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G.A.C.E. face

Decaturish updates

G.A.C.E. face



10:20 p.m.

I am sharpening pencils, preparing for my Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (G.A.C.E.) test. This amounts to the most preparation I have done. My test is at 7:45 a.m. and it’s all the way in Powder Springs.

According to Google Maps, there ain’t much out there, besides the testing site. I am planning to teach high school English.

I ponder the difficulty of sharpening pencils. If I hadn’t organized a half-assed Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition game last summer, I wouldn’t have had any reason within the last 10 years to sharpen pencils. Also, kids in school still use pencils? It’s 2013 and we haven’t devised a fool-proof method of maintaining test integrity that doesn’t involve the old trusty No. 2? I’m baffled by this. Who’s running this operation? Moses?

According to my assessment packet, pencils are the only things I’m allowed to bring into the test site. THE. ONLY. THINGS. They’ve even got rules about shoes (Nothing that makes loud tapping noises). Also, no medication unless it receives prior approval.

Am I going to take a test or am I going to attempt a prison break? Could MacGyver get himself out of this fix?

What am I talking about? Of course he could.

I have $300 invested in this test, the cost of the administration fee. It was a gift from my mother who is among the top 10 teachers who have ever walked God’s green earth. She doesn’t get credit for her amazing abilities because my mother, like her son, doesn’t bullshit and is a terrible politician.

Unfortunately, her son did not inherit her aptitude for mathematics. My mother is happy that I’m a writer, but wants me to have options, should I decide to pursue another career.

Sorry, gotta go. I have to sharpen my pencils so I can get ready to take my English assessment test. Whittle, whittle, turn, turn, scrape, scrape, ponder Moses.


5:50 a.m.

Been up for the last hour. I rarely miss appointments that cost $300 to make.

I am not looking forward to the hour-long drive to the test site. I wonder if there’s any possibility of grabbing a bite to eat in between my basic skills assessment and my English assessment. I didn’t do a thorough investigation of the area around the test site, so I’m worried I may have to shoot a deer, gut it, skin it, cook it and, presumably, eat it for much needed test sustenance.

This concerns me. I’ve never killed a deer. I wonder if I have the power within me to take an animal’s life and use it as fuel, propelling me toward a career in secondary education. Will that deer know that it sacrificed its life so that I may teach other people’s children to read good?

In my head, I name the deer Bambi.

7:45 a.m.

I arrive at Hillgrove High in Powder Springs, which is what I would name a high school and its city if I were writing a sitcom. I’m contemplating a lawsuit about this.

The town and city are the burbiest of the burbs and the school, built in 2006, is the size of the Jedi Temple in Star Wars. I had no problem remembering what to bring: No. 2 pencils, and some comfortable clothes. No hats, no notes, no mobile phones, but do bring your ID.

I saw several of the other test takers turned away because they wore hats. Future teachers of Georgia apparently don’t like reading instructions before taking a test. This is a bad sign.

8 a.m.

A gym coach with a bull horn walks to the front of auditorium where the test-takers, the ones deprived of their cell phones, are trying their best to be nice but not make any new friends. We already have a few hundred of those on Facebook. Don’t need to be adding any more, k thanks.

The gym coach tells us not to use cell phones. He says if we have cell phones, we should in fact not have them and asks us to please turn them in so we won’t have them.

Also, no cell phones.

He then clicks off the bull horn and walks away. We resume not making friends.

One of my new non-friends tells me that this will be the last time state is using this version of the assessment test. The state will soon be switching to something called Praxis, she says.

I’m not testing for my history certification but I’m making history.

8:15 a.m.

Move herd, move. Future teachers of Georgia funnel into crowded hallways and I realize the school’s walls look like painted cinder blocks, much like my old High School in Hurley, Miss.

Never heard of Hurley? It’s tiny, near Biloxi. My favorite memory of the place is the month after the state legalized casino gambling. I swear it was like the next day, every classroom and office had a brand new computer.

My mother taught there for 25 years, before retiring and switching school systems. My mother probably shaped my love of reading more than anybody else. It took my mom 30 minutes to get to work.

