It's funny how even though I always knew I wanted to be an English teacher, I never really thought about what all it entailed. I was so distracted by the awesomeness of being able to spend every day of my working life talking about reading and writing, and actually reading and writing with teenagers, that my pre-service mind seemed to blank on one pretty big detail: grading writing takes a $@*+load of time. Seems obvious, right? Maybe it's some kind of collective pre-amnesia that future English teachers take part in. I vaguely remember that even the first few rounds of grading (during student teaching) were fun, and I approached them with vigor as a rite of passage.
And then I grew up. And realized the paper load of grading is why English teachers are always the craziest ones (myself included).
I can (and have) written about grading and response (two different things, by the way) many times, and will continue to for as long as I teach. But today is different. Today I'm writing about grading, while in the midst of grading. Yes, this post is a blog from the trenches, folks. Can you feel the madness? My fingers are positively humming with it.
I always grade on our sun porch on the $12 Salvation Army couch I bought in college. It's comfy and bright, and the windows on all sides make me feel like I'm at least somewhat connected to the outside world.
The best way I've found to get through a massive pile of grading is to set up some kind of schedule or goal-based system. There are times when I set number goals for the amount of papers I will grade per day. This is good for weekday nights, when I'm so exhausted from school that I don't want to touch anything.
Since all of my students (132 at the moment) turned in Trimester Finals on Friday, I decided a schedule would be better than a number goal for this weekend. The schedule: two hours on, two hours off, with alarms set on my phone all weekend to keep me honest. During the two hours on, I'm in the Command Center, only taking breaks for bathroom and water. During the two hours off, I can eat, exercise, do laundry, read for fun, and watch tv. This way I'm staying balanced with a lot of work, but not completely cutting myself off from life.
The schedule worked well. I got through all my 7th grade papers and can give them back their grades and response letters tomorrow. One weekend for 76 papers is a pretty good turnaround, made possible by the fact that I have not left my house or interacted with anyone other than my husband and cats for the past 48 hours. (Well, I did go on two runs, so technically I left the house for those.)
I still have close to 60 papers left for all of my 8th graders, and they'll probably be cranky with me for tackling 7th grade first. There's a simple strategy behind that: the 7th graders have less experience as writers, and it's not fair for me to even try to look at their work objectively after reading 8th grade work. So seventh graders get me when I'm fresh, and eighth graders live up to a higher standard of scrutiny. I still have two hours of work time left this evening after dinner, and I'll start on my smallest class of 8th graders. Then I'll set number goals for the rest of the week. My goal is always to have a one-week turnaround from the time they turn in to the time they get them back. It's not always possible, and sometimes it half-kills me to do it, but I owe it to them to keep up my end of the deal.
I hope my students appreciate what it takes for me to give them the kind of response I do: detailed letters (half a page to each kid) rather than hastily scrawled marginal comments that are easy to throw away. Some probably do appreciate it. Most don't. They're teenagers, after all. They need us adults to sacrifice and work for them even if they don't understand what it truly means until much later in life, if ever.
And whenever any asshole tells me how great it must be to have summers off, I tally up my hours on this couch every single weekend and weeknight and tell them to &!@# off.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.