It was hidden from public view. Most of it happened rather secretly in my own time - at night, over weekends, in holidays, in the early morning, during lunchtimes. It never seemed to end. No matter how hard I worked at it there was always more to do. I devoted countless hours of my life to it . Perhaps a little conservatively, I estimate three hundred hours a year - the equivalent of seven full weeks.
What am I talking about?
Marking was the bane of my life and as an English teacher - later Head of English - I had a lot of it to do. It never enriched me personally one iota. It was always for somebody else. I would sit there with my red pen reading reams and reams of writing from adolescents - helpfully pointing out grammar and spelling errors, making helpful suggestions while providing praise and encouragement wherever possible.
It was something quite unfamiliar to P.E., Maths and Art teachers for example and not really part of their weekly routine. However, when inspectors came to visit my English department they often had peevish things to say about marking practice. They would never stop to consider for a moment when the marking might be happening. It was an unspoken assumption that English teachers would willingly give up many hours of their private time without extra pay to get children's books and written assignments thoroughly marked and up-to-date.
I remember one particular inspector - who had not been an English teacher himself - criticising a junior colleague. He said he had found some unmarked pages in some of her charges' books. She was a hard working young woman who engaged effectively with her various classes and was an assiduous marker. I thought "So what!". There are plenty of other things I would have liked to say to such passing visitors but they verge on the unprintable. These well-rewarded escapees from the classroom came with their clipboards and then went - never to be seen again.
How many red and green pens did I exhaust in my (almost) forty years of teaching? A mountain of them that's for sure.
I wish I could get those thankless marking hours back but they have gone forever. I don't even have any examples of my marking to share with you. All those hours and nothing to show. I remember the church clock ringing two in the morning and I remember all the lost lunchtimes sitting at my desk with a pile of exercise books in front of me as I munched sandwiches and gulped hot coffee from my flask. And I remember Sunday nights wading through marking that I meant to do on Saturday morning.
As I say, it was the bane of my life and I thank the Lord Buddha himself that I will never, ever, ever have to do any more marking in my life. Overseen by prison guards, I would prefer to smash rocks in a quarry with a lump hammer.
It seems to me that constant marking would just be one of those tedious but necessary parts of being an English teacher. I would argue that you DO have something to show for all those hours....all the students whose grasp of the English language and writing skills were improved by your hard work. Surely it had a big impact on their later lives!ReplyDelete
J believe that a lot of the pupils learnt things from my marking but it did not enrich me at all. I might argue that at times it damaged my family life.Delete
Not your favourite "thing" then?ReplyDelete
But just think how your feedback over the years will have helped all those children to perfect their English language skills.
I certainly remember my faux pas once my teacher had kindly pointed them out to me.
Naturally, I realise that it was part of the job but I wish that it could have happened in work time - mot latched on as an extra and taken for granted.Delete
I agree with Jennifer. You may not have known personally the rewards of your labour but your students surely did. Perhaps an encouraging word from you has led a student or two on to a writing career. Sometimes we will never know how much we have influenced another's life.ReplyDelete
I know just what are you saying Elaine but after almost forty years of it I was tired of the process. I would have rather devoted that time to creating better lessons.Delete
That book I read on "noise" (we'll call it "distractions") made mention of how it can affect marking! I'll agree with Jennifer that those hours were not wasted on your part. I still remember comments left on a paper I wrote in an architecture class that gave credit to whoever (whomever?) taught me to write. I made sure to send that English professor a letter thanking him.ReplyDelete
Sadly, many teenagers in a tough part of town did not try particularly hard with their writing. They dashed it off and handed it in but didn't care too much about improvement.Delete
There are many jobs where there is a mountain of time 'lost' in the way you state but not actually lost to the general situation (in this case your pupils). As an officer of a Council my terms and conditions of service said that I would "work such hours as are necessary to perform the terms of my employment but not less than 38 hours per week". I often found myself going home for dinner when the children were young (we insisted on dinner at the table with the whole family as a rule) and then driving back to work in my own time and at my own expense. There was no such thing as overtime and if I had to go away for a weekend conference or course for example then I had to 'donate' that time. Many might argue that at least your marking was of tangible help to identifiable people.ReplyDelete
They might indeed argue that but it gives me little comfort. It drained away so much of my lifeblood and it vwas like painting the Forth Bridge - never finished.Delete
I was inches away from becoming an English teacher and am happy that I decided against it. The amount of work, reading, grading/marking and planning that my English colleagues put in was mindboggling. They spent their evenings and weekends doing nothing but.ReplyDelete
It sucked away precious energy, stultifying one's own development. That is what I experienced anyway.Delete
Maths - the teachers could do it, the kids couldn't; it stayed the same for decades requiring very little lesson preparation; mistakes were instantly obvious so marking was quick and easy. And it is sometimes suggested they be paid more!ReplyDelete
Yes. That is laughable. Of course a good Maths teacher is worth his or her weight in gold but from my experience there are not many of them around. They put in far less hours than English teachers.Delete
This is something that students (and many other people) don't appreciate -- the hours and hours of nights and weekends that teachers spend doing this kind of work. It certainly never occurred to me when I was in school. I just assumed the teachers fitted it all in during their daily planning periods. (Ha!)ReplyDelete
Now that I see Dave in action I know it takes much more than that. (With him it's not so much marking as selecting and arranging pieces, planning the set-ups of the music rooms each day and other departmental/organizational stuff, although of course he does have to evaluate students and submit grades. English and perhaps Social Studies teachers definitely get the heaviest load when it comes to reading and marking papers.)
