Each fall, I stand before 30 students, take roll, explain procedure and officially begin the semester by saying: Don't try this at school.

I am an SAT teacher. My classroom shares space in a Cupertino strip mall with a Happy Donuts, a moxibustion clinic and four other test-prep companies. My hours are after-school hours. My students are also someone else's students, and they rush into class, backpacks straining, fast-food dinners in crumpled paper bags. They quickly settle down and wait for the work of learning to commence. But what does the person in the front of the room say? Unheard of things. Things like: Don't read the passage. Quantity over quality. Memorize. Skim. Skip. There is always a right answer.

No wonder the SAT is so unpopular, even among those who teach it. Still, this SAT season, I find myself thinking about what I do with new possibility. This perspective was provided by my three-year-old daughter, Emma, who declared: "You're not a real teacher!"  That, I suddenly realized, was the key.

As a counterfeit teacher, I am not bound by the very real politics and policies, headaches and heartaches of a California educator. I am free not to conform to traditional education.

In fact, there's something worthwhile in the motley mix of SAT skills students must master: endurance, persistence, even penmanship; performance under pressure; the definition of "partisan."  Plus, the Friday before test day, teacher brings donuts.

And if donuts aren't enough, at least I'm confident that at semester's end, my students will head off for the rest of their lives having read a snippet of Didion or Marquez; having considered whether they really want to be engineers, like dad; and having mastered, once and for all, the difference between "stationary" with an "a" versus an "e."

With a Perspective, I'm Yoon Choi.

Yoon Choi is a writer, teacher and mother of three.

  • Misha Lipatov

    This essay is remarkably well-written and it was good to hear Ms. Yoon recite it via the radio. It would have probably fared well in the Writing portion of the SAT. I am a tutor with the same company as she and I teach students how to deal with the other part of the test – the Mathematics section. While I cannot authoritatively speak for the Verbal and Writing sections of the test, the Math section has grown up quite a bit since when I took the test more than 14 years ago. It has become a better test. I does test a number of essential, fairly complex mathematics skills in a reasonably effective way. I am happy to teach it.

  • Larry Lynch

    I am tutoring my son and two of his friends on the SAT verbal sections, especiallly the essay. As you say, studying for the SAT can impart some valuable techniques. For the essay, I’m trying to persuade them to spend a few precious minutes to take apart the pieces of the prompt, formulate a thesis statement, jot down their maIn points and examples in some kind of order, and THEN and only then start writing. My son has already applied this method to a complicated essay in his honors English class to good effect. The carry-over understandably pleased me (and him!) greatly.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor