Marking a Physics paper (aka: Pay your teachers more... aaka: the system is borked!)

in The LIFESTYLE LOUNGE8 months ago


Too often, teachers are seen as glorified babysitters... People and governments dump their kids into schools, massively underfund the whole system and then wonder why it doesn't work. They will point to the contact hours being less than 9-5 on weekdays and the fact that there are school holidays and summer holidays to tell teachers that they are vastly overpaid for the time that they "really" are working... There is no support from the system (and mostly year after year, it is reduced...) and parents will readily blame the teacher in preference to recognising any fault in themselves or their precious children.

Well, as a tutor and private teacher... let me tell you all of this is a load of crap! It is akin to going to a shop and telling the workers that they should only be paid for the face-to-face time that they actually spend with a customer... and that all the rest of the "work" is just expected overtime. Or to tell a politician that only the hours that they spend "in chamber" should be paid for... and any other research/policy formation/meetings should be just conducted in their own time and not be paid for.

So, this Physics paper is a case in point. I was asked to help a student prepare for their coming exam... and they weren't able to make a lesson due to a pending Coronavirus test. So, I asked them to just forward me a scan of the paper and I would mark it and return it. Just a single paper (19 pages) for a single student.

Now, the easiest thing would be to just grab a mark scheme and just tick and tally the points that were hit... or just take the answer and give all or nothing. It would be done and dusted within 15 minutes. However, that is a crap way to teach... as the student learns nothing, and comes away with the idea that Science and Math is all about being right or wrong (which it isn't... but that seems to be the common conception...).

Seeing as I'm the sort of teacher who actually wants to guide their students to discovery and knowledge (I'm sure that most teachers start that way... but many get jaded due to lack of support from the system and continual blame from the parents...), I'm actually reading through each question and answer... figuring out what they did, and commenting all the way through on what could be improved, or where things were misunderstood and a suggestion on a different path to try.

This takes time... especially with newer students who haven't grasped the fact that answers isn't the whole game. In fact, it is arguably the least important part of the game... how you get the answer, how you present the answer in a logical manner and how you can defend your reasoning... all of these things are more important than a spew of numbers on the page that happens to hit the right combination of symbols at the end.

So, after about 2 hours... I had all the comments and suggestions for improvement in. I know this family, and they are really grateful for the extra work. However, I would suggest that not all parents realise the difference.

Now, I don't blame teachers and markers in general for the lack of extra effort... I blame the system and the continual cost-cutting and the ongoing de-valuation of skill and time. It is a problem that is endemic to all sectors of the economy, and one that politicians and the general population haven't really come to terms with yet.

Not everything can be made into a metric that is easily measurable, and if it is... then perhaps it isn't a totally representative metric. Thus, you are prioritising many things that are trivial but easily quantifiable. Makes for good reading on a annual manager's report! But is crap for the system...

Not everything is easily priced... In a day and age where the balance sheet between profit and loss is paramount, things that can't or aren't priced are devalued. The student learns better if the teacher puts in more time and effort... but if the metric is papers marked (and the efficiency is tied to funding...), then there is the perverse incentive to devalue extra effort and time in favour of MORE MARKED PAPERS! Aka... do a shit job, because we don't pay for quality... we pay for quantity... if you want quality, do it in your own bloody time!

Sadly, both these problems can be expanded out to society and capitalism in general. We value the things that can be priced... but the really important things can't or aren't priced, therefore, we focus on things that aren't important and then wonder why everything doesn't work!

Blah... crank out finished!

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Ah man I totally agree with everything you say! I'm just a TA involved with some course exercises of several Master courses. But I do have the same issue. There's never enough time to give the student what he/she needs to grasp concepts fully!

I appreciate a lot the kind of work that you do. Especially high school teachers, which I see as the people who shape society of the future. The place where I'm at right now, I attribute for a large part to the teacher who taught me.

Many topics I am interested in now, were taught by some of the best teachers in school. Some topics I'm interested in only now, were taught by some of the worst. Which resulted in grades that weren't, lets say, great...

Who knows where I might have ended up if I would have great teachers for all my high school courses.

So, to say it again: for me teachers are a very important piece of the puzzle called society. They are under payed, and more importantly, underappreciated!

And regarding you comment:

Not everything can be made into a metric that is easily measurable, and if it is... then perhaps it isn't a totally representative metric. Thus, you are prioritising many things that are trivial but easily quantifiable. Makes for good reading on a annual manager's report! But is crap for the system...

