Marking time

I witnessed some markers forced to sit under umbrellas so they wouldn’t get pooped on by the pigeons roosting above.

Terrible coffee, media scandals, sewage floods, pigeon poo on your head, strikes – Michael Gill has seen it all in his 36 years of marking HSC English papers. Michael’s English Coordinator at Cerdon College, Merrylands first encouraged him to give marking a go in 1981.

“It was the best professional development you can ever undertake in terms of seeing how teachers from all around the state are teaching the material you teach,” Michael said.

“The sharing of resources and getting to know other teachers from other schools and systems is tremendous,” he said.

Michael first started marking at the Manufacturer’s Pavilion at the old Sydney Showground.

Stop works

Industrial action by markers soon followed in 1988

“I remember stop works and having to be seated at our desks ready to commence while negotiations were taking place for most of one Saturday.

“After that year English was decentralised. There was a feeling this happened because English were the first major group marking and as English markers were a radical bunch we were seen as the spearhead of the industrial action.”

Michael said this was one of the first occasions that the ITA (as the IEU was called then) and the Teacher’s Federation worked together. The two unions still cooperate on issues relating to marking.

The showground car parking was notoriously overcrowded and the end of marking would herald a mad dash for the car. Michael recalls a “memorable night” when he was first marker out of the gate.

“What seemed like a thousand English teachers in the one pavilion was an amazing sight.”

Relationships between markers and supervisors of marking and board staff have evolved over the years. In the early days markers often felt they were treated like children, with one senior female supervisor of marking even going into the ladies’ toilets to hurry markers out and make sure they weren’t ‘malingering’.

“The supervisors of marking were god like beings seen in the distance from where you would be seated. In eight years I spoke to one once.”

Nowadays a more respectful and professional approach is adopted by supervisors and senior markers. That increased professionalism has translated into efficiency, with the average rate of marking in English double what it was in the early days.

Bring your own

“When I started smokers sat at one end of the marking group. This was meant to separate the smokers and non smokers. No coffee and tea were supplied – people would bring a thermos.

A few years later when tea and coffee were supplied you weren’t allowed to access coffee and tea during the actual marking. The coffee was the worst I have ever tasted.

“There was no security or photo IDs. After a state politician entered the pavilion one year and accessed papers a hue and cry ensued and IDs and security were introduced.

“Alcohol and wine casks occupied most of the marker fridge space on Saturdays for marker picnics. This led to a newspaper expose about supposed drunken markers not fit to mark and ultimately marking centres became alcohol free.

“In the old Manufacturers Pavilion dust and bird lice would fall from the rafters. Occasionally I witnessed some markers forced to sit under umbrellas so they wouldn’t get pooped on by the pigeons roosting above.

Plastic covers

“The Board providing plastic covers for the in and out boxes so the papers wouldn’t be splattered by pigeon poop and dust but nothing for the markers.

“Once the pavilion flooded with sewerage. When we came in that afternoon the pavilion had been disinfected (that public toilet smell) and the floor was still wet.

“Those sitting in the worst puddles were given cardboard sheeting for under their feet so they could put their bags down somewhere dry.

“I remember a group of markers (I was one of them) sneaking into the back of a Sydney Cricket Ground grandstand one Saturday at lunch to watch the great Clive Lloyd bat for the West Indies. One marker didn’t make it back for the afternoon marking session.”

Since his memorable days at the pavilion Michael has marked at various centres. For the past 16 years he’s been at Gosford, where he is the IEU Markers’ Rep.

“The relationship between the Union reps and the supervisors of marking at Gosford has always been friendly and professional and this has helped create a happy and effective marking centre.”

With the advent of online marking Michael is not sure about his future as a marker. While he understands the need for greater efficiency, he foresees a loss of professional development, networking and support once marking centres are no more.

“I fear something very special will be lost when large groups of English teachers from diverse systems and schools will no longer regularly get together and share meals, discussing what they are teaching and sharing resources.”

Ten tips for new markers

1.Don’t rush if you are running late. Your life is more important than arriving at the centre on time.
2. Any questions or issues about industrial matters – have a talk with your Union rep.
3. Leave your school marking standard at the door. You need to adjust to the standard of the marking centre based on the briefing provided and the guidance of your senior marker.
4. Be organised and plan your week on the Sunday – this can take the pressure off midweek when you are tired and have nothing ironed for tomorrow.
5. Do something special on the Sunday. There is more to life than marking and school.
6. Don’t expect perfection from yourself. Most markers including very experienced ones are insecure at the start of the process and have doubts about their accuracy.
7. Once you have internalised the standard go with your first impression rather than agonise about the mark – your first impression is normally the most accurate.
8. When in doubt go up a mark. Marking should be a positive process. Each script represents someone’s son or daughter.
9. Use the full marking range. Our purpose is to discriminate between candidates.
10.Use the opportunity to make friends, share resources and create informal networks and learn how other teachers are teaching the course. Marking is the best inservice you can experience.