Thank God it's the holidays

31st July 1998 at 01:00
Monday This is my first free summer since my early retirement, so I've taken on a marking job because I thought there'd be little supply work about. Teachers don't get ill in the summer, I figured, and, besides, the Year 11s are taken out of the equation. But that was before I landed two days a week covering sickness in a unit for hearing-impaired children at a local comprehensive.

There was another mistake in my calculations - registering to teach key stage 2, as well as 3 and 4. Towards the end of last term the telephone rang non-stop requesting my services at junior schools planning concerts, preparing resources for the onslaught of literary hour and suffering from staff malaise at the end of another long year.

So, having taken on 247 media studies scripts with SEG and 615 English papers with NEAB, it was a flaming June in the expletive sense. But today I've got a clear run at the remaining 303 English papers. My target for the day is 55, pushing me towards the weekend completion target.

T uesday I'm on supply this afternoon, but if I work like stink I can probably get 30 papers done by lunch time. By 10am I'm into double figures. Then disaster looms - the phone rings and a local primary implores me to help them out. I tell them I'm already booked and I hear the bitter tone of rejection in the school secretary's voice as she thumbs through her list for the next call.

I'm so mind-boggled from seeing 600-plus stabs at the same question that even a bit of maths support sparkles with promise. I enjoy my afternoon, then race home to walk the dog and mark another dozen before the questionable pleasures of watching Morocco marmalise Scotland.

WEDNEsday An early start because I'm on supply until 1.30. Still 191 to go and all needing to be finished this weekend. Panic. One of the papers is missing and the candidate is not marked "absent" on the school's accompanying entry form. I'll have to phone the board. Then the post arrives and double-wrapped is the missing script - the candidate had transferred to another school just before the exams and the paper has been diverted back to me via the NEAB.

I'm now on my 671st script of the summer. The rigours of being a GCSE mega-marker!

THURsday One-hundred-and-forty-eight scripts left and half a day's supply to do. I achieve two other things: watch some of the Argentina v Croatia game and get out for an evening's snooker. These are some of the reasons for taking early retirement: indulging in one's pleasures during term time.

Marking is now like a three-hour march through sago pudding. Nine out of 10 candidates seem to have opted for writing the letter which dissuades a friend from leaving home. I almost respect one individual whose letter amounts to "Bugger off if you're stupid enough to go after all my warnings".

FRIday One-hundred-and-three to go. All being well, I can get through about 60 papers, and glimpse some serious daylight at the end of the terrible tunnel.

But all is not well. Targeting doesn't account for mood. I judge it by my feet. If they twitch about beneath the desk, then I might as well walk the dog, go for a jog or watch World Cup reruns. A weekend finish starts to look doubtful and I see things dragging on into July.

Crack off another 30 papers before 7pm and arrive at the Lens ground (televisually speaking), pizza in hand and hungry for physical action. The tactic works a treat. The Colombians get hammered 2-0 and I feel sufficiently elated to return to the scene of the marking and whittle the pile down to the last 20.

Alan Combes took early retirement from Pindar High School in Scarborough

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