Right after I graduated college and before I found full-time work,
there was a six-month period where I did everything from delivering
packages to running a kids' after school program. Somewhere in there I
also responded to an ad for teaching SAT prep; my reasoning was that
hey, I did pretty well on those, and plus, don't they charge parents
obscene amounts of money for the courses? The teachers must be making
bank. Or so I thought. It was only after three rounds of
indoctrination (the "Audition," the "Interview," and the "Training"
stages) that I learned the real deal: SAT teachers are basically
glorified T.G.I.F. waiters with a binder. Perkiness is the name of the
game, and if you can't sell Reading Comprehension like it's a hot plate of Jalapeno Poppers then you should probably just get out now.
Teaching SAT prep, as I came to learn, has nothing to do with
content knowledge. All teachers are given a script with every single
lesson, example, and "spontaneous" anecdote they will need to use, so
it's less about understanding math and verbal and more about being able
to read from a binder without looking like you are reading from a
binder. This is where the perkiness was supposed to come in.
"Remember, these are high schoolers!" the trainer reminded us, oh,
1900 times. "You've got to connect with them! If you sound bored,
they'll be bored! But if you're excited, they'll be excited! And
that's when they'll learn!"
There is a problem with that statement, and it's not just that it required me to use my exclamation point key more times in one paragraph than I usually do in an entire day. The problem is that this was the core assumption behind the company's teaching
philosophy, and it struck me as a tad alarming. I mean, I had only been
out of high school four years, so things could have changed, but it had
always seemed to me that this sort of feigned excitement over learning
was the most transparent, pathetic approach a teacher could employ.
Or, in SAT terminology:
High Schoolers : False Enthusiasm :: Sharks : Blood in the Water.
Still, I thought, things have changed. Childhood today is
different. Kids today have things like cell phones and shoes with
wheels, so it's entirely possible that they have also developed an
appreciation for multiple-choice questions served with a side of earnest
There were other problems, though. I learned that I would be
making just $16/hour, which is about $3 more than I was getting to
drive a cargo van around delivering boxes. Considering that the kids'
parents were paying a course fee that averaged out to about $100 per
kid, per class, and that I was receiving about $50 for a three-hour
class with 10 kids in it, well--you do the math. In SAT terms, once again:
The amount in Column A is way f*cking lower than the amount in Column B.
On top of all that, I was pretty uneasy about the fact that I was
part of the whole Test Prep industry, which basically generates mass amounts of hysteria and test anxiety and then charges even mass-er amounts of money to "help" quell it, thus ensuring that the American gap between haves and have-nots extends even to the way we answer fill-in-the-blank questions about words like "remunerate."
I ended up teaching for about six weeks before I finally got hired full time by the company I work with now and got to kiss my various part-time gigs goodbye. Since then I have never once cringed at the memory of driving that trailer full of packages or confiscating Heelys at that damn after school program, but every time I see a Scantron I shudder.