I distinctly remember getting my answer papers back as a student and wondering why in God’s name the teachers just couldn’t get their ‘1/2’ clearly. A seemingly arbitrary wavy line near a whole number would be assumed to be the half, and we’d continue to check for ‘totaling mistakes.’ If we were particularly astute, we’d snag another half or so through the paper. But why oh why could they, those who beat us up for badly formed handwriting and hurried answer scripts, just never get their halves right? We just wrote them off with the time-worn excuse they always hurled at the class – they must be a lazy bunch of teachers.
Fast forward many years, and I was ploughing through a never-diminishing pile of answer papers that mark the end of the school term. Correction was fast becoming a rather mechanical affair. I would mark a question paper as ‘Teacher’s Copy,’ and make a blueprint of what the answer scripts ‘ought’ to look like, for everything that could be blueprint-ed of course. Once the nouns had been underlined, adjectives were boxed, and the verbs safely circled, I would be all set to tackle the handiwork of middle schoolers. Once the geometry was in place in red pen, it was just a question of cross-checking it against every piece of paper. Thus, I set out to correct.
First came the senior school papers – classes 9 and 10, with an old board exam paper. Each question paper is an average of twenty-five pages long, and while comprehension correction is a fairly straightforward process, it is unimaginable how many different kinds of errors one can make when trying to master alien syntax. Two hundred and fifty printed pages later, I told myself the going gets easier from this point on. After all, the other kids were answering papers I, and not some London honcho, had set and that ought to be easier, right?
Long story short, I corrected about 75 middle school papers after, mechanically, robotically, one after another. And soon enough, I actually looked at what I was doing, and there it was in front of me. The Squiggle. In red ink, along the margin, like those who had given me back papers of my own. It was right there. What!
I texted a friend, slightly panicked, that I felt like this was a rite of passage, and that I was truly becoming a teacher, and what is that even! As it turns out, it actually is a reasonable effort to actually take pen off paper for every stroke of the 1, /, and 2, and somewhere through the stack of long-sized ruled sheets of paper, they all merge into The Squiggle. Do I sound like I am just making excuses? I thought so. Sigh.
Tomorrow, I will hand over answer papers to seventy-five kids with squiggles generosity sprinkled all over them. Tomorrow I will feel one step closer to my own teachers, even if only in the incoherent lines that our red pens made. One step at a time?