I do some part time work around Tertiary Education. I am a casually employed marker.  I’m beginning to become very worried about standards of assignments submitted by students for marking.


My own tertiary studies were completed through the 1980s and 1990s. The drift in requirements for assignment presentation that have evolved from then until now are a distinct worry. Universities have the codes of assignment presentation and students are asked to be familiar with those. However it seems that conformity doesn’t really matter. Some of the things that have caused me concern as a marker are indicated.

Glaring Issues

* Many students do not cite or use compulsory course reference texts.

* Some students do not tackle the whole assignment requirement. If there are three elements, they may only complete one or two of these requirements.

* Title pages are generally not provided.

* There is often evidence in one case of material being lifted from a source but not discussed in detail or particularised as required. There is a generalised response to a specific requirement.

* Students waffle on with narrative discourse when a table or rubric would offer greater meaning and clarity to argument.

* Students tend to write on the side of brevity. When a 1,500 to 2,000 word suggestion is offered, many seem to struggle to 1,000 words.

* Some students write in a way that presumes markers can read their minds or have background on issues that should be elaborated and explained. That presumption can mean that students too are vague about issues and the strategy is one that covers the issue.

* Matters of word usage, paper layout, typing text, paragraphing techniques and double spacing of text are either untaught or forgotten skills. Papers are very hard to read.

* Casual markers are employed on a per hour basis. It is generally expected that an assignment will take around 20 or 25 minutes to read and comment upon. The way in which papers are presented and the need to offer advice about deficits makes this an impossible task.

I wanted to write about this difficulty and share it on my blog. It is a real issue and one I find quite confounding. I wonder whether I should worry about these things or am I just whistling in the wind?



This week i have had the opportunity to participate in an International Growth Coaching program. Conducted by Grant O’Sullivan with a group of 32 participants, it was a full on participate two day program. This segment is the first of four, leading toward coaching competence.

Although officially a retired principal I remain connected with both the NT Department of Education and the Charles Darwin University. Coaching is a domain that has always been of interest and an area practised over the years.

This program offered an excellent synthesis of theory and practice. Methodology came to life through usage. The emphasis was on practising coaching method, with coach and coachee being offered feedback on their use an interpretation of the method. “Living learning” is all about putting theory into practice learning how it works.

This program reinforced to me that one is never too old to learn and to gain new knowledge. Gaining skills in coaching will also help me to fulfil the promise of giving back to the system that has given me a great deal the years. Certainly one is never too old to learn and neveer too old to give back to the development of others.


It worries me greatly that too many educators, especially school leaders, seemingly can’t wait until the day they retire. Cometh the day, they throw their hands into the air, figuratively or literally shout “hooray” and rush away, never to look back on what they have left.  They are just so glad that a career which  many have become burdensome, is behind them.

That to me is so sad.  How awful it must be for those who are soured to the extent of wanting distance between themselves and the years committed to the educational profession.

There have been challenging, indeed harrowing times for me during 40 plus years of service to education. Thankfully there have been great times and many celebrations to savour. In retirement I am glad to have give back opportunities to a profession that has offered me so much.  In my post career thinking, I set the bad times to one side and remember the many satisfiers that came my way.

Others have helped me; now it is my turn to support others by sharing  as those others shared their experiences with me. It is great to be in a give back period.





There are two kinds of personalities in this world. Regardless of what we do when we go these personality types are with us. There are the “sayers” and the “doers”.

I believe it is very important as educators to be people who earn the respect of others
by “living” the statements that we make in the positions that we uphold to others. It is all together too easy to be somebody who commands and ask other people to do things and to act in particular ways. That after all is a part of the teaching and development of others. However we need to be prepared to live by the precepts we espouse. Unless we adhere in our lives to the things we ask of others we will not earn their respect.

“Do as I do” is very important in the teacher – pupil relationship. If students know us as teachers who live by this principle their respect will be enhanced. This applies to every aspect of that relationship.

If we want children to be on time and say so, then we need to be on time ourselves. Everyone children to return promptly after recess and lunch, then we can’t avoid is teachers to be late ourselves. If we want children to wear hats out in the playground then as teachers we need to do the same. If we put it upon children to keep their desks and tidy tray is clean neat and tidy, then teachers’ tables and working benches should be kept the same way.

I don’t believe we should ask the children to maintain standards that we are not prepared to maintain ourselves. And example might be handwriting. If we ask children to take care when they’re writing in where books then we need to have the same set of standards that we maintain with written work. We might think the children don’t sense or understand what we’re doing but believe you me, they are very sharp and perceptive in that regard.

