Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tip 67: Slow and steady

All in all, I really like my job. But the worst thing about being an English teacher is grading essays (coming in at a close second: writing college letters of recommendation). Every year I try to come up with a way to make the task more manageable. So far, the best solution I have for this conundrum applies to many other areas of life as well...

Tip 67: When faced with a seemingly monumental task, try tackling a little every day for a week. If you set unrealistic expectations for yourself, you'll wind up feeling disappointed.

Right before my students left for winter break, I collected 72 3-page essays. Each essay takes me between 10 and 20 minutes to grade -- the worse the essay, the longer it takes. If you do the math, you'll realize that by assigning this work to my students and grading it thoroughly, I lose a solid 18 hours off my life. With only one and a half hours each work day devoted to planning rather than teaching, it's clear that this task isn't getting done in a timely fashion during the work day.

So, over winter break, I sucked it up and graded 26 of the essays (while also writing a couple college recommendations, creating the English teacher's double-whammy). I did between 5 and 10 per day for a few days. Between Monday and Tuesday this week I got another 18 done, and today at work I got through another stack. I'm down to 12 essays, or three more hours of work. Between tonight and tomorrow during the day I want to finish this work.

A true sign of accomplishment: Today I can fit all my remaining essays to be graded inside my fabulous new bag. Victory!

The point of all this is, in the past I've found myself staring dumbfounded at a seemingly endless pile of essays. But today I've moved beyond that attitude. Now I simply tell myself to do a little work each day. It really does make it much less painful.

Apparently there are some English teachers out there who can grade any essay in under five minutes. I've never actually met such a person, and if I did I'd have to question how thoroughly she critiques her students' work. To me, this is one task where there aren't many shortcuts, but at least I have a coping mechanism.

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