Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Shades of Damocles

This week is spring break, a time when students traditionally travel to warmer climates to party. I much prefer to stay home, relax, rest, read, and catch up on movies. I'm doing some of that but I'm also doing a lot of grading. This is the dark side of teaching writing.

Here's what makes grading writing hard:

1. It's time-consuming. To do a good job and be fair, I need to make sure I'm not tired and cranky when I'm grading. That means as much I would like to work straight through and grade all the papers at once and get it over with, it's not a good plan.

2. Knowing I have ungraded papers (unfinished work) stresses me out. It's like the Sword of Damocles, or should I say "the stack of ungraded papers of Damocles"?

3. I get no sympathy from anyone outside of academia. If I try to explain why I feel stressed out and cranky my listener inevitably says, "don't assign so many papers." Hel-LO! I teach writing. I have to assign papers. You can't teach someone how to write by giving them multiple choice exams! I wouldn't survive the stress if it weren't for the support of my fellow writing instructors. (I don't think I've said this, but thanks you guys!)

Students usually don't realize how stressful grading is or how much work it is. I know my own workload should make me more sympathetic towards my students, but when they complain about the five papers they have to write for my class, I just point out that for every paper they turn in to me, I have 96 to grade. (4 classes x 24 students each = 96.)

Why am I blogging if I have so many papers to grade, you ask. Well, like all writers, when I'm under a lot of pressure avoidance kicks in. Perhaps you've heard the expression "No one has a cleaner house than a writer with a deadline." The same is true of grading. Also, I'm too tired to grade right now so I'm doing something I enjoy.

I am participating in study this semester on meditation and stress reduction. I'm afraid I'm really messing up the data. I find meditation relaxing if I don't have a lot of work to do, but I can't do it when I have a stack of ungraded papers hanging over my head. Instead of focusing on the meditation and relaxing all I can think about is how many papers I could grade it that amount of time. Finishing my work reduces my stress far more effectively than meditating. Does that mean work is a form of meditation? What a scary thought!

If feel stressed every time I have a batch of papers to grade, why am I complaining this time? Probably because I'm just tired and cranky this week. I don't know if something is setting off my allergies or if I have cold, but I feel under the weather and resent being sick during my spring break! Grading during break I expected and planned for, but being sick, especially during what should be my time to do what I want, annoys the heck out of me.

I'm sure I'll feel better soon, especially if I get a lot of grading done.


amanda. said...

I have to smile at this entry because we get no sympathy at midterm time when everyone assigns things all at once. I feel ya, but only because the week before break we were all going through what you're feeling now! :o)

Mermaldad said...

No consumer complains less about being shortchanged than a student.

Anonymous said...


I had a set of papers to grade this week, too. You make a good point about not doing them all in a rush. It isn't fair to the students. So, I always plan out how many to do each day, and then quit when I reach my target. That does cause the "unfinished job" stress you talk about, but not as bad as when I procrastinate. I feel virtuous each day upon reaching my quota, and seeing the mountain shrink. Such are the joys of teaching.


The Cat Bastet said...

Hi Jim,

I forgot to mention it but I do that, too. It does help some... but the relief of reaching those little goals is nothing compared to finishing the whole batch!

Krista said...

Hi, Cathy! I just ran across your blog thanks to the new homepage listing at the U.

I can't even imagine grading 96 papers. Proof-reading alone drives me insane, especially if it's for someone else.

The Cat Bastet said...

Hi Krista,

Thanks for visiting my blog! I see through your profile that you have a couple of blogs. I probmise to visit them soon.

>I can't even imagine grading 96
>papers. Proof-reading alone drives
>me insane, especially if it's for
>someone else.

Grading is like proofreading time 1000. It’s the only downside to teaching, but it’s still better than some of the technical writing jobs I’ve had. I’ll be blogging about Jobs From Hell soon. :)

Thanks again for your interest!