-teaching credentialing gauntlet.  Sentence structure, usage, how to use a table of contents.  Random passages invoking 4th grade history or science.  I think I actually signed an NDA to not leak questions and answers, but to give the gist of my experience, it ranged from “Shit! Nobody told me I’d have to convert units of measurement!” to a sort of sad-appalled-rage, like: “CBEST, I am at least a graduate of an accredited high school in the United States of America.  How dare you ask a question like that, CBEST? How dare you?!?

Whatever, I passed.

Or at least I’m pretty sure I’ll pass.  It was a computer based test, and so my instant scores were initially disconcerting (58 writing; 64 math)—then the lady at the CBEST explained that it’s not a 100-point scale, much to my relief. 

See, it has 3 sections, with 80 points per section, and I have yet to get back the writing section, you need a 123 to pass.  And if you can’t figure out what that means for me, then you may not be qualified to teach in the states of California or Oregon.
Bottom line: you get 20 points per section just for showing up, so I’ll likely get > 1 point that I need on the writing section[1] in order to = 123.  I passed.

On the CBEST scale a 64 apparently means that I answered “most” of the questions correctly, and a 59 means I answered “many” correctly.  I don’t know how good that is or if it says anything about me on the smart-dumb standardized testing trajectory since the SAT and GRE both long ago, but I’m not surprised considering that I went in to this one cold with little or no preparation, and I did slightly better in math than verbal, and I passed comfortably.

With that, I have gained the ability to become compensated in exchange for my substitute teaching.  This will only lead to more amusing anecdotes and high school hijinks, such as the following highlights of teaching so far:

- 10th grade chatter before class, a student’s fantasy football team name is “Raw Dog,” a friend laughs, asks “who’s team Raw Dog?”  [Everybody tells him student’s name, laughing.]  Girl: “what’s Raw Dog?” Me: [interrupting] “something no young woman should ever say. [To boys]: Guys, come on, stop laughing.”

- “Hot Seat,” and “Marry, f--k, kill”:  Apparently “hot seat” is a game that an advanced journalism class is allowed to play during a dead day the first week of school.  I’ll just say I didn’t start this, the teacher I sub for is VERY comfortable with her student-led class (newspaper).  Even she loves this game, and lets them play it periodically on field trips to keep them together and entertained.  The rules of hot seat are simple, the class begins to yell a consensus name, and that person has to go on the “hot seat,” which is actually a red stool in the middle of the room.  The class then gets to ask said student ANY question.  She or he can answer any question, but can also say “fuck you guys,” and storm off without penalty (but this will likely elicit boos).  They then get to pick the next on the hot seat (but that can sort-of be overridden by the crowd if person selection is lame).  About 90% of questions concern hookups, like, with other students IN THE ROOM.  This is where I’ll say that the “teacher” left the room for the period, leaving me in charge to let this game play out for the rest of the period (about 30 minutes).  I was shocked by the candor of what they were disclosing.  I felt like when I saw the movie “Kids” for the first time.  Inevitably, the question becomes who would you “Marry, f--k, or kill,” again (a game I’m familiar with in my formative college days), only this is high school, and with students IN THE ROOM.  Some guy was asked what happened with “that girl in the sleeping bag.”  [Sudoku? Tweeting? I don’t know! What?]. A dating couple IN THE ROOM, were asked about sexual experiences WITH EACH OTHER.  Okay, I’ll say I was not AS shocked by the candor as I was with the comfort of the entire room.  There was not a single wallflower, nobody seemed at all embarrassed or uncomfortable.  These are high school juniors and seniors on the first week of school.  In that moment, I was so proud of my high school student newspaper.  This class has clearly gelled.

- One of our activities is reading the local weekly rag.  This is impossible for sophomores to do when there are writers named “Jocylin Dong” on staff.  I apologize in advance to Jocylin if she reads this blog (your local news coverage is syntactically flawless and concise ...)

- I have discovered that whereas I have always considered myself to be a hip-20-something educator with a full grasp on popular culture, and that I am that guy or specifically that teacher who knows about shit and actually wields this pop-culture knowledge base as a weapon—a teaching weapon.  Unfortunately, I have discovered that a surprising cultural gap has emerged between me and, at least, my English class of 14-year old freshman.  (I know, my cat is older).  Anyway, our vocabulary word was "marauder" and for anybody familiar with A Tribe Called Quest's "Midnight Marauders" album, you will know that defining the word "maraud" is literally a track interlude.  I could not pass this up.  "Maraud? Wow, this is amazing, hey, so do you guys know A Tribe Called Quest?" ... Nothing.  Crickets.  I was a little bit ashamed, but I don't know whether to direct this shame inwardly at my inability to identify this shocking generational chasm, or at my class' ignorance of one of the most fundamental groups in hip-hop history (and in my hometown!).

- I don't fucking get Justin Bieber.  I just don't.

[1] I wrote the shit out of that section.  I read a study where a guy taped a bunch of SAT writing section essays to a wall across a large room and predicted with something like 90% accuracy the scores of each essay.  The reason?  Word count and length are huge predictors of total score.  He could just look at how much text was there and tell.  There was a 600 word limit on the CBEST, I was pushing words like weight, son.

Obviously, I’ve now determined that cursing in blog-footnotes is completely on limits.  In fact, blog-footnotes are ideal curse-spaces.