Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Taking Tests: The Exploitation of "Mr. Underhill".

I feel more awake today than usual and I'm not actually sure why. I'm definitely not complaining. Generally speaking, my commute to work passes in a slow haze of audiobook and pausing for school buses. Today, I actually felt like I was somewhat alert as I wove my way to the office. That's always a bonus. Sometimes it scares me that I manage to drive safely and even defensively while the landscape passes by in the mornings, each morning a little darker as the seasons change.

I'm bound and determined not to be such a downer today. I don't know why the days have seemed so blah lately. They pass by, unmarked by anything terribly significant marching towards weekends, holidays, vacations, any time that lets us escape from the routine of our daily work life.

That's the problem, I think. I look towards what's ahead rather than the now. I think I always knew that but, yesterday, in a quest to lift myself out of my blahs, I took one of those free online job personality tests. They're supposed to match your personality to the job that would suit you most.

You may ask, what did I discover my ideal job would be? Among other options such as Web Designer and Managing Director, I discovered I'd make a great novelist.

Yes, apparently, even without trying to skew the results, my ideal job would be that of a novelist.

Needless to say, I'm not exactly shocked by that. My eight manuscripts are obvious punctuation to the fact that it's true. Now, if I could just walk into a company and apply for a job as a novelist, I'd have it made.

It makes me wonder why I take those online tests. Yet...I can't resist. They're fun. I always feel like I'm going to learn something new. Naturally, I don't. I'm pretty honest in my responses and I've learned my personality type. I'm an introvert. I'm imaginative. I'm empathetic. I'm a listener. These are all things I knew about myself before I took the test and yet, I take it anyway because I must have a strange attraction to answering multiple choice tests.

It's funny, really. Everyday when I log on to Facebook, I see a plethora of 'quiz results' from my friends. It seems I'm not the only one addicted to taking those strange little quizzes. The part that is funny is that when we were in school, we dreaded tests. We hated having to fill in the bubbles, pick between A, B, C or D. For some, it was the essay questions that were dreaded. For me, those were the easy ones. Without intending to sound arrogant, I've always have the gift of being able to bluff my way to a good grade. It's all about the words. Most teachers, particularly in high school, are pretty wowed if you can form a coherent complete sentence. They're more wowed if you use unusual words, longer words. The trick is to find the balance between sounding smart and sounding pretentious. Then you weave those words into a web that sounds plausible by the time you're done.

Of course, there are always the exceptions to the rule. I had one teacher in high school who made it a pure joy to write essays and I don't mean in that nerdy "I like homework" way.

I signed up for Geography in my senior year. It wasn't that I was particularly enamoured with the subject but it fit into my schedule and I'd rather learn about places on earth than have to take something scientific or mathematical.

My teacher happened to be the high school basketball coach. I think somewhere in the State or County education laws, a coach had to teach at least one class in order to be permitted to coach. So, they assigned the Coach both U.S. History and Geography. To this day, I'm still not sure if my former teacher, who we'll call Mr. Underhill, actually had a teaching degree.

Mr. Underhill loved basketball. I mean, he really loved basketball. He'd moved to our town to coach after having a successful run at another high school located in our state. I went to school in Indiana. Basketball is a huge deal. Having a State Championship winning team is a HUGE deal. So, our district hired Mr. Underhill with hopes that he'd pull our basketball team out of the range of mediocre into the realm of spectacular.

Yet, he also had to "teach" in order to be allowed to coach. So, lucky us, we got to have him as a teacher.

He was diabolical. He would read from the textbook when he had to lecture us. He had a 'study guide' to our textbook from which he would photocopy worksheets and hand them out. Everything came from the study guide including our tests.

I learned fairly quickly into my Geography class that my teacher trusted me. In the beginning, you see, I was a good student. I've freely admitted I was a nerd in high school. I always did my homework and almost always studied for tests. So, at first, I tried in the class. I always got A's.

Then, came a time, when I screwed up a test because I didn't get a chance to study. It was a test that had more essay questions than usual and so I babbled incoherently on them as best I could.

I got an A plus. I began to suspect that my teacher hadn't read my essay questions.

Being the perfect angel that I was, I immediately realized that this was an opportunity to exploit my basketball loving teacher's disinterest in teaching. I'd grown very tired of him shoving a worksheet at us to do in class so that he could work on his basketball plays for the week. It was a routine: We'd come in, he'd read the textbook out loud. Then we'd have a worksheet to do.

I started slowly. My first experiment to determine if my answers were being read was to actually answer a question relevantly but to throw in a couple of odd phrases. I still got an A.

So, I started to get more creative. I remember specifically a test upon which the question was "Why is the climate so cold in Canada?" or something to that effect. So I wrote a nice little story about how people got really cold up there because they didn't have many K-Mart stores and so the scarf supply was smaller than the U.S. I still got an A plus on that test.

I had fun in that class by the end of it. Not only did I pass with a solid A but my best friend and I had the best time either passing notes, mocking our teacher or even rushing through our worksheets (with creative essay responses, naturally) and then asking to be excused to go sit in the journalism room where we could chat and work on our newspaper articles without being bothered by pesky Geography stuff.

Now I look back, I realize I was a little cruel. However, my theory was that we were expected to spend the time to do our homework and study for the Geography tests; the least Mr. Underhill could do was be courteous and read them. So, when I realized he couldn't be bothered, I made sure I had fun.

To this day, I'm not sure if he ever read those essay questions of mine. I'd like to think he did but he was either entertained or he knew why I did it and he ignored the fact that I was being a brat and gave me an A. More realistically, however, I know he really didn't read them. He was one of those coaches to whom his sport is his life. He wore gym clothes to class every day. He would have conferences with players during our classes. He simply didn't care about teaching.

A better person than me would have taken action and complained. For all I know, someone did. Yet, the reality of things was that basketball was a big deal and for the first couple of years when Mr. Underhill brought the dream of winning with him, I don't anyone would have cared that he was a lousy teacher.

For me, however, I enjoyed the class. It was almost like a little break. I got to be creative. I got to escape early some days. I got to socialize with my friends. In a way, it was the perfect class.

Except, you know, for the fact that I didn't actually do much learning.

Still, I think, as far as test taking goes, it was one of my favourite experiences of all time. Maybe it explains why I so enjoy taking little quizzes online. Although I'm guessing probably not. I think the reason I like taking quizzes online is, like most humans, I'm horribly self-interested and when I get to learn about me, it's pretty fun. Who doesn't like to learn about themselves?

Not that I really learn much online. If I did, I would have had a surprise when I found out that my 'ideal job' is to be a novelist. I wouldn't have been able to slap myself on the forehead and chide myself for wasting the time to find something I already knew.

Still, it's a fun way to pass the time and sometimes...that's all you need.

Happy Tuesday.

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