Today is the last day of marking for the government. Since July 5th, I’ve been on a team of 160ish teachers responsible (by choice) for marking the provincial grade 9 writing exams. There are over 43,000 exams to be marked, and each exam has two parts: an essay or narrative and a business letter.
As of this morning, my brain aches. I’ve worked diligently for the past five days, sitting in my rather uncomfortable chair in a highly air conditioned office building downtown. Here’s the thing though, this work, although mentally exhausting, has actually been somewhat neat. I’m working with teams of people I’ve never met before, reading papers from all over the province, and having invaluable discussions about assessment and writing practices with teachers from every part of Alberta. There are strict quality control and standards procedures in place so that every paper is marked fairly and accurately. I’m getting a glimpse at the inner workings of a government department that often feels distanced from what I do in my classroom, like the secrets of Willy Wonka’s factory; we know about the end product but cannot fathom what it takes to make it all come together.
The thing about a rather large group of people taking on an astronomical task like reading and scoring nearly 90,000 pieces of student writing is that an impossible target becomes possible. I suppose it’s like that old saying, “Anywhere is within walking distance if you have enough time.” We couldn’t even begin to complete our challenge if the group wasn’t as dedicated as it is to following the rules and all pushing for the same goal. In many ways, we’re like bees working in a hive: while the work waiting to be finished is astounding, there are so many of us buzzing around, focused on our little parts of the project as a whole, that slowly but surely, we get it all done.
Our hive is pretty much silent, though. The level of focus required means that all we hear for much of the day is the whisking of pages turning and the low thrum of the air conditioner. It’s times like those that I give thanks for my iPod, which is keeping me grounded and prevents me from being distracted from the pieces I’m grading by every little sound in the big room of nearly silent bees.
Have a wonderful Sunday, whatever you’re doing. I’m off to spend my last day at the hive.
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