November 10, 2010

Grading, grading, grading

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.


Lilian said...

So, yeah... I know lots and lots about grading paper. This class I TAed for twice in grad school had TEN papers per student (4 longer, 6 shorter book reviews). And I had two discussion sections of 30 students each. This meant SIX HUNDRED papers a semester. I got two incompletes (out of 3 classes) that semester. :-(

Right now, I don't enjoy the teaching so much (teaching language is... I don't know, not very fun, particularly to beginners, it's not what I signed up to do in life, but here I am, shouldn't complain) anyway. There's one HUGE advantage: I LOVE the grading. Grading quizzes and tests is quick and easy and fun, almost. so... yeah... I guess it balances out.

But I do hope that someday I'll be grading papers again... :( your students' papers sound lot of fun!

Lomagirl said...

"Things to do" follow us like a cloud even when we're having fun. I think tackling papers one at a time is a wise way to to do. Usually I put it off, though, and then have to tackle all at once. I'm planning to grade tomorrow while my students work online. I hope I can make myself do it.

sherry said...

I hope you will tell your students that you shared their idea with the people in your life. Somehow, I think that would make their end of writing the papers feel better.

LitProf said...

This was totally me last week after reading my students' proposals. I kept mentioning their projects all weekend in conversation with friends. It's really a gift, what we do. :)

jo(e) said...

Sherry: Oh, yeah, I'm always telling my students how much I learn from them -- and who I share that stuff with. They were especially interested to hear about me talking to monks about hydrofracking.

LitProf: Really, it is.

Unknown said...

Mine write theirs on computer screens and post them to a website. It makes the "taking them with you" really hard. I envy the coziness of your grading experience, but not the volume. I at least only have 20-25 at a time.

Still the topics you read are cool! I love how you write.