Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Non-teachers are often unaware of the time-consuming nature of preparation and marking. The actual lesson is the tip of the iceberg. When I was teaching the word “reflection’ was not part of education jargon. Now educators talk about reflective teachers. It’s always been so. Out of sight is the reading, the thinking, the arranging, the resource preparation, the planning, and then the assessment.

There was not just marking one’s own work. As English HOD (Head of Department) I tried to ensure quality assurance across the school. To this end the various teachers set and marked portions of the mid-year and end-of-year exams.

For a period I marked University Entrance – a chore in that I did not know the students whose work I was assessing, and a depressing task in that nearly all the best students had been accredited. The process, however, helped me gain an overview of what was taught nation-wide in Sixth Form English. I realised my Melville choice of texts was fairly adventuresome though at the time Lord of the Flies had gained the status of a national text.

One year there was a question along the lines that higher education was a waste of time for girls. I marked a considerable number of indignant essays from girl students and a small number giving what would now be called ‘politically correct’ answers from boys.

Then the second batch of papers arrived mainly from the Islands, especially Fiji. Essay after essay reiterated the same line – it was a waste of time. In a large family only the boys could be sent on to higher study – they would be the breadwinners for the extended family in time. Indeed, not all the boys should receive it, only the brightest. Certainly it was a waste to give such a scarce commodity to young women. Gritting my teeth, (I, too possessed my share of ideological correctness on this one), I endeavoured to mark according to expression, argument, clarity of prose and grammatical and punctual accuracy. It was a good illustration of the values inherent in cultural context.

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