Ten days ago, three sections of students handed me essays. Sixty essays altogether. I stacked them inside manila folders and put the folders in my bookbag. For ten days, I’ve had this nagging thought inside my brain, a thought that has accompanied me no matter where I’ve gone, like a stone caught inside a boot, rubbing against my heel at every step: “You have papers to grade! You have papers to grade! Must grade the papers!”
The ridiculous part is that I was, in many ways, looking forward to reading the papers. My students had been working on the essays for several classes: brainstorming ideas, talking over thesis statements, and doing peer review on rough drafts. They’d picked great topics. I knew I’d be reading about geothermal energy, straw bale construction, hydrofracking, ecotourism, wind turbines, urban growth limits, nuclear energy, phytoremediation, coral bleaching, offshore drilling, and more.
I wanted to read the papers; really, I did. It’s just that reading and commenting and grading takes soooo much time. If I spent 20 minutes on each essay, for example, that would be 20 solid hours of grading. But I was determined to have a positive attitude towards the papers and just sandwich them in whenever I could. I decided to just take the papers one at a time and not be overwhelmed by how many there were.
So that’s what I did. I read some of the papers at the monastery, between walks through the sheep pasture and prayers in the crypt and conversations with my friends. I read some sitting at my kitchen table, while enjoying the morning sun and a hot cup of tea. I graded some sitting up in bed, cozily under the blankets. I graded some in the living room in front of the fire. I graded some sitting on the couch while Shaggy Hair Boy played the piano. I even made popcorn one night because a blogging friend (COUGHpilgrimCOUGH) claims that popcorn magically makes grading fun, but to be honest, the popcorn mostly just made greasy spots on the paper.
It feels like I’ve been grading papers constantly for the last ten days, but that’s not exactly true. I took time out on Monday to cook dinner for my daughter, a bunch of friends from the Ultimate team she plays on, and of course, my sons. I stopped this afternoon to visit my parents. I’ve had long conversations with friends, with my husband, and with my kids. I’ve taught classes, gone to meetings, stopped at the CSA farm to pick up the week’s vegetables.
But still, it does seem like my students have followed me everywhere for the last ten days. I keep bringing their ideas into conversations. Just this afternoon, I found myself explaining to my parents what LEED stands for. At the monastery, I got into a long conversation with Brother Beekeeper about the evils of hydrofracking. And I keep telling my husband how we need to look into getting solar panels for the roof. I feel lucky that my students have access to so much information, that they study such cool topics in their classes. That’s the part that makes grading papers worthwhile in the end: I learn so much from them.
Still, it will be a relief to hand them back tomorrow — and know that I can look forward to a weekend in which my time is once again my own.