I’ve been talking with secondary school teachers. The dominant topic was opposition to grading their own students but it quickly became clear that many grievances are hidden by this dispute. The refusal to grade is based on two arguments. Firstly, it is argued that this approach would undermine the integrity of certification, would be unfair to students, would destroy the pupil-teacher relationship, would invite confrontation with parents and would put particular pressure on teachers who are employed on insecure contracts. Secondly, it is argued that teachers simply cannot take on any more work.
I have challenged the first argument many times and I don’t intend to offer a repeat here. The essential flaw in the argument is the assumption that teacher grading would have no support or supervisory process. Once that is addressed, the argument falls.
The second argument requires evidence. The teachers to whom I spoke were convincing in describing a working life of long hours, frequently interrupted by minor emergencies, almost futile attempts to teach students whose level of education falls far short of that required for the class in which these students find themselves and in far too many instances little or no parental support. They are overstretched and unable to devote sufficient effort to teaching in a workplace that is frankly chaotic. In short, there is a compelling argument that grading performed by teachers should not go ahead because teachers cannot take any more.
The odd feature of the public debate – and I’ve been a participant in this peculiarity – is that attention has focussed almost exclusively on the first argument (That teachers grading their own students is unthinkable.) to the virtual exclusion of the second.
It is a mystery how teachers and their representatives have contrived to focus public attention on an argument that is risible while a powerful, compelling argument is available to them.
It is possible that what I’ve heard is unrepresentative, confined to a few problematic schools, that the teachers’ union representatives know this and that there has been a decision to avoid talking about teachers’ workload, workplace and job description. If that is the case, then grading by teachers should be accepted and a great deal of effort should focus on these schools.
I don’t, however, believe that this is the case. I believe that secondary school teachers are in real distress, that their condition cannot be relieved by pay increases and that the system is now in jeopardy. This is happening while citizens and media talk about and the unions strike over the efficacy of teachers grading their own students.