Thursday, September 22, 2011

Where I've Been: Mountains (of) papers

Two things can explain my absence for the past week:

1) actual mountains
2) mountains made out of papers

Let's start with the fun one first.

Last weekend I took the second trip of my life to Utah. The first trip involved driving cross-country in the summer of 2008 with Matt and hitting many major national parks, including Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, perhaps my most favorite national park. This time I returned to Utah to venture into Park City/Deer Valley for our friend Craig's wedding weekend extravaganza at the Stein Eriksen Lodge, which is exactly as beautiful as the pictures on its website make it out to be. I've never been to a true ski resort before, so this was a special treat, even in the off-season (or, maybe more aptly put for someone like me, especially in the off-season). The suites are ridiculous (the jacuzzi on the deck being a nice touch), the spa is pretty incredible, and the views are about as awesome as you can imagine in your mind.

Here's some hotel porn for your viewing pleasure...
Ain't nothing wrong with a dressing room in a bathroom, that's all I have to say.

Weather cooperated for most of the weekend, and we managed to even get in some outdoor activity. In response to the question, "Hey Stephanie, was that you hiking a Black Diamond at 8,000 feet elevation two hours after your plane landed in Salt Lake City while you were 25 weeks pregnant?" my answer would have to be, "Heck yes!" I deserve a medal. If nothing else, Matt has promised me a T-shirt. I also need to give credit to my friend Megan, who trudged along with me at a literal snail's pace for the last horrible stretch of terrain and without whom I probably would not have made it up the mountain (thanks, Meg!). Diminished pregnancy lung capacity + incredible elevation for a sea-level dweller + led legs = stopping every 10 seconds for the last 200 feet for air.

The wedding itself was of course beautiful. How could it not be, given the perfect surroundings? You might notice in the shot below that I'm wearing a shawl that seems to perfectly match my dress. I didn't bring this shawl myself. Instead, the award for "Best Wedding Favor of All Time" goes to Craig's new bride Annie, who decided to hand out to all the ladies in attendance shawls in a wide array of colors to match virtually everyone's outfits. What a clever idea, especially given the fact that most men do not care about wedding favors in the slightest, and the mid-60s mountain air called for a little something around the shoulders. If you use this idea in your upcoming wedding, give Annie a shout out.

Now, on to the less fun stuff, and here's where the organization part (or lack thereof, as the case may be) kicks in. School in my county always starts on a Tuesday, the day after Labor Day. This means that this year we were back with kids on Sept. 6. With this being the third week of school, it's truly in full swing and the work is starting to pile up already. Try as I might to stay ahead, I inevitably slip behind. I know that if I do a little grading each day I can keep my head above water, as I touted back in January, but sometimes it's just not that easy. It especially didn't help that after taking last Friday off for the wedding I came back to a fresh pile of papers my great substitute collected on my behalf.

Here's my system as it stands now:
1) Collect all the papers from a single class into one folder.

2) Give myself a goal date -- within usually a week, sometimes slightly more -- by which I would like to hand all papers back and empty that folder.

3) Get started grading a few as quickly as possible after collecting the work. (This is where I tend to fall off the wagon. It's those first few that take the longest and are the hardest to motivate myself to begin.)

4) Immediately take the papers I've graded and place them in the outbox for that class, thereby freeing myself of the burden of paper and simultaneously feeling some small ounce of accomplishment.

5) Squeeze in a paper here and there to grade during lunch, in between classes, while students are working silently for five minutes in class...whatever works. Realize, though, that ultimately I work best at grading papers when I can give myself a sustained stretch of about two hours of uninterrupted scribbling.

6) Stay late at least one day, such as today, in order to finish off a stack of papers and finally check something off my list. Get to know the night crew custodians. Even with all this, wind up not meeting all my goal dates for returning papers and accept the fact that perhaps I am setting myself up for failure with unrealistic goals.

7) Prepare to collect more papers, you know, the next day. Sigh.

I know this is part of the job of being an English teacher, and I know I chose this career, so I'm not trying to say, "Woe is me." Instead, I'm wondering what insights other teachers can provide. I especially know that once Baby Awesome-rod arrives and I go back to teaching, whenever that may be, I am not going to be able to stay late, nor am I going to want to devote much of my evenings/weekends to the paper load. So, right now I consider myself in training before I go on maternity leave to try out some new systems as a trial run. I cannot let papers control my life once I have a baby to raise (and play with!).

So, fellow teachers  -- because I know there are a lot of you out there -- what do you do to keep your head above water?

And to those of you non-teachers out there, what task in your line of work is similar to grading papers, and how do you manage those seemingly un-manageable tasks? I am certain you have some strategies that could apply to my situation.

I would LOVE to hear your advice!

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