Saturday, February 28, 2015

Am I Certifiable?

This has been a busy week. Teaching most of the week, along with a pile of meetings, including one to discuss succession planning at the publisher I volunteer for; plus general midterm busyness. Then the weekend in Toronto for a three-day meeting to discuss editorial certification and professional standards. I've reached Saturday feeling pretty wiped out.

I have worked as an editor for so long that I rarely think about my profession as a profession. The certification meeting has prompted me to do so. How should a body test prospective editors seeking to demonstrate that they have the skills to work successfully and appropriately as they enter the profession? A wholly knowledge-based test is likely insufficient, as there might be limited or no demonstration of actual skills; and a practice-based test, such as the exams I've marked in the past for one certifying body, is probably too rigorous for entry-level purposes. We want to demonstrate competence or proficiency, but not necessarily excellence. (A demonstration of excellence is the aim of the full certification exams.)

Do employers want to see confirmation of competence? Apparently they do.

Based on my experiences as an instructor of editing and publishing, I know that many students who leave my classroom, and my colleagues' classrooms, do not possess the knowledge, the skills, or the aptitudes to be successful professional editors — yet that doesn't deter some of them. And I've also met many writers who think that, because they work with words, they're inherently editors. Not every writer is an editor, and not every editor is a writer, although we have things in common. Perhaps a test of competencies would be valuable for writers who market themselves as writer/editors. And perhaps the same test would be valuable for people reaching retirement age who think they'd like to "dabble" in editing as an income supplement. I've taught a handful of potential dabblers over the years, as have my colleagues; as professionals, we need the dabblers to know there's more to editing than adding and deleting commas.

So perhaps an objective, knowledge-based test — an instrument that requires a degree of judgement as well as a thorough general knowledge of grammar, language vocabulary, publishing process, and basic editorial conventions — is something the market wants, or at least could use. I hope so: it's what I spent several hours discussing with national editing colleagues today. And I was surprised to discover it's something I have a strong opinion about. I'm no great fan of certification in general, but given that national editing societies are issuing statement of professional standards, then some form of testing for competency or proficiency seems warranted. All the better if, at least for our committee's purposes, the competency testing becomes a pathway to long-term professional development and even certification of excellence. (Frankly, that's not for me; and I doubt I could pass the certification exams anyway: they're much harder than anything I do in real life.)

When I was starting out as an editor, it was one of the last apprenticeship professions. That is, the best way to become an editor was at the elbow of an experienced editor. I have been lucky to have had great mentors along my professional journey (as well as some poorer supervisors who were instructive nonetheless). There was no coursework in editing when I was an undergrad, but I read every resource I could put my hands on — and I continue to do so. Today, of course, there is robust undergrad, diploma, and post-degree education in editing right across Canada. But as one of my heroes, Betsy Lerner, observes, the only person who really knows (at least in the context of book editing, my home turf) whether an editor edits, and edits well, is the author. And that doesn't seem right today, given the high stakes in book publishing specifically and in communications generally.

I'm pleased to find my feathers a little ruffled by the idea of competency testing. Going into this weekend's meeting, I would have said I would never be in favour of such testing. (In fact, I completed a survey to express exactly such a position.) Today, my position sits on the other side of the circle. I think that's personal growth, right?

 Enjoy the weekend!

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