A role reversed


Is it as a student or teacher that I embark upon the latest round of marking.

Is it as a student or teacher that I embark upon the latest round of marking?

I’m quite sure that every teacher in all kinds of schools, colleges and universities knows the feeling. You have identified a period of time in which you simply have to get down to doing the marking. Looking at the pile of scripts, you brace yourself, take a deep breath and reach the first from the top with a determination to do justice to work that represents the hard endeavours of a group of students. Over the past week this is a ritual that I have followed on several occasions, fitting in the marking between all of the other tasks that have quickly filled my diary since returning from India.

Teachers display differing reactions to marking, which can be seen as either a chore, or potentially an opportunity for learning. Without a doubt the worst experience of marking that I ever endured involved 150 undergraduate examination papers, each providing the opportunity for an individual student to make their own interpretation of the same few questions. This was my one and only experience of examination marking and I sincerely hope that it is one that I never have to repeat. By the time I had marked the first ten I was beginning to look forward to a single paper that was in any way different from those that had gone before. After fifty I was beginning to lose the will to live, and by the time I had reached the hundredth near identical script any remaining semblance of sanity had completely deserted me.

Marking doesn’t have to be like this and my most recent experience has been a total contrast to the mind numbing process of assessing examination scripts. Whilst in Bangalore we collected the dissertations written by our first cohort of student studying for the MA in Special and Inclusive Education. A 15,000  word report of an independently conducted research project along with an associated review of literature related to the chosen subject. This represents the final major assessed component of two years of hard study, and an opportunity for our student colleagues to demonstrate their expertise as researchers and subject experts. Just as I had predicted they did not disappoint and from the comfort of the sofa in my study I have enjoyed several hours of learning from the work that has been produced.

The topics selected by the students have been varied and challenging. The research conducted has been original, well constructed and thoughtfully applied, and the knowledge and understanding in evidence is a clear indication of the expertise that these enthusiastic professionals have gained. But one of the most important aspects of this assessment process for me is the reversal of roles in which I become the learner, gaining new insights and knowledge from the work submitted for this final part of the course by students who have now assumed the role of my teachers.

Some of the issues discussed in this work are those with which I am familiar and draws upon literature that I know quite well. But in some cases I find myself reading work related to subjects that are at the periphery of my knowledge, and that provides me with insights into topics that I had not expected. A study of the experiences of children who have gone through processes of adoption raises questions about their social needs and how these may be addressed by teachers and families. A critique of processes of assessment, and a study of the impact of family breakdown on the educational experiences of children both afford opportunities to enable teaching colleagues to reassess their practices. Studies about the ways in which specialist teachers support their colleagues and disseminate their expertise and about parental expectations in relation to the education of their female children identify the difficulties experience by families and professionals. And two highly original projects, one focused upon the life experiences of a disabled young woman living in a rural community and another considering the preparation of students with learning difficulties to work in the retail industry are just some examples of the diversity of research undertaken.

As this final hurdle of the course is taken I cease to become a tutor and revert to the exciting role of being a student. Whilst I retain the responsibility for assessment of this work, I am conscious of the unique opportunity I have to become a learner from the students with whom I have worked over the past couple of years. This reversal of roles is not only an indication of the route that we have travelled together, but also of the opportunity that these colleagues now have to move the inclusive education agenda ahead. I look forward to seeing the smiling faces of these excellent students and their families as they celebrate their graduation, but I am especially relishing observing the differences they make to the lives of children and teachers in the future.