On days like today, when I have a stack of papers to grade at the end of the term, I feel myself constantly questioning why I chose teaching as my career.
I’ll be honest. Grading papers sucks. It is exhausting. Especially when you are an English teacher and you have to grade papers written by students whose first language is NOT English. It adds a whole other dimension to the challenge of making yourself sit with a stack of 100 papers in front of you and push yourself to just do it.
I have a few rules that I have developed over the last few years. I try to keep to these rules, and then it usually works out better in the end. The first and most important rule is that as soon as I feel myself getting angry, I stop grading papers. It happens a lot, actually. I’ll be reading an essay and the little mistakes that students make that I’ve harped on about, but that they never seem to attempt to correct, just start to piss me off. Like when they write the title of a novel but they don’t capitalize it OR underline/italicize it. It’s such a basic rule. Or when they refuse to double space even though I’ve shown them exactly how to do it. Or when they write “There are 2 reasons why…” instead of “There are two reasons why…” Or when they spell “dangerous” as “deinjures” (that’s one from today, actually – a seventh grader). When the little things start to drive me crazy, then I have no choice but to take a break. Otherwise, my comments will get nasty and the anger will come through in red pen – and it will be there forever. (Until I pull out the white-out – I have had to do that before when I wrote something really mean, but white-out by the teacher on an exam does NOT look good).
Another rule I have is that if it is a midterm or a final exam and I sit down to grade it, I have to push myself to get through ALL of them that day. It really sucks when you have exams that you are slogging through. With essays and research assignments, I have to break those up and grade them over a few days. But with exams, if I just let them sit, then my students are constantly bugging me about them. And I feel them weighing on me. And if they are end-of-term exams, then I really have just a limited amount of time before I need to start dealing with figuring out grades, so it’s better just to suck it up and push through it. Plus, it’s really important for the students to receive feedback in a timely manner and all that jazz….. so I try to push through the exams as soon as possible.
Of course, I broke that rule today. I graded 25 out of 32 end-of-term exams that my seventh graders took today. It’s just such a big class. And 6PM came around and I was hungry and so my husband I went out for dinner. And now I am here and it’s 9PM and I just can’t bring myself to finish grading them tonight. Momentum is really important when you have determined to finish a class set in one day. You just have to push through it, and if you stop, then it’s very likely that you won’t sit back down and finish them.
I guess my last rule is that I take the grading seriously. I tell myself that many of my students have put in the time and the effort, at least in their own way. They deserve my undivided attention and my serious assessment of their performance. Sometimes it is obvious that a student just hasn’t put in the time, that they just sped through it without really trying. For those students, I allow myself to go faster through it. They make it easy, actually, since there is less to grade. But for the students who have obviously put some effort in (and a lot of them do, in fact, TRY even if it doesn’t seem like it) I do my best to focus in and give them the best feedback I can.
It’s funny… the title of this post started off as “Why I like teaching and why I hate grading.” But I think I’ll save the “Why I like teaching” for another day. The fact is, even though I hate grading (I HATE it!) I absolutely do like teaching, and there are so many reasons why. So at the end of the day, when I still have 50 exams and another 40 essays waiting for me to grade because it’s the end of the term, I just have to remind myself that in two weeks, it WILL BE DONE – report cards and all of it. And at the end of the day, I love teaching. Soon enough I can focus on the part of my job that I love, and this hellish part will be over…… soon enough….