OK I’m feeling hyperbolic today, but you gotta agree, this is pretty dumb:
So my former colleague Polly, an innovative French teacher in the communicative tradition, told me about becoming a teacher. She’d been a languages monitor in Quebec, had read a ton, been to France, yadda yadda– she was fluent in French– and then decided to become a French teacher. When she applied to the University, she had to take a French “entrance exam” to make sure she was “good enough” at French to teach it. Il faut pouvoir parler comme un francais and all that. Keep the riff-raff out of the profession etc.
So she went to the French qualification test and the oral exam was, the examiner showed her a picture of a bicycle. “Dècrivez la biciclette” said the examiner. Polly did what she could– it’s red, it has two wheels, it’s a ____ brand, on l’utilise au Tour de France, etc, and then the examiner said “qu’est-ce que sont ____?” and pointed to the cogs. Polly had no idea how to say “cogs” in French. The examiner proceeded to ask her more biciclette questions which she didn’t know the answers for. Front forks? Hubs? Brakes?
She failed the exam and had to qualify as an English teacher. Of course, when she was applying for work, the Abbotsford board– desperate as always for French teachers– hired her to teach French. Polly would later go on to write Provincial curricula, mark Provincial exams, sit on a zillion committees, teach French at all levels, pilot texts, sit as a department head, etc. Yet the University powers-that-be decided that, on the basis of not being able to describe a bicycle’s components, she was unqualified to be a French teacher.
Anyway, that’s the dumbest thing ever. Bike vocab: low frequency. Describe an object not normally given much consideration by people other than roadies, hipsters and bike mechanics: linguistically infrequent. Assessment of actual relevant skill? Zero. Thank God the real world found Polly’s mad French skillz useful, yo, and let’s learn from her experiences by
- teaching high-frequency vocabulary
- not asking kids to learn idiotic, seldom-used words
- keeping assessment authentic