To mark or not to mark? That is the question, because marking is one of those things that is always questionable as a relief teacher.

Back in 2011, I worked as a relief teacher in the UK. One day I travelled for over 2 hours from South East London to a school in Slough (Greater London). When I arrived at the school I was instantly informed about the marking expectations at the school, and that even as a relief teacher I was to stick to the school’s marking code of conduct. It included writing two stars and a wish for all written activities, marking all answers, including corrections and leaving a positive and negative comment for all mathematics work. There was also a bunch of guidelines to follow for marking handwriting and leaving comments from show and tell. I left the school at about 6:30 pm, got home at 8:30 pm in pitch black and vowed never to return. It made me question not only the unpaid workload of teachers but also how much of that time spent marking would result in any kind of positive reflection or academic change in the students I had taught for a day. I thought back to the children I had taught that day and it didn’t take long for me to decide “absolutely not”. What a waste of time.

As relievers we don’t always have the freedom to choose how to do things at school. Especially if we want a call back. I decided after this this episode at Slough that, whenever possible, I would mark student’s work in a way that was not only appropriate to the amount of time I was at the school/money I was being paid, but also how relevant it would be to the students’ actual academia.

In saying the above, I actually enjoy staying back a little while to mark and reflect on the day of teaching I have just completed. But being able to mark in a way that has effective outcomes for my students and doesn’t devalue my own unpaid time is essential to my own personal marking guidelines. Below are my top tips for marking as a relief teacher. I hope that they may help you, too.

Mark only against the learning objective/criteria for the lesson

Many schools now require students to write the learning objectives for their lessons in their books. Regardless, they should always know exactly what they are learning and why. When marking work from a specific lesson, only mark how well they performed against their learning objective. For example, if your lesson is on using quotation marks – only mark how well the students have done there. Don’t worry about minor errors, careless mistakes or spelling (you can always circle if you must) and forget the multiple coloured pens. Over-marking can remove the need for students to check and reflect on their own learning and it can reduce student motivation and make them less resilient. Think back to your own schooling. All that red pen all over my page didn’t necessarily teach me anything, just that I made too many mistakes. If students are going to take anything home from teaching and your marking, make it specific and relevant.

Have the students self-mark

If it possible, have students either mark their own work or swap work and mark each other's. If possible, display the answers on the IWB or give them a calculator to check their work. This is also an important step to encouraging self-reflection and provides the student with instant feedback, too.

Use these stamps!

Whether you a relief teacher or full time teacher, FrameThis has a range of AMAZING stamps that instantly reduce a teacher’s marking time. My absolute favourite are the following:

  • This traffic light stamp allows for self-assessment against the learning objective for the lesson. Walk around the class while students are working and stamp their page. At the end of the lesson, the students simply colour in the green (I can do this), orange (I’m getting there) or red (I need help). You can add a comment or simply sign/date next to the stamp at the end of the lesson.
  • This is another great stamp for reducing teacher marking workloads and provides a great visual of how the student performed against a lesson’s specific learning objective. If you have had students self-mark and just want to demonstrate that you have also sighted their work, this is the perfect stamp! You can also customise it with your own name and having the date is another awesome addition.
  • This stamp demonstrates that verbal and timely feedback has been provided. Seeing as verbal feedback is instant, it is often more effective then pen on paper marking which requires a student to look at it at a later date when they have moved on from the lesson task.
  • You can even buy a stamp for two stars and a wish, if that’s your thing! Or just in case the school loves that.

Ensure the students leave their books open to the page to be marked

This sounds a little bit pedantic but it saves time! Remember, some children are hopeless at working on the next page in their books so a lot of time can be lost just looking for the right page to mark.

Mark on the go!

If it is possible, walk around with a pen and mark on the go. Not only does it allow for instant feedback for your students, but it also looks great to any teacher or executive staff that enter your classroom to see how things are going.

Be guided by the school and how much it would mean to get a call back from them

If the school hasn’t spelt out how they like their marking done, flick through the previous pages in your students’ books and be guided by what the regular classroom teacher has done. If you really like the school, and you believe that a heavier form of marking would be appreciated (or expected), it is best to stick to the school’s marking code of conduct. I too make exceptions when a school has explicitly stated they expect something else, but I also question how much I wish to return to the school before I put in a whole lot of extra effort into marking, too.

At the end of the day, never leave a book blank.

Unless it is an assessment which the teacher has asked to mark, I never leave work unseen. At the very least, I always sign and date work, and use either a stamp or sticker. Remember, reviewing students’ work is also a reflection of your own teaching. Use it as a tool for your own growth and professional development and leave your mark in the process.


Guest Blogger

Rebecca Sebastian