December 10, 2008

Near a sunny window


The other day, I decided to stop feeling miserable about all the portfolios I needed to grade. I like teaching. I like my students. I enjoy reading their ideas. Surely, this process didn't need to be so painful.

So I built a fire, made myself a cup of hot tea, and settled onto the comfy couch. Boy in Black already occupied the other end of the couch. In fact, he had completely covered the coffee table with textbooks that had enticing titles like Electromagnetics and Introduction to Real Analysis and Thermal Physics and Analytical Mechanics. He has five final exams this week, and he was busy studying. "Studying" in this case meant gathering all his books together and taking a nap near them. When I moved his stuff to make room for my stack of portfolios, he stirred long enough to say, "Hey! What are you doing? That's my table of knowledge!"

I had a peaceful afternoon grading portfolios. I drank hot tea. I ate cookies I'd brought home from a campus bake sale. I looked out the window to see how sparkly the snow looked. When the fire got low, I put on more logs. I heated myself up some vegetable soup. I had a lazy conversation with Boy in Black. I graded a few portfolios.

I tried to enjoy the distractions rather than get annoyed by them. Quick brought over the sheet music to a rag called "Graceful Ghost," and With-a-Why played the first page of it over and over again. The neighbor kids came over late afternoon, and I spent an hour playing with the wooden blocks and train tracks. When it grew dark, I walked the neighbor kids home and made pasta. By then, Shaggy Hair was playing the piano, mostly just improvising. Boy in Black had woken up long enough to cover a piece of paper with formulas. I graded a few more portfolios. I ate the tofutti that my husband had gone out in a snowstorm to get for me.

It was an enjoyable day. I felt peaceful and content. Zenlike, almost. There was only one problem. I GOT HARDLY ANY WORK DONE. Out of the stack of portfolios balanced next to Boy in Black's textbooks, I had graded only a handful. At the rate I was going, I would be still grading portfolios well into the new year.

So the next day, I went back to my old way of doing things. I locked myself in my home office. I talked to no one, except to snap at anyone who dared come near me. I sat on an uncomfortable desk chair and felt miserable. I didn't build a fire. I ignored the teenagers when they came home from school. Between portfolios, I did nothing but stare miserably at the stack. But at least it got the job done.

In my next life, I want to be a cat.


Linda said...

I recommend being more specific about your next life wishes. Otherwise, you could end up being a barn cat, banished to the cold and left to hunt mice, snakes, lizards, and birds. Might make portfolio grading look pretty good. :)

Sarah Sometimes said...

This is funny.

Breena Ronan said...

You can admit enjoying your work and your students and still wish that you had less grading. I wish I had more time with each of my students, to talk and get to know them, and less time grading.

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh, s/he looks just like Middle Cat!! (Paunch included. That is, Middle Cat definitely has a paunch, and your lovely cat also looks, well, rounded in the middle. My sincere apologies for any feline hurt-feelings if that's not the case!)

I would like to be one of my cats (they are desperately spoiled).

Lorianne said...

Oh, take it from a Zennie: your "shut up and just do it" approach is much more "Zen" than the "have fun getting nothing done" approach.

I force myself to grade portfolios in sets of five: if I sit through five, I can take a break. Since after the break I have to head back to the pile, I end up using my "break" to do things like dishes, vacuuming, balancing my checkbook, etc. These all are important, necessary things, but they only seem ABSOLUTELY VITAL TO DO RIGHT NOW when I'm taking a break from portfolios.

YourFireAnt said...

OK, Ms. Procrastinator, get off the Comfy Couch and come in to campus. We're meeting on the steps of DeadLeftHandedGuitarist Chapel at noon. I have some good ideas.


Libby said...

this sad story is why I am even now sitting in front of my students, who are taking an exam, and grading. It is the least comfortable setting I can imagine; we are sharing our misery.

(I probably shouldn't have brought the laptop into the classroom, though.)

BrightBoy said...

I got abouthalfway through the post when I asked myself, "How does she ever get any work done?"

And then, in the next heart beat, there you were to confirm my suspicions.

Amy said...

So glad to know I'm not the only on spending time during this busy end of semester time trying to believe in reincarnation (and trying to decide whether I want to be my dog or one of my cats in my next life.)

For now, I generally go with Libby's solution, along with forcing myself to sit in my (very cold) campus office and grade.

Like you, "I like teaching. I like my students. I enjoy reading their ideas. Surely, this process didn't need to be so painful." And if I had, say five student portfolios to grade, it wouldn't be. It's around the 75th that I enter the deepest pit of despair.

repressed librarian said...

I love "Graceful Ghost," at least the George Winston arrangement, the only one I know. I think I'll listen to it while I'm editing (which is *so* much like grading) tonight.

TC said...

There has to be a middle road, maybe where you sit on a comfy couch but still snap at everyone who comes near? (Hey, if you're gonna snap, you should at least be comfy doing it, right?)

As someone who traded in the comfy couch for a full-time-in-the-office position just three months ago and is already chafing miserably, I NEED to believe that that middle road exists, and that I might one day find it for myself. It won't likely involve grading portfolios, since I'm not a teacher, but I have to believe there are more days of writing from the couch in front of a fire ahead of me. Otherwise, I'll just have to cry.

Val said...

I often tell my boyfriend as we watch our cat sleep that I think people who have had really rough lives come back as cats just so they get to nap and eat and be cuddled all day. You'll soon be on winter break, right? :)

Anonymous said...

I did nothing but stare miserably at the stack. But at least it got the job done.

So by simply staring miserably at the stack, you got the papers to grade themselves? Incredible!


Ursula said...

Tie-dye bro-in-law: Well, you've seen the cape she wears.


p.s. Jo(e), the recipe's on the new blog.

Liz Miller said...

Good for you getting it done!!!

Because of you and other netty professor-type folks, while agonizing over writing papers the last few years, I would think of my professor having to GRADE the papers of the whole class and try hard not to make any painful errors.

Sue said...

Me. Too.

I so hear you. I'm busy in a much different way, but it's still about stapling my bee-hind to the office chair and getting it done.


fuquinay said...

I used to do this exact thing with grading and feel this exact way.

One day I chose not to do portfolios and require blogs instead. I know it's sort of undoing the whole tactile paper thing, but I would keep up each week so I didn't have to do anything at the end.

Oh, except grade all the darned papers.