Number one for English language teachers

Wednesday 15th December: End of term progress reports

Type: Reference material

In her fourth diary entry, Maria Alamanou muses on the joys of correcting papers

I don’t know why my colleagues hate correcting students’ papers. I love it! No surprise there, of course, since it’s common knowledge you can count on a confirmed eccentric to love the things that many a people abhor. Late last night I was having this conversation with my colleague Olga, the French teacher, who is a very frank and outspoken individual and who makes no bones about her blatant hatred for correction.

The whole issue had surfaced some two weeks earlier, when, oblivious to the suffering I was apparently causing, I had pushed the all-out panic button for first term progress reports. There were tests to be prepared and photocopied, hours and hours of tedious work to be devoted to seating arrangements for the test sessions and invigilators to be assigned, so that, finally, the end product of our industrious students could be ceremoniously taken into the staff room for correction, assessment and marking.

Most of it was run-of-the-mill term work, which, much as we all despise it, we’ve grown used to by now. It was the final stage of the process that caused the friction. The other English teacher at the school, Clare, is a very easy-going sort of girl who never complains about the workload, no matter how dull or strenuous it may be. So, setting a good example, she dutifully took her seat next to me, red pen in hand, ready to dispense justice.

Olga had already started moaning and groaning, without even having had a look at the neat stack of papers in front of her. To be honest, the writing paper in particular had not been one of the most inspiring we could have come up with, but Beginners’ levels were first in order, so we had to make do with the little they knew. The topic, ‘Write a short account of a typical weekend’, was the same in all four languages: English, French, German and Italian.

Have you ever noticed how one particular student can write about two very different ‘typical’ weekends in two different languages? Not that the German version sounded any better than the English one - just different! After we had compared notes then, we got down to some serious work. Not a sound was audible from the German and Italian quarters. Olga’s gasps were the only noisy distractions to upset the tranquil moments.

After about fifteen minutes, I knew why she was whining: not one out of the thirty or so papers I had in front of me showed any real insight into the theme of weekends. They were all mercilessly the same, save one which also accounted for the seconds within the two days! I was informed by this very paper that the meticulous student in question also 'had a glass of water after lunch on Sundays!' I must remember to ask him if he’s left to die of thirst on all the other days, my mental note read.

I gritted my teeth in a superhuman effort not to shout out loud my heart-felt support to Olga – and all the others for that matter – while thinking at the same time whatever could have happened to the marvellous adjectives, metaphors and collocations I had so laboriously taught throughout the term, not omitting to stress what a difference such little interventions could make to a writing piece. Be that as it may, I bottled up my disappointment and never voiced a word of my inner thoughts, for fear Olga might look at me with that impish smile of hers as if saying: ‘I told you it’s a waste of time!’

I trudged through the remaining papers, emptying my red pen as I was going along and feeling utterly useless. Suddenly, the consolation I had been crying out for sprang up out of the depths of desperation. The twenty-ninth paper I was marking began like this: 'My weekends are usually as empty as my pockets.' What music it felt to my ears! I don’t remember much of what went afterwards and I can’t recall a single line of paper number 30. But I can tell you what I told Olga at the end of the session: ‘Take heart, for all is not lost! If there is one student who can write like that, it means you’ve done your job.’
 

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