This Saturday, I’ll be taking the Praxis II–the exam that Wisconsin (and several other states) requires for teacher certification. Earlier in the year, I dutifully purchased a study guide for the test. Now that I’ve logged some major time wading through this book, I have some things to say.
The first thought that came to mind when I began to read through the content was something like, ‘Wow, this book really reminds me of the worst English classes I’ve had.’ There is no better way to kill the joy of poetry than the following:
“This excerpt is an example of a five-line stanza, so you can rule out choice A immediately because it is not written in couplets. The rhyme scheme is abaab, so choices B, C, and D are viable options. Next, you have to identify the metrical feet of the poem. An iambic metrical foot begins with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. A trochaic metrical foot begins with a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Each line of this excerpt begins with an unstressed syllable and contains five feet, indicating that choice C, iambic pentameter, is the credited response.” (Kern, Cliffs Test Prep–Praxis II: English Subject Area Assessments)
BORING. That poor poem.
I do admit that, if any human being on Earth must really learn the ways to categorize the meter of a poem, it ought to be an English teacher. I do admit that having the academic tools to examine the structure of a piece of writing gives credibility to our field. And, yes, I pride myself on being knowledgeable about literary and linguistic nuances. I think what bothers me is the fact that someone could memorize every term in my study guide and still be a horribly bland teacher who is completely absorbed in the “what” and never reaches the “why” of anything.
I would like to add to my list of complaints that knowledge of the entire traditional literary canon is up for assessment, within a 66 question window. And most works referenced cover 3-5 questions, leaving me with the certainty of encountering about 16.5 works of literature on the test. While I have taken credits upon credits of literature courses, I find it rather likely that a few parts of the canon may have slipped me by… Here’s hoping that I’ve read the 16.5 books/stories/poems that ETS decides to throw at me. Is this really valid assessment?
Despite all the aforementioned, I will hone my literary knowledge to its finest degree in preparation to give the Praxis II people (Where are you, you fiends?!) exactly what they want. I’ll play the game. Still, I remain convinced that one cannot multiple choice his or her way into good reading, writing, or teaching.