I have recently accepted a position with an organization known as Teach For America (TFA). TFA is a nonprofit organization that works to close the achievement gap across the country. The group places graduating college seniors in low-income areas where they are contracted to teach, hopefully impacting students’ lives for two years. But this post isn’t about getting to know TFA, so I’ll move on.
Part of our preparation process before going into the field for TFA is to take several state exams to obtain teaching certification. These exams include the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification (MTTC) and Professional Readiness (PRE) exams. Let me note that I’m horrible at taking standardized tests (for reasons that can be listed and explained separate from this post), so as you can imagine, I poured my heart and soul into studying every single day to make sure I passed.
As one can guess, after long hours of tedious preparation, I took my MTTC Elementary Education exam and, without a doubt, I passed! I was beyond excited, but only for a few short hours, when I realized I had to begin studying for my next exam, the PRE. The day I passed my MTTC I was informed by TFA that if I had reached a certain ACT score in high school, I could use that as a substitution for the PRE. I had a good enough ACT score, but deep down inside of me, I still wanted to take the PRE, and so I signed up for it.
My best friend Rima kept asking me, “Lexi, why are you going to take the exam? There’s no point?” All I could say was, “I don’t know Meme, I just want to take it for fun and see what score I get.” But in reality, I was battling a form of internal oppression, a feeling that was telling me I couldn’t take these exams and pass, so with every fighting ounce of me I was determined to do prove that feeling wrong.
And so I went in on the exam day, sat down, focused, and walked out knowing I had done a really great job on both the reading and writing portions. I walked out, confident that I had proved that internal oppression wrong. But there was a little regret that began to fill me as I turned in those sheets of paper to the proctor that day.
The writing portion of the exam asked us to put together an explanatory essay explaining what we believe to be important elements in freedom of the press. When mapping out my thoughts, I began to silence one voice in my head and allow another to speak up. I quieted the voice that usually came out when I’m afraid to speak my thoughts, the voice that “got the job done” when I was in a room with power dynamics that not even the Hulk could handle. But suddenly, as I began writing, I allowed the “inner me” to speak, and before I knew it, I was writing a four and a half page essay on the misinformation about the Israeli-Palestinian Occupation that emerges every single day through the “freedom of the press.”
Just after, I regretted writing what I wrote, fearing that the person scoring it would not fully agree with my political point of view. I regretted writing it, fearing that I had put myself in a position that may or may not come back to haunt me. I feared the reality that I have to silence my true voice to achieve what I want in life. After a day or two, I forgot about the exam, and I didn’t think about it again, until two days ago.
My exam results came in.
My score on the reading portion of the exam, as I had guessed, was off the charts. My writing score? Well, I needed a score of 220 to pass. My score was 219. Regardless of the true reasons as to why I got that score, as a Palestinian American, I continuously have a battle of internal oppression. Every. Single. Day. I’m battling that oppression when someone asks me, “Where are you from?” I hesitate to answer, always facing an internal identity crisis. I’m battling that oppression every single day when I’m in a room full of white people and I’m forced to allow that “nice” voice to speak up in order to be accepted. And I’m battling that oppression every single day when I have to wonder whether I missed that one point due to true mistakes or my political feelings. Regardless of the truth behind my score, unless you have ever wondered whether your score is a true reflection of your hard work or your skin color, you’ll never understand.
The fact of the matter is that regardless of whether the person checking my test knew that I was Palestinian or not, my score will always be different than yours, because I’m always battling an internal oppression, one that always questions whether my views or identity affect my success in this world.