Do you believe your child’s teacher has lots of free time on their hands?
Your teacher [Mr. McGill] wants the best for your daughter [Fatima], however, the current expectations and perceptions of what is the most effective way to provide feedback lacks research and is making the job of a teacher unsustainable. Here is one of the reasons why we have a crisis and it’s costing the taxpayer more.
I understand why you want Mr. McGill to always mark Fatima’s work. Most parents would, and for years teachers have soldiered on to try to achieve this. However, let’s just question the notion that ‘marking your daughter’s classwork is an effective method for progress’. To try and unpick this problem, let’s ask teachers to mark once a fortnight – not work from every lesson – just one piece of work from a possible 50 lessons over two weeks, let’s calculate this expectation.
We know Fatima would like some recognition of her hard work and that any critique from Mr. McGill should help her to improve and stay motivated. Great – no teacher would argue with that – but we do need to rethink marking and feedback if we want Fatima to receive the best possible teaching. Statistically, after 20 years of teaching, Mr. McGill has a 48% chance of leaving teaching before he tries find a better work-life balance in another career. So, let’s assume we want Fatima to keep working with one of her favourite teachers and Mr. McGill stays in the job he loves.
To do this, we are going to need to support Mr. McGill and readjust our expectations of marking. To do this, we just want him to mark one piece of Fatima’s work. Let’s consider something radical and assume it would take Mr. McGill just 5 minutes to do mark productively, and with meaning. To help Fatima make progress, we are now just wanting Mr. McGill to spend just 5 minutes, every fortnight, marking to provide meaningful feedback and impact.
Parent: ‘There’s 38 weeks in an academic year right?’
Teacher: ‘Yes, the equivalent of 19 school fortnights – that’s 38 weeks. Mr. McGill will mark Fatima’s work for just 5 minutes. That’s 19 x 5 = 95 minutes of marking, per year; just for Fatima. That’s achievable right?’
Parent: ‘Yes. So, what’s the problem?’ I hear you ask.
Teacher: ‘Well, there’s another 29 kids in the class for Mr. McGill to support.’
Parent: ‘Ah. Okay. We want every child and parent to receive the same standard of education. That’s 95 minutes x 30 students.’
Teacher: ‘Yes, that’s now a total of 2,850 minutes for one class. Marking just once every fortnight for one child. We’ve got to make sure we keep every parent happy and do the best for every child.’
Parent: ‘So, that 2,850 minutes per class of 30 kids. That’s a whopping 47.5 hours of non-stop marking!’
Teacher: ‘Wait! There’s only 10 working hours in the day?’
Parent: ‘You do know teachers have ’14 weeks off on holiday’, every year?
Teacher: ‘Yes, you’re right, they do. They can mark their students’ work in their holidays. However, by the time Mr. McGill has marked these books over the Christmas and summer break, the lesson has been and gone. It’ll make no difference and Fatima will have probably forgotten about the lesson …’
By the time Mr. McGill has marked Fatima’s work, she won’t care about the feedback; it’s probably too late to make any notable difference to her work.
So, what can we do? Well, for starters, we can do several things:
- We need to fund our state schools better so that head teachers can free up their teachers to mark during the school day.
- That’s not going to happen, so what’s the alternative?
- We need research to show that ‘teachers speaking explicit and specifically’ to their students makes more of an impact.
- It’s also immediate and less onerous on teachers. Students need to know what to improve there and then so that teachers don’t have to mark books night and day.
- ‘But what about exams and examination boards?’ I hear you say. ‘Don’t they prescribe how assessments should be marked?’ Yes they do, and they often ‘trump’ the best school marking policies and plans. And because we must ensure students achieve qualifications and are accurately assessed, we must work with examination bodies to determine more effective ways of assessing students’ work, rather than adding to the marking burden. Here is a more reliable and faster method.
The next time you step into the playground to speak with Mr. McGill, just think for a moment: How long has he been teaching? For every year they have been in the classroom, add 5% on top of the standard 20% attrition rate and do the maths. This is the probability of your child’s teacher staying in the classroom, and by the time you’ve worked out the maths, you teacher is still likely to be marking, or thinking about the next pile on their desk – or worse, thinking about leaving your child’s school.
Until we change our perceptions of what is the most effective way to provide feedback, good teachers will leave the profession prematurely. Your child’s teacher has a 20% chance of leaving their job after just two years from qualification – this figure increases by 5% every year they are in the job. Let’s improve the retention crisis together. Let’s shift our perceptions of teacher effectiveness. In the long term this will save the taxpayer money and keep our good teachers in the classroom.