Every MTAC teacher who registers their students for the yearly Certificate of Merit program must submit to a minimum 1 day of work yearly. The work day is dedicated to helping run the C.M. program.
In 2008, I unknowingly signed up for one of the more drab jobs on offer: working the registration desk for the theory exams. The job was hectic and mindless; one I hope to never repeat.
In 2009 & 2010 I signed up to be a theory test corrector. This job is at least stimulating in that it provides a music theory refresher (though I rarely need one at this time of year, having labored diligently in the weeks previous to prep my CM students for their theory tests). At the end of a day correcting some dozens of theory exams, most test correctors - well, at least the ones who work hard; not the lazy ones -- are seeing double and wishing to never again hear about how many sharps are in the key signature of g# minor. Having worked hard at test correcting each of the last two years, it was time for a change.
So today I fulfilled my labor agreement by working as a theory test corrector. I was stationed in the exam room for students leveled Preparatory through Level 5. Paired with me was a teacher named Lu, who I met for the first time today. She was great work with - a helpful ally throughout the day.
(An aside: Lu's son studies piano with her and is enrolled in CM. At one point in the day, a young student came forward to turn in his test and Lu grilled him in a way unlike she had anyone else. She asked him "Did you check your answers? How many times? Are you sure you're done? How many times did you go back through the test?". I was confused until she revealed that the boy was her son and she had been working hard to help him improve his test-taking. He was a cute little dude. And he passed.)
Our work was multi-faceted but still mundane. We were to prohibit cheating (of course), answer any questions, guide students to the ear training rooms, and check tests for completion before allowing students to depart. I was surprised at how many students had skipped over questions in the exam and then absentmindedly forgotten to turn back and supply an answer. I was happy to help those students not lose points. There was no cheating, thankfully. That would have been awkward. Especially when considering that (in my view) these tests get easier every year. Why the need to cheat? The test layout has become so simple, dominated as it is now by a multiple choice format. With students only needing a 70% score to pass, you really can do a minimum of preparation and still skate by.
Upon entering the test room each student receives a slip of paper which has on it a diagram of a keyboard and two staffs for notation. This is for reference and for scratch paper. One student comically wrote on her slip "Why am I here?", followed below by "Arrrgghhh... I can't remember what articulation means". She was in an existential crisis, no doubt, but she should have asked me what articulation means; I would have been glad to help.
I'll close with a story about a boy named Barron. He was a Preparatory level student who tested today. He was young. His teacher was taking a brave chance sending him into this test situation at such a young age. Today I operated as his Music Theory Guardian Angel. He happened to sit in the front row, and that's good for him because he hadn't a clue how to answer a dozen or so questions on his test.
Every 2 minutes I'd look up and see Barron with his hand raised, talking to himself. I always asked him leading questions. He did not struggle because of a lack of knowledge. He struggled because he's not mature enough for this process yet. He will be next year, I'm sure of that.
After guiding him through some thorny terrain (he was particularly befuddled by key signatures and whether to write flats/sharps on the right side or the left side of notes), Barron finally came forward to turn in his test. As I did a final scan through his test he clinched his personalized page in my Book of Notoriety by glancing at my name tag and saying scornfully, "Jesse? That's a girl's name!" I replied, "Barron... it was a boy's name before it was ever a girl's name." And what more could I say? Was I really about to debate the merits of the name my parents chose for me some 30 years ago with this little dude? I helped Barron to music theory glory and his way of thanks was to emasculate me. Thank you, Barron. It will be a while before I forget you.