Summer is upon us again, bringing with it the heat and the piles of papers that signify final examinations. As we sit around the staff room table with our marking pens trying to make sense of the hastily scrawled compositions and answers, we wonder how much of our teaching has actually had an impact. Some children make the same mistakes they started the year with. Others have found a whole new set of errors to introduce into their work. And of course there are always those who demonstrate progress and a few unexpected ones who have gone far beyond expectations.
But the question, “what am I doing here?” is one that resonates particularly loudly at final exam time. I remember exchanging at furious pace a series of text messages with a colleague as we both tried to keep our attention (and optimism) alive through a large stack of papers. “These papers make me wonder what I was doing in class,” he wrote. And I responded, “Well, we know what we meant to do, but it’s not clear if the students quite got it!” To which he responded, “Yet we keep doing this year in and year out.” It continued in this vein for a while, until we decided the decrying of our situation wasn’t going to make the pile of papers grow any smaller, and we turned off our mobile phones.
Correcting papers always brings on mixed feelings. The questions mentioned above are certainly there, but there is also a sense of achievement and completion. There is a bit of regret that some of the young people we have come to know during the year will move on yet there is some anticipation of more interesting and challenging times in the coming year. As we come to the bottom of our pile of exam papers, we realize that it hasn’t been that bad after all – the small bursts of creativity and true understanding that we can glimpse in them do make the rest worthwhile. And we have to hope (and believe) that many of the lessons we’ve taught will come home to roost many years later, when these children turn teachers and parents themselves!
And above all, we need to pat ourselves on the back, appreciating that another year has ended and we can put away our markers and dusters for a couple of months and enjoy our summer nimbu paani in peace.