Marking Time

These school holidays I have brought home a large pile of marking. Usually this would be daunting, especially when resting and recovering is my priority but, somehow, I am relatively relaxed about it this time. Perhaps because I won’t have to do this next year when I am retired – my choice, but what an adjustment to get my head around. For a start, there will be no “holidays”. I won’t feel the same anticipation and delight in a long weekend! How strange that will be.

My marking sorted into piles: Year 11 formal writing (2 classes), Year 10 Response to visual text, Year 13 “Let’s get critical” (check marking) and Year 12 Personal Responses.

With four days of holiday left, I have finished the marking. It hasn’t all been marking, though, thankfully. The grape vine and the roses have been pruned and salad greens, broad beans and sweet peas are in with rather rickety trellis and bamboo stakes to support them. Bedded down in pea straw, they seem to be surviving the frosts. I have used my own compost (yes, so proud!) on the raspberry canes and mulched them with bark.

One lot of formal writing done, one to go.

It has been nice to ration the marking and mix it up with gardening, reading the paper, doing the code-cracker, catching up with the Listener (now just two weeks behind), meeting friends, breaking my movie drought with Yesterday (and, consequently, bingeing on Beatles music), housework, walking, making soup and bread rolls, getting the car serviced, and enjoying a few books.

One of the books I’ve read this week is Goodbye, Mr Chips by James Hilton published in 1934. It’s been on my bookcase unread for years, probably picked up in a market. Perhaps it’s a first edition as it has the name “Charlotte Bowler, July 1935, Roslyn, Dunedin” in flowing handwriting, in ink, on the end paper. It has a cerulean blue hard cover under the art-deco dust cover. The sentiments expressed about a retired school master are dated and nostalgic but Mr Chips’ kindness and gentle concern for his pupils are neither of these things. For me too, students are the one sure point. A former colleague used to admonish his students with: “Stop it! You’re spoiling my bad mood.” I have been known to say cheerfully at the end of a class, “Go away…and don’t come back!” English as a subject gives infinite scope. Here my experience with Mr Chips parts ways, for he “had begun to sink into that creeping dry-rot of pedagogy that is the worst and ultimate pitfall of the profession; giving the same lessons year after year…” I would have fallen into dry-rot myself if I taught the same thing endlessly. I have to interest both my students and myself. Many of them could pretty much teach themselves, I think, such is their interest in the world, and others just get by with careful help. So, here’s to the teaching profession, and may it go from strength to strength.

During holidays, as well as marking, I reflect on the past term and plan for the next. It will be interesting to learn to cast off a forty-year habit of thinking, That could be useful for school when I read articles and stories or hear interviews on the radio and on podcasts. I will put aside thinking up more ways to motivate reluctant learners (perhaps better described as “school-averse teenagers” who could respond to different ways of learning). I can leave this responsibility in the hands of others, including the issue of electronic devices now integral to our teaching and learning. Helping students to use devices responsibly can be someone else’s concern. I will no longer have to be mindful of drawing a line between work and school, which has meant striving to avoid school emails or Classroom while at home even as it becomes increasingly necessary and, often, invasive. “Work-life balance” has become “work-life integration”. In effect, it always has been the latter for me, but is resisted more now than before.

To ease myself into a new phase of life in which these concerns may remain while my part in the constant change inherent to teaching is diminished, I will inevitably become “school averse” myself, practising different habits of mind, learning and action.

Croquet, anyone?
(Croquet Club, St Albans Park)