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.