I have had very few opportunities to write over this Christmas break. We hosted Paul’s family on the weekend for a “Christmas” with them. Then, I worked Monday and Tuesday — we were one of two schools in all of Oregon that had to do so. Then, of course, I had to prepare for Christmas — an early Christmas for we decided to visit my family on actual Christmas. We had our own “family” Christmas on Wednesday and we left on Thursday to have another “Christmas” with my family since it worked out to be with my brother, home from Afghanistan, his wife and his daughter. On Friday, we had Christmas Eve which is typically my side of the family’s biggest celebration. We tramped around in the rain to sing Christmas carols at friends’ houses and convened at my Auntie’s house to eat, eat, eat. Finally, we had Christmas on Christmas day when we woke up to discover Santa visited, filled the stockings, and brought a gift for each kid. We ate dinner at my Auntie’s house again and visited with my grandma, 97, there.
We left for home the next day and I began studying in earnest for a test that is required for me to teach Spanish. When Crook County School District requested that I take this job, it was recommended that I attempt this test, though not required. Though I have my teaching license, it’s as an English or ESL teacher. Spanish is just something I picked up while living in Costa Rica.
I said I would attempt the test. A few weeks prior to taking the test, my principal informed me that new laws require that I pass it in order to teach students Spanish. The superintendent was obliged to begin looking for my replacement immediately in the event I did not pass it. The pressure was on.
After Christmas, I studied hard — trying to prepare for what my colleagues told me was an extremely difficult test. The other teachers on my team majored in Spanish and they did not pass the first time. I have never studied Spanish formally, other than the few classes required in high school and college. Especially, I have never read anything difficult in Spanish. When I looked at the test questions, my heart sank. How would I ever prepare for such a thing? But I labored anyway, amidst tears and an occasional “throwing up of the hands.”
I had a few things on my side — I’m a good test-taker. I can read very quickly and ascertain what information is needed to understand a passage — in English. The other bolstering idea was that my father, who is fluent in Spanish, promised to help me a few days before the test. My biggest fear was the listening. I usually can find ways to communicate what I need to say, but I’m not a good listener — even in English — my family complains about it all the time. The week before the test, I studied until my eyes hurt, my head ached, my back ached, my neck kinked — a visit to the chiropractor didn’t really solve the problem.
The day of the test arrived and the stress of it wore heavy on my face. I was greeted by friends with “You look tired …” A few hours prior to the test, I got a call from the doctor that a test turned out “abnormal” and I needed to come in to discuss it. In my state of mind, I immediately thought of the C-word and imagined all my girls motherless. It was too much. I burst into tears.
I took the test and …
I bombed it.
I used an old test book from my colleague to study. Since then, the test has changed. According to the Praxis, I would have the bulk of the first half be multiple choice — listening and reading, six parts speaking, and finish with three sections of writing. The ORELA started with speaking and it was a personal opinion piece. I had practiced with multiple picture prompts — using a variety of tenses, descriptions, and dialogues. The timer began. I had one minute to form an opinion and two minutes to speak about it. I finished what I had to say in 30 seconds. There was a long, long, long pause and then I added a few lame sentences. Worse, that was the only speaking part available to attempt. There weren’t any other sections that allowed me to speak.
It felt doomed from the beginning.
Next, was listening. There were many points where I couldn’t focus because I knew I had bombed the speaking section. I have never experienced test-taking anxiety in my life. In fact, there hasn’t been a teaching test that I haven’t passed easily on the first try — and this isn’t common — there are many teachers who have to attempt at least twice, sometimes many times. But I was feeling test-anxiety then, I think. I sweated, my palms were clammy and cold, my head ached, the blood rushed in my ears, and I had difficulties focusing.
I got through the listening — badly it felt. Then, the multiple choice began. First up, a long page of reading — a convention of environmentalists were trying to persuade companies to lessen their impact on the environment — I think. Then, a technical exposition on a species in the rainforest with a curious song that lives in Puerto Rico — I think. Three more of those and I looked at the time. I decided to skip through the long reading section and answer the shorter ones first. I flagged twenty out of 74 questions! That meant I had to read about fifteen pages of material and answer a minute question or two about each.
I muttered to myself that I was in deep trouble. I answered the grammar questions and got to the one writing section. Wrote my piece with seven minutes to spare. Went back to the twenty questions of reading and started answering in a careless pattern: A, A, B, B, C, C, D, D, A, D, C, B, …
And that was that.
I went to a friends house and drank a few glasses. I went home to bed.
I learn of the collateral damage in a week.
I’ll find out today about my abnormal test from the doctor.