When I was a toddler, she would show me vocabulary flash cards during her commute.

“Over” “Under” “Up.” “Again.”

I don’t remember her doing this, it’s her account. I don’t doubt her.

My testing area is a Spanish classroom. Intermittent frescos are painted on the ceiling above us. It’s the kind of ceiling with those rectangular tiles that look like dried sponges.

A man walks by, stops in the door and asks if we have cell phones. We do not.

The teacher administering the test shows us where to sign in, makes sure we are sitting in our assigned seats, checks our ID and gets our thumb print on each test booklet.

I note the similarities between public education and the penal system.

A man walks by, stops in the door and asks if we have cell phones. We do not.

8:30 a.m.

The teacher holds up a yellow sheet of paper with instructions.

She looks down, looks up, smiles and says “Good day” before pointing to the piece of paper and mouthing silently, “It’s on the sheet.”

She then proceeds to read a script informing us that we should not have cell phones. If we do, the script says, we are invited to turn them in now, like sinners to an altar. There are no sinners.

A man walks by, stops in the door and asks if we have cell phones. We do not.

The teacher reads on. There are numerous signature lines, bubbles and other bits of documentation we must complete before we finish the test. I imagine, some years from now, I will have a nightmare that I filled in the wrong form for the wrong test, the way I have nightmares about forgetting to drop a college course.

We probably spend more time talking about how to sign our name and fill in the correct bubbles than we do talking about the actual test.

8:35 a.m.

We will have four hours, the teacher says. Begin. I pick up three basic skills assessment booklets. I confront the one I’ve been dreading since elementary school. Basic skills math.


My mother’s subject.

I have a plan.

I’m able to take the tests in any order I chose. Reading and writing will be less of a challenge. I want to make a good faith effort at passing math. This may be the only good faith effort I’ve made at passing math in my entire life.

I know I need to be patient and thoughtfully consider each question.

As I work my way through the booklet, I’m comforted by the things about math I can remember.

I have a flashback to sitting at the kitchen table. I’m maybe 10 years old. My mother is pulling her hair out trying to teach me how to do basic division. My way of solving problems smacks of laziness. I put an answer down, even if I have reasonable suspicion that it’s wrong. I assume I miscounted somewhere and the answer closest to my answer will be good enough.

At one point, after enough whining, my mom refuses to teach me. Then a dark realization sets in.

I was toast without mom’s help. I beg for her help.

I am begging for her to tutor me in a subject that I hate. Of course, my mom’s a terrible politician. She eventually flip flops and I become a proud C+ math student.

Fortunately, I decide to attend the University of Alabama. The only math UA only requires is knowing how many beers you drank before you passed out.

Wait, what is this “Wonder years”? I’m taking a math test.

10:30 a.m.

Done with math. I think.

I give the answers another look-see. I pick the same answer over and over for the problems I can’t solve. I figure I have a shot at getting one or two of them right through sheer luck. I learned that trick from one of my middle school teachers.

It’s 2013 and kids are still doing the same kind of assessments I did in the 80s and 90s. Not only that, but teachers are being evaluated the same damn way.

I step out for a minute and walk to the bathroom so I can splash some water in my face. My eyes dart around and I have to shake my head a few times before heading back to the testing room.

I grab my test booklets and move on to reading and writing.

11:15 a.m.

These No. 2 pencils are starting to piss me off. Writing an essay in pencil must be some ancient hazing ritual used to test your aptitude for redundancy and pain.

My handwriting is atrocious anyway. Once I figured out how to type, writing things in pencil sounded like a historical reenactment.

Well, Ye Olde Village Scribe is doing his level best to make it legible. Whoever wrote the test stresses the test won’t judge the quality of the writing, just the mechanics of it.

If the writing is good enough, that implicitly means the mechanics are good enough, I think.

Whatever. I didn’t write the test.

12:25 p.m.

Done. I am asking the teacher, who is pleasant and has a cynical side that I find comforting, to help me make sure I bubbled and signed all the things. She confirms I have.

I head out to the car and update the world about my progress. I scarf down peanut butter and bread.

