The Stress Of Marking

How strong is the link between working hours and teacher wellbeing?

To answer this question then we can straight over to Teacher workload and well-being. New international evidence from the OECD TALIS study by John Jerrim and Sam Sims.

Professor John Jerrim (2020) says,

“…if you are already working 60-hours plus per week (as around a quarter of full-time teachers in England say they do during term-time at least), then an additional hour of work could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

I think we all instinctively know that longer working hours are associated with a decline in our wellbeing even if we actually enjoy our work and regularly and willingly go the extra mile.

The body is just not robust enough or designed to just keep on going and so it is detrimental to our health if we carry on and on. Jerrim and Sims found that each extra hour of work seems to have broadly the same (negative) effect upon workplace wellbeing.

It is the type of work we are engaged in clearly matters the most and here we go, look what is the number one pet-hate: marking.

Jerrim and Sims found that….

the time that teachers spend marking is the key driver of workload stress and poor levels of workplace wellbeing across English-speaking countries.

Coming a close second is lesson preparation.

This will come as no surprise to any teacher who actually marks their students’ work – there are many that now don’t.

For me, ‘marking’ is part and parcel of what a teacher should be doing. That doesn’t mean mark anything that moves and spend 25 hours a week doing it but to not mark anything is lazy and negligent. Yes, there I’ve said it and I’ll say it to your face too just so long as you wear a mask and keep your distance.

Teachers have to look at what students are doing and you simply can’t rely on students to mark their own work or that of their peers. Verbal feedback is fine and a potentially smarter way of working in lots of cases but those that avoid marking or refuse to mark will not be doing students any favours.

Marking is always seen as a ‘non-teaching’ task yet it provides golden opportunities to teach and so as a vehicle for teaching, learning and assessment combined, it is completely misunderstood. Marking is teaching, or at least can be in the right hands, but in a less conventional way.

Marking is also often seen as ‘unenjoyable’ and acres of the stuff definitely is boring but not all of it. Sometimes feedback through marking is a rewarding and enjoyable means of communicating and teaching.

School work that eats into our personal time and consumes us then becomes work we resent. Who hasn’t spent a disproportionate amount of time marking and prepping lessons late into the evening, at weekends and during school holidays? We all have.

But this goes with the territory in the same way other professions have their own workload witches.

Teachers have never had a work-life balance and to even think there is one is just nonsense – it’s a myth.

Teachers have to draw the line and do what works for them but this will differ day by day. Have a plan and buy into the “work smarter not harder” mantra too if you like but the goal-posts are constantly shifting.

The thing is marking and lesson prep have once again been demonised when really the issue revolves around time-management, school leadership expectations and a system that is stacked against wellbeing. Don’t blame the marking!

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