My life right now? Marking, marking and more marking

Teachers are exhausted – and amid all the GCSE and A-level grading, the heart of the job has been lost, says Louise Lewis

Louise Lewis

GCSEs and A levels 2021: We're in a hell of teacher assessment, says Louise Lewis

TAG: it used to be the symbol of childhood, an innocent game played with friends to burn off some steam. 

A game of tag would see the playground filled with laughter and joy. But that word has changed its meaning – right now, whenever a teacher in the UK sees or hears “TAG”, they are filled with a sense of dread

As the year progressed, the uncertainty around exams was rife, with different calls from different quarters. Exams should be on; exams should be off. We had to wait until the eleventh hour to finally discover the masterplan: how our students would receive their hard-earned grades

No exams, no-algorithm, no centre-assessed grades – straight to the heart of the system with teacher-assessed grades. But with significant last-minute announcements on evidence, appeals and malpractice all thrown in to boot. 

GCSEs and A levels 2021: Teachers in TAG hell

So here we find ourselves, in the midst of the chaos, attempting to make a square peg fit in a round hole. Attempting to collect evidence to support our professional decisions; ensuring our practice will stand up to scrutiny; trying with every scrap of energy we have left to mark, mark and mark some more. 

Because evidence and assessments do not just magically appear. They take time. Time to plan, prepare, conduct, mark, moderate and analyse. All of this on top of the little side gig we call teaching. 

That may sound flippant, but amid all of the policy, regulations, announcements and requirements, the heart of the job we chose to do has been lost. 

As a profession, we have faced a year like no other. We have bended and moulded ourselves to fit the new normal. We have become experts online teachers, whizzes at virtual assemblies and masters of all things tech. 

But all that comes at a price, and that price is our wellbeing. Teachers are tired. I do not mean to undermine any other profession when I say that. So many people have sacrificed so much during this time, and, for that, I am immensely grateful. 

But this isn’t a zero-sum game. We are tired, too. We have given all we have, only to be landed in TAG hell. 

The dark circles under our eyes deepen

Once again, evenings, weekends and every flicker of spare time is dedicated to ensuring that the grades we award our students are fair and unbiased. All under the scrutiny of the media, general public and every educational stakeholder you can imagine. 

And under that watchful gaze, you will see the summer diet going out of the window, replaced by a quick, limp sandwich and a ready meal for one. The dark circles under our eyes deepen; our bodies are becoming ever more weary and our families and loved ones are becoming increasingly frustrated at our absence. Once again. 

Because this situation that we find ourselves in is barely sustainable. The pace, the demand, the workload and the emotional burnout are all too real. And this is not OK. 

We are doing what we are doing right now because our students have had a raw deal, and they deserve some kind of phoenix from the ashes. But, as a profession, we deserve better. Better than last-minute announcements, increased workload and pressure from the powers that be. 

Teachers, leaders and headteachers have given all that they have, and we cannot pour from an empty cup. 

The best time to plant a tree is 100 years ago. The next best time is now. Let this ring in the ears of decision-makers when considering their next move for the class of 2022. 

Louise Lewis is a research lead and deputy head of science in a Yorkshire secondary school. She tweets as @MissLLewis 

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