Writing skills apply for Warden aspirants

The writing required of Maine Wardens is high stakes.

The agents charged with enforcing the laws of Maine’s woods and waterways need to write quickly, descriptively, clearly and succinctly.

The next stop for incident reports and search warrants, after all, is often a court of law, where Wardens’ writing is scrutinized by lawyers and judges trained to pick apart prose.

For the past three years, the Maine Warden Service has required that job applicants pass a writing test before they’re sworn into the service. The agency has turned to the Maine Department of Education to help develop and score those exams.

It’s not only reports and warrants that make writing an essential skill for a Warden.

“Every way we communicate now is in writing,” said Maine Warden Service Capt. Dan Scott. “There’s a lot of on-demand writing.”

Patsy Dunton, the Department of Education’s English language arts content specialist, worked with Warden Service brass to develop a pool of confidential essay questions and a scoring guide that informs applicants how they’ll be evaluated.

“They’re going to be in their vehicles, writing with their laptops,” Dunton said, referring to the mobile data terminals that are commonplace now in law enforcement vehicles. “It’s critical that their language is accurate.”

Applicants have a half hour to digest a prompt and, in response, write an essay in which they take a position and back it up. Even if they earn passing scores on every other part of the application, aspiring Wardens don’t get the job if they fall short on the writing section.

Dunton works with two teachers experienced in evaluating essays – whether they’re written for class exams or standardized test like the SAT – to score the writing.

“We’ve scored a lot of papers,” said Shirley Spaulding, a recently retired Sanford High School English teacher who in late June scored the latest round of 65 Warden essays with her husband, Doug.

“It’s nice to know that they’re looking for on-demand writing,” said Doug Spaulding, who recently retired from the Sanford High School social studies department. “It’s something that we’ve been demanding of our students forever.”

Today’s Maine Warden Service applicants face a higher bar of entry than previous generations of Wardens, said Scott. The writing requirement is a part of that higher standard.

“Typically, people who write better are somewhat better communicators,” Scott said, “and that’s what law enforcement is.”

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