Lessons from a marked man

teacher sits on chair surrounded by exam papers

Exam season is drawing to an end, and piles of pink scripts are winging their way to examining bodies.  Across the nation these proud institutions are devouring the words, thoughts, and hopes of hundreds of thousands of bright, wonderful, and often sweaty-browed pioneers of tomorrow.

I’ve been marking for a number of years now.  Summer money is how I saw it at first.

The higher echelons of the SLT claimed it a professional development opportunity.

“Just think how much more accurate you’ll be in your marking after marking hundreds (and hundreds) of scripts about how Macbeth is a villain, Lennie a victim, Juliet a honey trap, and Priestley responsible for the social justice warrior generation.”

Years later, Lennie is no more. It wasn’t George who had it in for the not-so-Small big man. Lennie Small was killed off by Gove. Lennie was Gove’s first kill, and he made sure to bury the knife deep.

Despite the loss of Lennie, the summer money has rolled in year after year and the accuracy of my marking has in fact improved.

The number of cautionary tales, too, have increased. The time I marked a beautiful response to the idea that Romeo was in fact the villain and then, on the same paper, an essay entirely self-directed and off-topic about how the choice of prose texts was utterly unsuitable! Three pages later, after a delightful diatribe on the numbness the candidate felt studying their prescribed diet of GCSE literature, I had to leave that fateful annotation: “not answering question – 0.”

Every year I tell my pupils this sad eulogy to a wasted talent as a cautionary tale.

Despite the lost weekends, and the seemingly endless slog towards a looming horizon emblazoned “40% deadline”, the world of exam marking has been worth it.  It has paid for the summer trips and home improvements. It even paid for my wedding.  But more than this, I’ve seen into the minds of thousands (by now), I’ve seen into the lessons of titans and tinkers, and my expected grades always exceed and surprise.

Over the last few years our curriculum has cracked.  Truth.  It’s been snapped and shattered.  Truth.  But thanks to taking on the burden of summer term exam marking I’ve stayed one step ahead ever since the guinea pig year.  Year zero.

And, year-on-year, teaching is more and more about staying one step ahead of the curriculum cronies and ministers of mayhem.  Examining facilitates this.  There’s even the odd weekend in a plush hotel courtesy of the sentinels of scrutiny.

There’s no doubt my pupils have also benefitted from this, and I firmly recommend it.  I proudly look back and imagine the ghostly figures of half-seen students, now adults, now parents and the generation of today.  I’ve been a part of that.  I’ve been a part of lives I’ll never meet, and in my pride, I am humbled.

So, if you have the chance, or the inclination, to become part of building the world of tomorrow, clasp firmly the red pen, or green if you’re from one of those schools, and shape the future with every scrawl.

However, don’t take this on lightly.  Whatever you do, it is important to:

  • Find the paper that suits you
  • Find the exam board that suits too
  • Learn to balance school and home life with the brief visit of this interloper
  • I recommend encouraging peer marking in those KS3 lessons just to keep your head above water
  • Mark scripts at a steady, but consistent pace
  • Keep a pad and pen handy for those more entertaining nuggets to be used in lessons at a time of your choosing
  • Remember, less starkly, ‘Summer is coming’.

The examining bodies need you, but more importantly our children need you too.

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

About the author

Tin Can TeacherI’ve worked in education for 20 years. I’ve spent time teaching abroad, lectured in drama at university, and now I spend my time teaching English at secondary and sixth form level. I currently work away from home during the week, living in the back of my ageing VW T4, just to teach at an exemplary school with exemplary colleagues and kids ever ready for banter and haircut jokes. I write a blog chronicling the rather strange circumstances of all this at www.tincanteacher.blog and you can find me on twitter.

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