I was very excited when I handed my homework to her. I was 16-years-old and a very keen GCSE Science student.
That piece of Chemistry homework took me ages to complete – a good few hours if I remember correctly. I really tried hard to write the displacement reactions neatly and clearly, and in a different colour to the explanations.
Illustrations by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati
I knew my Chemistry teacher would be impressed, and I really wanted to impress her. I think that as a teacher almost two-decades later, I am mindful of the fact that my student’s look-up to me, and they want to impress me.
That gives me a huge task (I won’t say ‘burden’ because it’s not a burden): the task of being responsible and caring enough to give my students the feedback they deserve, in a timely manner.
I waited weeks and weeks for that Chemistry homework to get back to me. Finally, I summoned up enough courage to ask her where it was.
“Oh, I am sorry, Richard. I completely forgot about it. I’ll get it back to you pronto.”
She was honest, and I respected her for that. When it did finally get back to me, she added to the written feedback (which I can’t fully remember if I’m honest) with “Richard, I could tell that you put a lot of time and effort into that work.”
That felt good.
Juggling many things at once
Looking back on those bright and happy days as a teenager I can now see what my Chemistry teacher was suffering with – she was clearly very busy with a number of different things and my homework was low on her list of priorities at that time.
I don’t blame her or condemn her for that at all.
I’ve found myself in the same situation many times in the past, and it was all because I wasn’t organised. Here are the key mistakes I would make in my first ten years (yes, ten! – it was a slow learning curve!) of teaching:
- I would give homework to different classes on random days each week. So, for example, Year 8 Science would get homework on a Monday one week, then on a Tuesday the week after, then maybe on a Thursday the week after that.
- Since I was setting homework on random days each week, I would receive it back randomly too. This would mean that I would have ‘cluster’ days when I would get back, say, four classes of homework in a single day.
- The net effect was that I couldn’t mark it as quickly or as effectively as I really wanted to, and on some days I would stay at school very late to mark it all
So, what’s the solution to all of this chaos? Well, today, I can very happily say to you that I no longer have problems with marking and returning homework. In fact, I’m almost astonished to say that it has even become an enjoyable process!
So what are these four strategies? Let’s explore them together now.
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