And yes, as Jennifer said, the evidence of all that work is out there in the world. You may not be seeing it every day but it's there.
I guess it is out there and I know past pupils who have remembered me gratefully but it gives me no thrill at all. I just wish I could get that time back,. Ironically the mountain of marking meant there was less time for creating great lessons.Delete
Phew! I can hardly begin to imagine what it must have been like.ReplyDelete
How come Maths teachers did not have to do any marking? I remember my own school days rather well, and we definitely received marks in all subjects, not just German (or English, or French).
Anyway, I am glad for you that you were able to retire early enough to still get so much good out of your life - all your walks, travels and of course little Phoebe.
There's a big difference between giving out marks and proof reading pupils' written work - giving corrections and suggestions etc..Delete
Teachers' hours are never-ending. I know this as my mother was a teacher. Only in elementary school but still- lots and lots of what they called "grading." And lesson planning. And so much more.ReplyDelete
People who have never been close to teachers just do not realise how heavy the load can be.Delete
I remember reading and marking the papers of younger kids, when I was in junior high. No idea why were doing the marking but I do remember it was excruciating. Often the writing was awful and filled with mistakes. Even now when people ask me to read their stuff, I hate it. I hate criticizing people's work but can't stand mistakes either.ReplyDelete
As Jennifer said, you helped a lot of young people, probably more than you realize. I still remember my teacher, Miss Leung, from grade 10 and 12. She loved English and it showed.
Yes. I helped hundreds of children to advance their English skills but "excruciating" is a good way to describe the business of marking children's writing.Delete
My sister takes on extra marking beyond her own maths students'. I think she is quite well paid for it, but it does require intense concentration.ReplyDelete
I wish they had paid me extra. I would have bought a Porsche with the dough.Delete
Any essay subject is that way. The classroom load should be reduced for teachers who have large amounts of reading to do. I know I would resist it to the point of catastropheReplyDelete
btw, you look like most of the English teachers who ever taught me. Is departmental dress taught at university?Delete
Oh yes we had a few lectures on suitable outfits. Women were advised to wear flat shoes with wrinkly pastry coloured stockings and sober twinsets with pearls. Men were advised to "power dress" as demonstrated in my picture.Delete
You describe the situation very well. We were not so obsessed about marking, but it was still an onerous task. For a while we had hired markers. The marker also had some one on one with the kids. The kids appreciated the little chat. The bosses here were called superintendents and did not act like gods gone nuts.ReplyDelete
For the first fifteen years of my career "Trust" was the keyword. Later "Trust" turned to "Suspicion" as a critical inspection regime was set up that favoured school in affluent areas.Delete
My mother was an English teacher also, and I concur that there is a lot of time spent marking (also in Social Studies as Steve pointed out). However, a teacher's day - here at least - is shorter than a business day. Classes ran from 9 am to 3 pm, - and they were off for two months in the summer. The pay was better than most, as well. It's a government job here, as is nursing, and has been unionized for decades, ensuring good pay and good benefits and pensions.ReplyDelete
That being said, there is still the inequality of marking time among the subjects. As kylie said, the class time for teachers with essays to mark should be reduced accordingly - or else the class time for teachers without essays should be increased.
Your last point is one I felt deeply. We were paid the same and yet English teachers had so much "hidden" marking to do. It just wasn't fair and it wasn't acknowledged.Delete
Hips like a snakeReplyDelete
You should have seen me on the dance floor - Sheffield's answer to John Travolta.Delete
Although I agree with many of the sentiments above, thinking from the student's perspective, they probably thought all your marking was a waste of their time back then too.ReplyDelete
I wonder if writing, and the subsequent marking, is going the way of reading these days. My oldest is her 10th year of school and never really writes anything. She types documents that are stored online and digitally submitted to her teacher for a grade but I don't think there is any editing to the thing, only a grade a perhaps a quick note typed up by the teacher.
Only the conscientious students truly appreciated the marking advice but it had to be done anyway - because "Big Brother" was watching. It is interesting that your older daughter hardly ever writes by hand. I wonder if her English skills will be officially examined that way.Delete
We have standardized tests and both my kids get English and Writing scores well above their peers but I always peg that on their love of reading books, which they got from me, and not from anything they learned in school. Part of the requirement of living in my house is that they have to read for 20 minutes daily during a school day and an hour a day during the summer months. They are both old enough now that I never enforce that rule because they both read way more than that daily.Delete
You have encouraged a very vital habit that feeds into young people's appreciation of language and how it works. It is so very hard to become an effective writer if you do not have the reading habit. Do the standardised English tests happen on computer or do the children have to write on paper?Delete
I think both girls now do it via computer. The youngest one just started with the computer last year. Before that, it was coloring in ovals with a number 2 lead pencil.Delete
Here the examination of English writing skills still relies almost totally on handwriting with no computers in sight.Delete