Monday, June 17, 2013

Confessions of an AP Reader

Every year in early June, I subject myself to a week plus of what I label white collar factory work. I bemoan its predictability, kvetch about the horrible food that is my board for the week, and basically curse my lot in life for the 8 days I set my alarm to 6:25 to be on time for my 8am-5:30pm job. At the end of each year's reading, I swear it will be my last, that I cannot possibly tolerate another 8 plus days of staring at messy handwriting offering interpretations of an argumentative prompt. Despite all of this, I return each year.

There is a tedium to the day that cannot be avoided. I am assigned to score one of the essays from May's English Language Advanced Placement exam. I wake extra early so that I can sit in bed and drink tasteless watered down hotel coffee, pretending with my roommate that today must certainly be my optional day off. Over the years, my roomie (a friend of more than 17 years) and I have perfected a hotel cooking system that allows us to avoid the lines and crowds of AP readers partaking of breakfast--fake eggs, greasy bacon/sausage, a few cereals, Yoplait yogurt, and other assorted ideas of morning fare. We procure yogurts and packaged oatmeal to cook for breakfasts. I have mastered a quick conversion of the coffeepot to a hot water dispenser, all within 30 minutes of waking. All this helps me savor the moments before I become one of the mass.

I enter the convention room and take my seat at the assigned table, bubble in the number that identifies me as a reader, the same one I have used for the last nine years, the only marker that separates me from everyone else in a chair at a table in a very large room. As the week progresses, the temperature in the room gets colder and colder, a clear strategy to keep fatigued readers from falling into an awake sleep. It is a predictable day of reading, scoring, 15 minute break. More reading, scoring, and an hour lunch break. An afternoon of reading, scoring, 15 minute break. Exhaustion when we are given the signal for dismissal. In each work day, I am more focused on a task, more obedient, more submissive to a group thinkspeak than is normal for me. It is the job, and in this job, I submit.

When I took the exam more than thirty years ago, I never imagined that I would have any lasting relationship with its pressure and measure of college level writing skills. Yet, due to that exam, I never took a college composition course, scoring high enough to place out of freshman level writing. And this very exam that continues to mark the anxiety of high school juniors in early May, now occupies a little over a week of my time.

During this week, I read hundreds and hundreds of responses to a provocative prompt (Question 3, the argument). I learn how students view positions by Aristotle, Plato, and Sartre, and I am reminded how articulate and pensive some young writers can be. Despite the tedium of a repetitive task, the monotony of hearing similar arguments and forcing myself to view the ideas as fresh and new, and the fact that there is a cumulative tiring when I work numerous hours in a row, I am not just relieved when the reading ends. The sentiments that these writers convey about priorities in the world, about the dangers of a materialistic culture, give me hope for the future.

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