The principle extends to the way in which we approach our teaching tasks. The precepts or tenets under which we operate should not just be sets of empty words but reflective of vibrant teaching practices. In that way we earn the respect of our colleagues, the community and of course our students.

There may be occasions when we have to depart from the norm of usual operation. If that’s the case I believe it important that students and close colleagues understand why on the particular occasion the expected process can’t be followed.

Respect is a very important quality and in many ways the cement the binds those within an organisation together. It is a key value. If we earn the respect of others, self-respect also develops.


There is increasing focus within classrooms upon technology and its use to promote teaching and learning. One of the things of which we have to be careful is the technology doesn’t take over. Technological tools are servants to be used in the enhancement of what we offer our student groups. We should never allowed to take over and dominate. Technology is a good servant but can be a bad master.

For older teachers particularly but younger ones as well, technology can be confusing. There is so much to learn and keeping abreast of developments can be hard. There is also a tendency to keep things not fully understood at arm’s-length. The case in point for myself was reluctant to come to terms with Learnline, a critically important communications tool I needed to understand in order to work with external students at university. I got over that concern and learned to use the tool and now try and keep abreast of upgrades and enhancements.

I was always appreciative of the fact that smart boards and other devices came toward the end of my teaching career. Being nervous about using and applying technology is not wise but certainly exists.

In 1996, there was an article in ‘The Australian’ newspaper written fro memory by Heather Gabriel. This column suggested that teachers in classrooms avoid becoming petrified of technology. Rather than stressing over understanding, the writer suggested teachers regard themselves as captains and students as the crew of a ship. The purpose of any journey is to get from Point A to Point B. To achieve that, a ship’s captain employs the expertise of his or her crew and acts as the overall controller.

Similarly, children often know a lot more about the intricacies of technology than teachers. Delegating children to use that knowledge to manage the ‘mechanics of technology’ can help avoid glitches and facilitate smooth sailing. Keeping an eye on the way technology is being used helps avoid the shortfalls (wrong sites and so on) that can find their way onto computer screens.

This approach promotes a collaborative and shared classroom. And over time, teachers learn a lot from children about ‘what works’ on the technological front.

Try it, it works.


Within schools it sometimes happens that scheduled meetings have to be cancelled. Staff are advised they should use the time for inputting and recording of student data. The first call on teachers’ programmed release from face-to-face teaching, is the use of non-contact time for recording purposes.

Data is important. Student progress should be regularly recorded in order to confirm student outcomes and assist teachers in revising and forward planning their units of work.

Changing Focus

In recent years, there has been a lot more focus on data and formalised recording at system level than was the case in the past. However, in past times, good records were maintained within the vast majority of schools. It is a misnomer to suggest that nothing happened before national testing was introduced

Tests were developed and applied at school level. These days the emphasis is increasingly upon nationalised testing regimes . Results are used in part for comparison of schools within and between States and Territories.


National tests, standardised as they are, fail to recognise the individual and specific backgrounds of students in schools and their catchment areas. While databases have been prepared which examine the socio-economic factors within school communities, these are quite general and don’t take account of specific differences between people. Cultural differences, occupation, income, family educational background, housing affordability and geographic location impact on schools within their communities.

Refocusing education

One of the deleterious effects for schools forever being under the testing and assessment magnifying glass, is that the human side of development can be overlooked. Years ago a group of educators visited a gas bottle refilling business. The guide suggested children were like gas bottles. Empty cylinders were refilled, then sold. Similarly, children started school as “empty vessels” were filled up with knowledge on the way through and graduated from school “full” of understanding, ready to contribute to society.

This was a sad comparison. Children are complex individuals. Their development towards adulthood includes social, emotional and moral/spiritual needs along with literacy, numeracy and other academic outcomes. Over-focus on academic testing and data can detract from these wider developmental needs. The world needs articulate people who are confident communicators, intuitive thinkers and careful decision makers. Academics are part of education but by no means the whole of what should be offered.

What is and what should be

Educators talk about the need for holistic education. However, with funding attaching so critically to educational outcomes which are only academic, the priority naturally turns to literacy and numeracy. The key and often only focus of educators’ meetings is that of literacy and numeracy teaching, strategies and data.

Schools are achieving, but success often goes unacknowledged. Those working within our schools often feel deflated, becoming convinced they are failing in terms of building students toward desirable outcomes.

