On teacher certification exams.

Most states require at least three tests to earn a teaching certificate: a basic test of English and mathematics, a subject area exam, and a professional teacher’s exam, such as Illinois’s Assessment of Professional Teaching (APT, which I’ll be taking in a few weeks) or Florida’s FTCE Professional Education Test (PET). In my humble estimation, the professional teacher’s exams are the most challenging because they are the most ridiculous.

The APT and PET aren’t totally useless; usually there are questions about that state’s procedures, some questions about education law, and some basic pedagogical questions. But then there are some gems like this one from an APT study guide (names have been changed to protect identities):

During snack time in a toddler class, Roscoe drops his cookie on the ground. He starts to cry and Belinda, his classmate, responds by offering Roscoe part of her cookie. Which of the following teacher responses would best support Belinda’s social development in this situation?

A. “Oh, Belinda, you didn’t have to do that! Look, Roscoe was sad, and now he’s happy!”
B. “That is a very good way to behave, Belinda. I am happy to see what you did just now.”
C. “What a good girl, Belinda! I am very proud of you!”
D. “Belinda, thank you for sharing your cookie with Roscoe.”
V. “Belinda, sharing is for the weak.”

I made up an extra response, just to add to the challenge. What is the correct answer? Quick–Belinda’s social development is at stake! Seriously, post a comment with your answer and a short explanation. I’ll post the correct answer in the comment section in a few days, and then complain some more about it.

This very subjective question has absolutely no business being on an objective test. This is like a multiple-choice question about what pick-up line to use on a girl, but all you know about her is that she’s 25 and her name is Betty. In real life, any of the four (real) responses might be the best–but it depends too much on the situation and the particular people involved to say that there is one particular correct answer, or even one that’s definitively better than the others. This type of question is in no way a valid assessment of one’s ability to teach–and this type of question presented me with a major challenge two years ago.

I had to take the PET before the end of my third year of teaching. I had no idea what to expect, so I bought a PET practice exam booklet. As I studied the practice questions, I found that many (if not most) of them were just as inane and subjective as the Belinda-Roscoe example above–and I panicked. Sure, I might figure out what the test-writers wanted on a question here and there, but what if there were twenty-five of these questions? Fifty? I thought I was going to fail.

Then I pinpointed my problem: I don’t think like the people who develop these exams, or the people who run university education departments–and they often don’t think like teachers in actual classrooms. But if I could think like them, I would pass the test.

This called for an experiment. I developed the following three-step process for answering this type of question:

Step 1. Based on your assessment of the question’s hypothetical situation, your professional teaching experience, and common sense, find the answer you would actually choose in real life. Cross it out.

Step 2. Of the leftover answers, find the one which most closely resembles the option you eliminated in Step 1. Cross it out.

Step 3. Choose the longest remaining answer.

DISCLAIMER: Do not use this method on a real test.

As God is my witness, my method had a success rate better than 90% on the practice exam. I even used it occasionally on the real exam, and passed easily. (Ironically, it would not have worked on the Belinda-Roscoe question.)

Now, to be fair, this could mean I’m an awful teacher and a horrible person, although I can pretend otherwise. I think a slightly more likely explanation is that the people who design this type of exam have been out of the classroom and their minds far too long. What a stupid, stupid test.

This entry was posted on Friday, February 24th, 2006 at 1:01 AM.

8 Responses to “On teacher certification exams.”

  1. Doctor Hmnahmna Says:
    February 24th, 2006 at 11:12 AM

What I think the right answer is:

D. You’ve encouraged Belinda to share without calling unnecessary attention to Roscoe, or making her feel obligated to share.

What I’d like the answer to be:

T. Belinda, that’s not necessary. Roscoe, remember the 5 second rule!

  1. aabrock Says:
    February 26th, 2006 at 9:14 AM

I would say answer ‘B’, as I imagine the teacher would want to emphasize from an early age that sharing with those less fortunate than you is proper behavior. Perhaps it will make it easier for Belinda to understand why, later in life, someone is going to forcibly take part of her “cookie” and give it to someone who does not have a “cookie”.

  1. twink Says:
    February 27th, 2006 at 4:06 PM

I don’t think Roscoe would have minded the 5 second rule…..and I don’t think Belinda stood a chance in the matter….what do you think, VDV?

