The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

What prompted this post was marking examinations - left to the last minute, in a combination with trying to mark effectively but properly = terrible enormous amount of time.

Most teachers I know tick and flick, and I'm as guilty as anybody. Generally, I try to ascertain what the point of my marking is, before I start - is the point the test itself? Is it to give feedback? To grade? To acknowledge work done? To set targets? You can't hit all of them, and if you're specific about your motives, it streamlines the work you have to do.

So, marking nine hour's of fourteen year olds' examination scripts, I'm breaking my own spirit trying to respond in detail, ignoring all my own rules, when I come across the most heartbreakingly confessional pieces. When you're tired, it's hard not to respond emotionally to very personal writing.
There's Kyle's piece about his dog that died. Sweet. He loved the dog because 'it's a shy dog. And I'm shy too.' It's hard to give a bald grade to emotional responses. Time pressures me; I do so anyway, adding an apology at the end of the piece.
There's Joel's piece, apparently influenced by the demonic possession he's undergoing at the time of the exam. Having posted about Joel before, it seems fairly obvious that the piece of writing is a mock confessional wind-up. But it's before the long holidays, I know his father puts him under a lot of pressure, I'm his pastoral tutor - sigh. I have to investigate. It's going to require sensitive handling in a crushed, overloaded time frame, to try to work out if he's a joker, or is experiencing mental health difficulties. I remind myself how I'd feel if I didn't put down the red pen for an hour to find out, and he self harms during the holidays. Deeper sigh. Investigate.

Joel's highly amused at his own cheek. He apologises for being such an idiot in a formal situation. I get back to my examination scripts, seriously behind time now.
Kerri comes in, wanting extra help with her examination coursework. I do what I can, but I'm annoyed to break from the marking, and I'm afraid I don't hide it that well. Still, she works hard (she's lost her entire folder of work, and has a week in which to rewrite a year's worth of essays), and I give her and her chum a lift home after.
During which she asks me if I've read her exam script yet. No. She chats to me about her family. They're moving to Spain soon. Mum can't wait to get out of this 'place'. I sympathise heavily with mum, but a part of me wonders at the phrasing. Parents who confide as equals in their children are A Bad Thing.
When is she moving, I ask? After the big examinations at sixteen, Kerri reassures me. It turns out, though, this was her own decision. Mum had wanted to leave a year ago.
Seems a heavy decision for a child to take, to stand up against her mother and insist on finishing school.
I drop Kerri off, and return to school to my marking. Turn over her script. It's a highly confessional piece about her alcoholic father, about her efforts to keep her family together. About the agony she went through when she realised she had to tell her mum to leave her dad. Again with the too much responsibility for such young shoulders.
It ends with a plea not to talk about what she's just written.