People at the testing site have been staring at me wide-eyed when I tell them I’m doing taking my basic skills and English I and II tests on the same day.

At first I thought they were overestimating the test’s difficulty. It’s actually not that, I realize as I’m sitting in the car.

It’s the difficulty of staring at blank bubbles for hours and hours. You start to go cross-eyed. You start questioning whether you’ve bubbled in the right answer for the right question. You start staring at the paper a little too long and the paper becomes pixels, allowing you to see that you’re actually inside the Matrix.

I wipe my fingers clean of peanut butter and head back inside for Round 2.

12:50 p.m.

I am in the auditorium. The gym coach with the bull horn walks up to the front of the room.

He reminds us that we can’t have cell phones. He walks away.

The woman behind me, a teacher getting another certification, strikes up a conversation. This crew of test-takers is chattier.

I ask her opinions about several local education topics, but I was most interested in finding out what metro Atlanta school system teachers consider “the best.”

“Oh, Gwinnett,” she says, like it’s a fact as well known as gravity.

Interesting, I think. I’m fully prepared to commute long distances to teach. I hold no illusions about the desirability of English teachers over math teachers. Contrary to what you see on the internet, a surprising number of people know how to read and write well enough to teach English.

But you have to support good writers. Without them, you would have no basis for mocking celebrities.

Thanks to the internet, the 15-minute celebrities are starting to outnumber us.

1:15 p.m.

I am back in the same Spanish classroom, but I’m in a different seat this time. The teacher who administered my first test is there again, too. She pretends she has a case of déjà vu and jokes with me as I fill out the paperwork.

A man walks by, stops in the door and asks if we have cell phones. We do not.

The teacher smiles like a car salesman and reads from the script. “Good day.”

She goes over the instructions again. I stare out the window at the athletic fields. The only words I can make out at this distance is the word “gas” in the gas company’s logo painted on a sign towering overhead. The weather looks the same now as it did when I entered the room, a never-ending sea of grey.

“Begin,” the teacher says.

I’m not quite sure what I should expect with the English test. I’ve glanced at the test preparation booklet once or twice, but didn’t find it useful. There are questions about literary movements, the composition of words, advertising and – much to my surprise – journalism. There are several questions about journalism, actually.

One of the questions reads, “It is the job of the media to …”

And here are two of the answers:

C) Inform the public about local events and make them aware of the actions of their government.

D) Expose wrongdoing and hold public officials accountable for breaking the law.

I know which answer I’d like it to be. I go with the one the test writer wants.

That’s a pretty good commentary on modern journalism, actually.

The test asks few questions about grammar and mechanics, which surprises me. I’m able to deduce the answer to some questions, based on the context. It’s easy with a multiple choice test.

I have four hours. I study each booklet carefully.

3:30 p.m.

I hate these freaking No. 2 pencils. Everything I write looks like cave man scrawl. My attempts to erase, rewrite and clarify are rubbing tiny holes in the paper. It looks like I’m thinking way harder about writing high school essays than I actually am.

After going a few rounds with the No. 2 pencils, I decide that the person who invented the typewriter was a genius.

Why isn’t there a holiday for that guy?

Then I remember that guy’s efforts ultimately resulted in computing and, therefore the near-total collapse of journalism. On second thought, eff that guy.

4:15 p.m.

Going back over my bubbles, checking to be sure I’ve filled them in completely. I have gone through eight sharpened pencils. I don’t have a sharpener because I don’t want to be disqualified from the Secondary Education Hunger Games.

I psst! at the teacher, who is sitting at her desk and reading a paperback. She comes over and I ask if she’ll make sure I signed all the things correctly. She looks it over and nods.

So nice, that one.

4:18 p.m.

I walk out of the room and shake my head a bit to knock the fog out. I’m in a bit of a daze but I am able to get back to my car.

On my way home, I miss my exit, wondering if I got one of the math problems right.

6 p.m.

I am home, in bed, almost floating above it. A weight is gone. The test I spent several long months not preparing for is finally over. I call my mom.

“I did math problems,” I tell her. “I feel like you should tell me that I’m driving you crazy.”