It’s that time of the year: the flow of the red ink

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Teaching has its ups and downs: like any job. At this time of the South African high school academic year it’s mid-year exams. The time for the red ink to flow.

When I was studying my lecturer advised us to use green or blue ink to mark. He said that the red was too intimidating; too aggressive. He was right. It looks like I’ve massacred a poor student’s thoughts and answers. (I’d name this lecturer but I remember once he was offended someone had put up a picture of him on Facebook without his permission. I’d rather play it safe.)

Marking exams (or as my US colleagues say ‘grading papers’) is one of the tedious aspects of teaching. It’s a great way to see how your students test; what their responses are to the exam period. But it is both disheartening and enlightening. 

Perhaps my perspective on the disheartening aspect of exams has two folds. One, it’s saddening because I know how much I prepared the students for exams. I know how much work I put into the lessons to help them remember. And when the time came, they didn’t reflect their knowledge as well as I KNOW they could have. But the second aspect is quite simple: the design of exams leaves little room for success. 

Why write exams? This one test which counts heavily to your mark will determine the reflection of your attitude and aptitude. Nonsense. We all have at least one subject we didn’t test well in: this is normal. Creative beings as we are can’t be expected to retain EVERYTHING. And much less for a budding adolescent. I have my reservations about the testing system – in general.

But so it goes. Testing is here to stay. I suspect that for my next academic term I will aim to prepare my students on how to THINK rather than retain. Thinking takes you places; shapes how you see the world much better than just how much you can remember.

 

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The best teacher remains a student.

Tomorrow is the start of my internship. Apparently I should be “better prepared” because this is the second one.
I struggle to accept this attempt of comfort when I think any kind of comfort doesn’t exist when dealing with hormonally charged teenagers. So, as I attempt to prepare for sleep before tomorrow’s onslaught, a very familiar thought walked through my mind: What does it mean to be a teacher? Shockingly (or not so shockingly) this is a concept that isn’t new. An answer that often meets this questions comprises of words like: inspire, role-model, change, motivator, new thought, liberate etc etc etc

But what does it mean to be a teacher? What exactly is my purpose? Am I just there to deliver information? This is fundamentally impossible. The personality of anyone can’t be divorced from their work. Right?
This isn’t a superficial examination: looking at what it means to be a teacher is directly linked to what is learning, and as a result the foundations of the education system. The system which, by law says each and every person must engage with. So examining this is not done lightly. And honestly, on the advent of my teaching practice, these questions are fitting.

Another question which seems to be growing at the speed of a newborn: What is a successful teacher? How do you measure success in the education system? Then, how do you measure personal success? In a society built on competition, it would be near impossible to ask a professional to remove or try to dilute their competitive nature from their work. So what is a successful teacher? A punctual one? A role-model? A figure of authority and structure?

Many questions, each with its own variety of answers. Watch this space.