I coincidentally read an interesting article (in Dutch) regarding exactly this topic! The article is from 2016, but still very relevant.

Here's a link to the article from de correspondent. I think you might enjoy reading it :)

And finally, I was curious: are you doing this tutoring as a full time job?

Thanks for sharing your story. Have a, hopefully, great day :D

Yep, the problem exists all through the education structure... TAs also have it pretty bad! My father was a Mathematician at University... he always complained that at some point, they were de-incentivised to fail students... because that would mean that the completion metric would go down, and that would result in less funding! So... pass students at ALL COSTS! If they didn't understand the course material... make the examinations easier! Just make it easy to pass... who cares if they actually learn anything...

I do the private teaching/tutoring as a side job normally... I also teach violin, but my principal "day job" is as a performing musician (as a zzp in the Oude Muziek field). However, this year... Math/Physics teaching has become the major earner! Everything else has pretty much crashed to zero!

I have toyed with the idea of doing high school teaching... but the idea of teaching 30 people at once is a vastly different concept to teaching and inspiring one person at a time!

Thanks for the article, it will make for a good test of my Dutch! Happy that people in more influential positions are also thinking similar things.

PS: Thanks for the article gift!

You're welcome! I sort of assumed you were dutch sorry! 🤦‍♂ The Correspondent is also available in English now. If I see a nice article in English there, I'll share it with you 👍

No worries, I can read Dutch well enough to understand, but my speaking can be a touch variable!

Teachers and nurses are two professions overlooked when it comes down to fair remuneration. I totally agree when you teaching there are a lot of hidden hours of preparation of work expected never paid for.

@tipu curate

And then they throw you the old "teachers have lots of holidays, so they shouldn't complain" argument on top of that too!

Teachers have so much preparation, after school activities to assist with added to a list of many hidden chores, no they definitely are underpaid for what is entailed.

Yep, both are professions that are incredibly undervalued. The lockdowns of the Coronavirus have also highlighted other professions that have been driven down to minimum wage that have more societal worth than other "high-value" jobs.

Thank you for the curation!

I've been there - 20 yrs a teacher.

That kind of input just isn't sustainable!

Especially with physics - must be plenty other jobs would pay you better!

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Especially with physics - must be plenty other jobs would pay you better!

You mean that that is what people would say to you as a teacher? Because that is exactly the point @bengy is making: they are underappreciated (i.e. underpayed).

I mean especially with maths/ physics - they're some of the best paying degrees out there, expect for in teaching.

If you've got a philosophy degree on the other hand, you've probably done well if you get into teaching, they're much more unemployable!

Fully agree with you @revisesociology I remember reading a survey a while back among teachers in the Netherlands. One question they asked was if they considered leaving the teaching job and why. As you can guess, those who did consider leaving more than often did so because of better pay in other work fields and the under appreciation of the job by society.

(Disclaimer: cant remember where I read about this exactly.)

Now the question remains, what would be a good way to revert this. Of course a first obvious step is giving teachers the pay they deserve. But how does one change societies view on the art of teaching... Will increasing the pay change this?

I link to a survey in this post -

That shows teacher life satisfaction is so much lower than the average in the UK.

I think honestly we just need to employ MORE teachers and have smaller class sizes. I don't think the pay is so bad for a 50 hour week IF you can actually get most of your 13 weeks holiday as actually holiday.

Thanks for the survey, will check it later today!

I guess you're right, lowering the workload is an important one. But at least here in NL the pay, especially for the abstract courses, is way below what it should be in my opinion.

A combination of both would be great :)

I think @revisesociology is also making the same point!

Yes, it would definitely be unsustainable as a classroom teacher. That is a pity that the system really sets it up like that.

Thankfully, I only teach on a one-to-one basis and I charge a fee that I figure is a good match for the time and effort that I put towards my students. It is higher than the "lowest" rate and so I do have a number of new students get turned away by that. However, there are students that share my details by word of mouth and they appreciate that the pricing is reflective of the extra input and effort.

Sounds like you've got it pretty sorted!

Shame it's the only way really.

The teaching system and the pay scale is a disgrace.

Can you imagine being in a school now? In the Covid Times? It must be nuts.

Ack... my kids tell me about the teachers constantly needing to get tests, or just getting sick. It really feels like no-one cares... as long as the kids are out of the house!

Ohh it does sound grim!

Teachers have steadily had more and more duties piled on them, but this is a step too far!