Nothing can ever prepare you for exam marking. Even after you’ve done it for years. I think it’s like childbirth – you forget the pain and bloody mess involved. But unlike children, who are obliged to love you, exam marking just leaves you empty, hollow and suicidal.
However, before you end up at that stage, exam marking makes you wonder. Wonder if there’s hope for the human race, wonder why people pay so much money to fail, wonder if you missed some of your own lectures because the answers are so incredibly bizarre.
Can anyone tell me what a crippy is? Apparently it lives in your brain. And no, I don’t teach biology, human physiology, neurology or psychology; though I think this student might need a doctor.
But I digress. We were at the stage of wonder. Overall, you just begin to wonder what you spent the last six months doing.
Exams are wonderful examples of understanding what students really take away from your lectures and you realise how little they really know about the outside world. Everything is conflated and music videos end up being performed during World War 1 in rememberance of children who died in the Soweto uprising (the video in question is Zombie by The Cranberries, just in case you were wondering).
And then, every now and then, you find one exam that’s vaguely intelligent, and you pretty much lose your mind.
OH MY GOSH! THIS PERSON IS BRILLIANT! THEY SHOULD WIN A NOBEL PRIZE FOR AWESOMENESS & I SHOULD CLONE THEM FOR THE SAKE OF HUMAN KIND!
Then I dance; well, in my head I dance, in reality I just kind of jump up and down giggling like a rabid tiny human. And then, the world comes crashing down as you realise that it’s not really that good. The student just has the ability to put more than two coherent sentences together. The content is actually crap and you slap on a 65.
BUT THEN! You find ONE. ONE out of seventy that is coherent, intelligent and uses big words correctly. You consider emailing the student and thanking them for being a truly remarkable human being; instead, you write 85% on their work, and move on with a semblance of hope. Hope that the world isn’t doomed, hope that you’ll find more exams in the pile that are worthy, hope that there may be one that’s better.
Like a tired octogenarian, it doesn’t come. It barely dribbles. Sure, you get the solid work. The work that some hard-grafting and dedicated student has memorised for the 24-hour period of their exam. But you know that come Monday, they’ll be possessed by that cripper, and all will be forgotten.
You cry; violently into a pillow. You cry for the trees that gave their lives so that this drivel could be written, you cry for the sake of the country and business, but most of all, you cry for yourself as you realise that you’re broke, the year is over and your students still don’t know the difference between Belfast and Berlin.
But next year… Next year it’ll all change. You know you can get this right. You know you can make a difference. And so the pain and disappointment dissolves and you ready yourself for the next batch.