  1. PaxonGator Says:
    February 27th, 2006 at 5:09 PM

I say D just based on your method. But all of them are fairly appropiate answers.

  1. Doctor Hmnahmna Says:
    February 27th, 2006 at 9:08 PM

Mrs. Hmnahmna has her own corollary to your rules:

Corollary 1:
A. Pick the most patronizing answer
B. If two answers are equally patronizing, pick the longer of the two.

  1. Vincent Viscariello Says:
    February 27th, 2006 at 9:16 PM

I like the corollary… but what is Mrs. Hmnahmna’s answer?

I should have somehow incorporated “C is for Cookie” into this post.

  1. Vincent Viscariello Says:
    February 28th, 2006 at 11:08 PM

The answer was D. My method–which depends on the user, remember–would have resulted in A, because it’s the longest answer I wouldn’t have chosen. D is “correct,” and would be explained to be correct mainly for the reasons given by Dr. Hmnahmna. But–

A is specifically intended not to make Belinda feel obligated to share; it also calls some attention to Roscoe, but “unnecessary”? It’s hard to say.
B calls no attention to Roscoe. It reinforces Belinda’s behavior, but the test-writer would say that it misdirects the motivation behind Belinda’s behavior (pleasing the teacher or pleasing others rather than sharing or “doing what is good”).
C is the same as B.
A, B, and C might make Belinda feel self-conscious about sharing, since it may have focused more attention on her than she’s comfy with.
But D is not without its problems: but may come across as mechanical. It might embarrass Roscoe if the teacher says “thank you” before Roscoe has the chance, or it might remind him that he forgot.

  1. jmanpc Says:
    March 1st, 2006 at 9:51 PM

my answer involves verbally absing both children:

Roscoe, you stupid, clumsy fool! Eat that cookie! There are kids starving in Ethiopia who would eat that cookie, even after the 5-second rule! You ought to be ashamed of yourself for being such a wasteful person. Pick up that cookie and eat it or starve!

Belinda, you are going to grow up to be a liberal. Your silly charity to people who don’t deserve it makes me sick. You see, Roscoe screwed himself over by dropping his cookie. It’s his own job to either dust off his cookie or bake himself a new one. You shouldn’t give him a cookie, for he is a stupid, clumsy fool.

-then I go off ranting to my class of kindergarteners-

You see kids, you should be independent and not expect others to support you. If you drop your cookie, either literally or figuratively, it’s your job to clean it up, and not rely on the charity or pity of others. If you drop your cookie and just leave it, then cry and ask others for a new one, not attempting to pick it up, you are a lazy, worthless soul. That’s what bugs me about the world today.

Kids, don’t grow up to be one of those lazy bums who decides it would be a great idea to drop out of high-school, get a job at the BK Lounge, and then end up on the streets.

No, scratch that. I’ve got a better one.

I despise the people who plan to get rich by spilling hot coffee on themselves while at McDonalds, then sue them for millions over it. If you’re holding a cup of hot coffee and you spill it on yourself and get burned, and you totally didn’t expect the coffee to be hot because it doesn’t say so, you are an idiot and you should be put in the stocks to be publicly humiliated, right before you are stoned. Not only do these people get rewarded for their stupidity, they get money they don’t deserve.

-back outsude my kindergarten class, because I have just washed completely over my students’ heads, and they’re picking their noses now-

Where did I start? Oh yeah, charity. Sure, it’s great to contribute to cancer research or the rebuilding of New Orleans (even though that place is a cesspool). But to give free money (or cookies) to people who screw themselves over, and expect to get paid for their mistakes, is just stupid. That’s why Roscoe is stupid, and that’s why Belinda is a liberal. Roscoe screwed himself over. Belinda insisted on giving Roscoe something that he could’ve easily replaced himself, thanks to the aforementioned 5-second rule, or maybe even the oh-so-daring 10 second rule.

Bottom Line: Sharing sucks. Teach your kids to be selfish, because the world is cruel and will devour your kids, both literally and figuratively (that’d be fun to watch), if they are sharing, pansy pinko commies.

If you found this revolting, that’s great. I did too. I can’t believe I wrote those things.