Education should not be laissez-faire. Neither should it be so data focused, concentrated within one narrow domain, as to overlook the importance of holistic development. Teachers, parents and community should be working in partnership with students, to prepare them for a fulsome entry into life’s world. Education for the whole of life goes well beyond narrow, academic, data confirmed outcomes.



The richest of rewards for veteran or retired educators is to be looked out and thanked by former pupils, now adults, for the positive impact ‘you’ had on their lives. That brings joy to the soul.

Our Territory’s first CEO Dr Jim Eedle told principals in the late 1970’s that ‘schools are for children’. Education was our prime purpose. How easy it is for systems to digress from that key goal.

Tertiary institutions preparing teachers for tomorrow’s classrooms should in my opinion keep the Eedle exhortation well and truly in mind. It is so easy to become side-tracked and lose focus. Graduate teachers have every right to be proud of their accomplishments and the piece of paper that confirms their graduation. If those graduates have a focus and ambition that is toward others, they are well on the way to fulfilling one of the most important professional callings. Ours is a call to service.

Some months ago I placeed a discussion on this site about TEACHER UNHAPPINESS. it dealt with the fact that teaching does not always live up to the expectations of teachers and for a number of system imposed reasons. While some may desire to leave the profession for lack of fulfilment, many cannot for a number of reasons. So they hang in until they can finally leave teaching and that with a sigh of relief. How sad for them and possibly for students they have been teaching.

The thread is now closed. It attrached close to 300 likes and 850 comments from all over the world. I wanted to thank all those who contributed their thoughts and to the weight of insights offered.

Our work especially for others, is what education is all about. But we should never allow our work to supplant our families, pushing them aside. Establishing careful priorities is ever so important.

To attend conferences costs time and money, It also takes people away from workplaces. Might it be possible for key conferences to have both physical and online attendance and contribution.

Leaders and teachers attending conferences should offer feedback to their colleagues. It can be too easy to avoid sharing conference objectives and outcomes with peers. Share the benefits with others.

A great deal of enriching exchange for me has been in face to face, e-mail or discussion board conversation with students. They have a lot to offer when it comes to exchange about issues. Hear them.





When they begin their training, preservice teachers are often asked to think about a philosophy, that is a personal belief position, underpinning why it is they have decided teaching is for them. Some people think that it’s a waste of time to develop a philosophy and that such reflection is not very important. They could not be more wrong.

Personal philosophy is the essence upon which a career builds. It’s really a foundation stone, THE foundation stone, where it all starts and from which one’s training and career evolve. It is the starting point to the teaching journey. It is therefore important for preservice teachers and those starting out to spend time developing a belief statement upon which their future bills.

That statement may be short and pertinent or somewhat longer. One of the best and most meaningful philosophies I ever read was that of a teacher from 30 years ago. Her philosophy, the first page of her work program, was simple yet significant. It was five words long, “Teaching is a kind of loving”. That summed up her attitude and her desire to be a person who was there for others. Most certainly others came before herself.

Others might have a statement that embraces a sense of mission. It’s not unusual for statements are philosophy to be defined as “mission statements”.

Many years ago when a relatively young principal, I was invited to attend a leadership development program. We were asked to develop a mission statement of 25 words or less. Until then i knew where i wanted to go but had never defined that in terms of ‘mission’.

I spent considerable time thinking and reflecting on my priorities as an educator, as a family man, and as a person in this world.

My mission statement, from 1983, has been with me since that time. I have it on the back of my card.

It reads:

“To fulfil and be fulfilled in organisational mode – family, work, recreation.
To acquit my responsibilities with integrity.
To work with a smile in my heart.”

This precept has been my guiding philosophy for the past 32 years and something I regularly reflect upon.

Please consider the importance of a defining philosophy or sense of purpose and mission.



Excursions can play a very important part in extending educational understandings for children. To study in classrooms and to learn in the traditional way and also through online all library extension is fine. If children can be taken out on visits to places being studied, that really helps. To “see” what one is being taught and to observe things as they happen in action reinforces and cements learning. Excursions can help make learning live.

There is a need to prepare children for excursions. Ideally, excursions should be the middle segment of the lesson or learning sequence. The initial elements of lessons lead into the excursion, with follow up after the excursion tying the venture into learning outcomes. All excursions should be relevant. There is at times a tendency for excursions to be stand alone affairs with disconnection from teaching.

Binding excursions into the text of learning is part of the warp and weft of the learning fabric. These activities have a meaningful part to play in teaching and learning. They can enrich the program and add value to educational outcomes.