My mum was a teacher, and when I was a kid she would often bring exercise books home to mark. I would beg her to let me have a go at marking the exercise books. Most of the time she would say ‘no’, but sometimes, as a special treat, she would let me use her red pen to put ticks or crosses on a child’s sums. Years later, when I became a teacher, I would spend ages marking my students’ writing. My favourite thing of all was to mark essays, because doing that made me feel like some kind of editor, highlighting the passages that worked, identifying the spelling errors, scribbling questions for the writer to answer when he or she redrafted the work. As I marked, I could feel myself getting to know the ins and outs of the student’s writing style and technique. I could see who needed support with spelling, who struggled to structure or plan, who needed to be stretched to develop their ‘writer’s voice’. It was like I was having a conversation with my students, watching over them and whispering to them, even when we weren’t in class.
There’s a lot of debate about marking at the moment – particularly about whether it is worth the effort that the teacher expends, or whether other kinds of feedback are more useful. I spend a lot of time working with new teachers, and it’s fair to say that the whole ‘marking as evidence for Ofsted’ thing weighs heavy on their minds. Natalie Scott’s deeply touching blog on the subject certainly made me think. I’ve only got one thought to add to the debate, and it is a comment from me, the mum, rather than me, the teacher. You might never have considered this, but some parents look through their children’s exercise books when they bring them home (yes, me, I’m sorry, I do this, I confess!). And when I see a teacher’s handwriting on the pages, it reassures me that they have read and thought about my child’s work. I am in no way suggesting that ‘pleasing parents’ is a good reason for teachers to mark books. My parental wishes are pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. But if his teachers didn’t do it, I would be sorely tempted to rewind forty years, ask my mum if I could borrow her red pen, and do the marking myself.